By Michelle Quinn
San Jose Mercury News.
Padmasree Warrior is her own category in Silicon Valley.
“Well, there’s Padma at Cisco,” is what people say to each other when asked to point to a woman somewhere, anywhere, in a prominent technical and leadership role.
But Warrior won’t be part of the new leadership team put together by Chuck Robbins, Cisco Systems’ incoming CEO. In a blog post Wednesday, Robbins announced his new cabinet, adding two women. Warrior isn’t part of it but will stay until September to help with the transition.
Her departure comes at a time when the tech industry is going through a period of self-examination over its gender, racial and ethnic makeup. There are few women in technical roles or leadership roles.
Warrior has held both. And that makes her departure from a company that has at least professed a commitment to gender equity a bit of a blow.
Cisco declined to make Robbins or Warrior available to comment.
A longtime Motorola executive, Warrior came to Cisco seven years ago.
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She is known for driving Cisco’s acquisition strategy and promoting innovation internally.
Outside the firm, Warrior isn’t just a symbol for women aspiring to careers in technology. She effectively used her prominence at Cisco to talk about and advance the issues important to women in tech. She talked about her own fears and limitations as she navigated her way in the mostly male tech world.
With 1.6 million Twitter followers, Warrior is a sought-after speaker for women’s conferences. She has held an annual women’s development event at Cisco and contributes regularly to the Huffington Post. Forbes ranked her the 84th most powerful woman in the world. She sits on the boards of Gap and Box.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Warrior said she tells women that “the fact that you’re different and that you’re noticed, because there are few of us in the tech industry, is something you can leverage as an advantage.” She advises women to take opportunities as they arise, rather than second guess their abilities.
“Her impact as a role model is huge,” said Telle Whitney, chief executive and president of Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. “She is a very prominent woman CTO, and a lot of people know who she is. It’s a big loss to our community.”
It is unclear why Warrior is leaving or what she will do next. On Twitter, she tweeted, “the best is yet to come, both for Cisco and me.”
I don’t blame Robbins for shaking up Cisco’s executive ranks as he takes over the reins of the company that John Chambers directed for decades. It’s his job to create the team he wants.
And in fact, he brought on one new woman, Ruba Borno, to be vice president, growth initiatives and chief of staff, and promoted Rebecca Jacoby from chief information officer to senior vice president operations. The other women on his senior team have already been in place. “She has been extremely influential,” said Marlene Williamson, chief executive of Watermark, a nonprofit for executive women. “She understands that holding a role like she has held at Cisco comes with responsibilities. She always talks about the importance of collaborating with other women, how women need to support each other.”
Cindy Warner, a managing partner at IBM, said she sees Warrior’s departure as “a potential boon for the tech industry and women in tech. I hope she chooses to maybe go to a valley VC and focus on helping incubate women-led tech startups. She has done this very effectively in the past.”
In her writing, Warrior advises women not to get too hung up on ideas such as the “work-life balance,” and instead focus on integrating all aspects of one’s life.
Warrior will continue to be someone to watch. But Cisco is losing someone who has a following for reaching outside the company walls to the rest of the world.
FEMALE CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICERS
Not many women in Silicon Valley hold strategic and technical leadership roles. Here are some notables:
Bridget Frey: chief technology officer, Redfin
Kimber Lockhart: chief technology officer, One Medical Group
Elissa Murphy: chief technology officer and executive vice president, GoDaddy
Rebecca Parsons: chief technology officer, ThoughtWorks
Megan Smith, U.S.: chief technology officer, the White House.
Selina Tobaccowala: chief technology officer and president, SurveyMonkey
Padmasree Warrior: chief technology and strategy officer, Cisco Systems.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michelle Quinn is a business columnist for the San Jose Mercury News