Cisco's Zarina Pasalic on being an empathetic leader

We sat down with Cisco’s Zarina Pasalic to discuss her pivotal role in growing the company, while being a leading example for women in the technology space

Influential and results-oriented leader Zarina Pasalic heads up Cisco’s Digital Experience (DX) team for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Together, Zarina and her team ensure that customers and partners receive end-to-end connected, guided, fully automated, and hyper-personalised customer experiences. Every interaction has to be optimised to drive the desired customer outcomes across the Cisco business, products and customer lifecycle.

“I love the pace of change in tech. We’re building the future while making today better. What’s not to like? Soon, everything that can be digitised will be digitised. With the emergence of smarter devices, quantum computing, AI, and datafication to name just a few, how we work, live and play is being transformed. Technology powers everything,” says Zarina.

“The talented men and women working in technology today are as crucial as the stonecutters and carpenters envisioning cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Extraordinary skills are needed to build and secure the next wave of innovation and growth,” she continues.

With this passion, Zarina plays a pivotal role in this ambitious growth initiative and has been responsible for re-tooling processes to allow for mutually beneficial customer and partner relationships. The key has been ensuring user-friendly subscription sign ups and automated renewals, taking the friction out of these traditionally admin-heavy activities. 

In her role, Zarina has ensured that Cisco has market-leading expertise in customer success, instigating close teamwork between sales, the IT channel and marketing to boost subscription-based revenues. 

“I’m incredibly proud to work here, and that’s partly because the whole ethos of the company is innovative – right from the products we create to the way we do our work, through to how Cisco supports its people to lead better lives, both at work and at home. At Cisco, each person brings their unique talents to work as a team and make a difference,” she explains.

Adding to this, Zarina notes: “Yes, our technology changes the way the world works, lives, plays and learns, but our edge comes from our people. In terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Cisco has a strong culture of giving back to the community. The company genuinely cares for society and helps those less fortunate than us.”

During her time there, Zarina believes she has been able to make some great strides professionally: “My biggest achievement has been building a world-class team with the necessary market-leading expertise to truly transform Cisco. 

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, where we get to be in the middle of Cisco’s transformation from traditional hardware to software organisation. It’s been gratifying to instigate close teamwork across the entire company and create the experience that our customers no longer expect, but demand.”

Empowering women to take up tech

As a female in a male-dominated industry, Zarina believes her experiences as a woman have turned her into an empathetic leader.

“I’ve seen first-hand how supportive, caring managers can lead brilliant teams, and are more likely to retain talent, inspiring higher levels of productivity and engagement,” she notes.

This skill developed from her own personal experiences arriving in the UK as a refugee from Bosnia: “My family and I built a new future in the UK from nothing. This is after having lived through the disruption and trauma of war. I believe this experience has instilled a high degree of resilience and informed my empathetic leadership style.”

“I have always been a good listener, able to understand when people are facing tough times in their personal or working lives. Certainly, today my colleagues will tell you, I have a very open, ‘tell me anything’ approach to people management,” she continues.

Zarina is also determined to be an activist for women in the field, particularly as she points out that only one in five UK tech employees is a woman.

“So, clearly, we’re not attracting enough women into the sector. However, as more and more senior women rise up the ranks, this will demonstrate to girls and younger women that tech is a career open to females,” she says.

Concluding, she outlines how she looks to empower women in tech: “I’m a senior member of the team, so I’ve been looking to make myself more visible. I say ‘yes’ to most opportunities, even if it’s outside my comfort zone. This is important. ‘See her, be her’, as they say.”

“I both mentor and sponsor people earlier in their careers – roles that are about providing guidance and advice.”

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