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Diversity Awardee Reveals Hard Work Is Not Enough.

Kimberly Marcelis, Vice President of Strategic Planning at Cisco

We’ve been pondering our collection of inclusion and diversity awards sitting in our San Jose office. Some are inspired and even practical, like the glass bowl with a plaque stating “fill with candy and share”. And then serendipitously, I came across an employee account from our recent participation at the NELI (National Eagle Leadership Institute) Awards that re-ignited the real stories behind the glass ornaments in our awards cabinet.

As co-executive sponsor of the  Cisco Asian Affinity Network employee resource group,  Kimberly Marcelis, Vice President of Strategic Planning led Cisco’s first culturally-based pilot program to address the under-representation of leaders of Pacific Rim descent in Cisco’s senior leadership. This nine-month longitudinal study resulted in an extraordinary 20 percent of the entire group being promoted to the next level during the pilot; 32 percent of all participants were women. Continuing into its second year, the pilot program is building upon lessons learned and expanding its reach, demonstrating to other employee resource groups within Cisco that more targeted development programs designed around a group’s particular needs can achieve amazing outcomes.

Kim was honored by receiving a prestigious Eagle Award at last week’s gala dinner in Kansas City. The awards recognize culturally diverse professionals in corporate America who exemplify leadership. Not to detract from her many significant achievements, what struck me most about Kim’s nomination process was her most significant personal event:

“My most significant personal event was watching my parents’ business fail. For forty years, my parents epitomized the middle class immigrant success story. They came to the United States at 18 with only a high school degree. They worked hard, saved every penny and went from working in a grocery store, to owning one, to running three Chinese restaurants in shopping malls. They selected their home based on putting their children through the best public education they could and had to fight discrimination to even purchase the house in the neighborhood. While our family didn’t eat out often, my parents saved enough money to take us to Disneyland every year and pay for the college of their first two children.

Then the recession hit in the early 1990s, people stopped shopping at malls and my parents could no longer make payroll at their restaurants. They used all of their retirement savings to keep the restaurants going but the economic downturn lasted too long. My parents closed all three restaurants.

With no income and no savings, they turned to their children. My older brother and I supported my parents while my younger sister took out loans to pay for her college. My parents could not afford to retire and had no education to fall back on. However, this unfortunate situation gave us the opportunity to redefine the social contract for the family. Although my parents didn’t have education, they did have time. My brother and I pooled our money for real estate investments while my parents did the time consuming work of looking at apartment buildings, interviewing tenants, managing property maintenance, and the like. We continued to pool our resources together to make real estate investments. Then, when my children were born, my parents moved in with me to provide all the necessary support for my demanding job, and family.

I consider this the most significant personal event for several reasons:

1/ It redefined the relationships in my family and made us more of a team rather than a traditional parent/child relationship.

2/ It made me brutally aware that working extremely hard isn’t always enough.

3/ You always have the choice to cry or smile and move on. I prefer to smile and move on.”

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