Cisco: How Cisco Business Delivery Manager Zainab Hussain Uses Her Dyslexia As a SuperPower

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As a part of the computer networking company Cisco’s apprenticeship programme, Zainab Hussain loves that her day-to-day experience varies. Working with teams spanning from sales to collaboration to market insights, she’s been able to get a view into many parts of the business during her time at the company. As she continues her journey, she also reflects on how her unique traits—being a woman of colour with a working-class background and a learning difficulty—have impacted her experience.

Zainab Hussain

Hussain reflects, “I always had a passion for technology in business,” so Cisco felt like a great fit for her. But she didn’t always know this was the path she was going to take. She studied biomedical sciences at university, but she realised early on that working in a lab wasn’t where she wanted to be. “I think what attracted me most about the Cisco apprenticeship was how versatile and flexible the programme was. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in the field  of IT and technology so their rotational-based [apprenticeship] programme meant I could go  anywhere in the business and try different things, experiment, and learn about my strengths and  what things energize me.”  

There’s something unique about Hussain: she has dyslexia. But this hasn’t stopped her from achieving success, and she actually thinks her experience has proven beneficial to her teammates and leaders at Cisco. “I think when you’re struggling with dyslexia, or you have any kind of learning difficulties, you like to be able to ask or collaborate with a lot of people and get their opinions and perspective,” Hussain notes. Having access to this real-time feedback is one major difference she’s noted between her experience at university versus her experience in her apprenticeship at Cisco. “To be very honest with you, when you’re dyslexic or have learning difficulties, you can have high emotional intelligence and creativity, and those things are very much in need in the business world. So you bring a lot of value. You’ll find a lot of leaders are  looking for those qualities.”   

Like many companies,Cisco has Employee Resource Organisations (EROs) that are available to employees to find support and resources that speak to their specific experiences. Hussain is on the board for theUKI Women of Cisco ERO, and this position directly supports her efforts to help drive inclusion in the company. She offers some advice and reflects on her experience,“We each have our own personal brand. Don’t be shy about speaking to other people and saying,  ‘Okay, this is what I’m passionate about, how can I help you?’ And through my connections, I  found out that the Women of Cisco group was the organisation that focused on recruiting new talent, emerging talent, and retaining talent.” She adds, “I think it’s just very important to be genuine and authentic. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and be someone who genuinely wants to give and help others. And I think a lot of people will give you a chance to prove  yourself.”  

Hussain leaves us with this, “Be bold, and really understand how much value you actually do bring to an organisation. Your unique perspective and your different background are hugely,  hugely valuable to the company.” 

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