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Advancing Diversity with ‘The Power of One’

Last week, many of the nation’s top African-American leaders and emerging talent experienced first-hand “The Power of One” – the power of one person, one organization or one partnership to transform the world.Chuck's ELC Twitter Photo

The occasion was the Executive Leadership Council’s (ELC) annual celebration of individuals and corporations making a difference to advance inclusion and diversity in business. Honorees such as Merck Chairman & CEO Ken Frazer, Caterpillar Corporation, and Former US Attorney General Eric Holder, embodied the Gala’s theme for their impressive achievements.

Cisco and ELC provided leadership workshops for aspiring mid-level managers prior to the Gala, creating so many transformative and magical “Moments that Matter” . . . Chuck Robbins and other industry CEOs sharing experiences with managers who learned how to take charge of their careers . . . a collective realization of what’s possible through inclusion, diversity and collaboration. Awe inspiring!

Jumpstarting the Career Journey with Belviane

In attendance was a bright, driven young woman from Laurel High School near Baltimore. Meet Belviane Songong, 17, who exemplifies how “The Power of One” can jumpstart the journey from the classroom, perhaps one day leading her all the way to the C-Suite.

The high school senior aspires to be a biomedical engineer, and she realized early that she needs strong technical skills now to be competitive for college and her career later on. So she enrolled in the Cisco Networking Academy class at Laurel High, attaining one of the Academy’s top scores by a high school student on their exam, which helped attract scholarship offers from major colleges.

“I may just be one student but I know I am making a difference, and when I think of the power of millions of others just like me all across the world, studying, learning and helping others, now that really is a dream come true,” Belviane says in the video about her experience with the Cisco Networking Academy.

At the Gala, Chuck told the audience of 2,500: “Belviane has the skills, passion and commitment to create a tremendous amount of value for any organization today. She is a great example of how important it is to build our talent pipeline early on.”

Belviane may be one in a million, but the Cisco Networking Academy has helped more than 5.5 million people at 9,000 academies across 180 countries since it started in 1997. Today, 92% of our graduates report that what they learned through the program led to a new job, a better job or promotion, more responsibilities, higher salary, deciding on a program of study, or pursuing more education.

Next Steps in the Talent Pipeline

As Chuck said, this is just the beginning of the journey. It takes more “Power of One” partnerships with organizations like the ELC to help fuel the talent pipeline, preparing more underrepresented minorities to reach the C-Suite. Consider that 29% of Cisco’s African-American mid-level managers who took ELC’s leadership program were promoted in the last year – twice the company average.

Cisco had a huge presence at the Gala with 120 of Cisco’s highest-performing managers who had just completed ELC’s leadership course. They were joined by members of our highly diverse Executive Leadership Team and other Cisco executives. When Chuck asked everyone from Cisco to stand, it was a proud Moment that Mattered.

Milestone Moments

Ehrika Gladden_compressed

Ehrika Gladden

The experience inspired many other milestone moments. Ehrika Gladden fought to hold on to her emotions when Chuck and Fran surprised her in front of the Cisco group with the announcement of her promotion from senior director to a Vice President position. “Prior to last week, I was positive I knew what The People Deal meant for me and other Cisco employees.  What Chuck, Fran Katsoudas, Jeff Reed, Shari Slate, Cassandra Frangos and a host of other Cisco leaders did last week was help me to actually live the recognition and engagement experience of leaders delivering on the promise The People Deal creates for employees.  It is a model l will do my best to emulate.”

Shannon Cobb

Shannon Cobbs

Ike Harris

Ike Harris

“The event helped me to be recognized while I learned a lot of new tools to help me in my career and inspire me with what’s possible,” said Shannon Cobbs, Engineer, PDI Technical Advisors Network. The “hugely impactful” event clearly “made a difference” in employee engagement, added Ike Harris, Cisco’s VP of Global Planning and Fulfillment. The combination of workshops, exchanges between executives and managers as well as Cisco’s emphatic commitment to inclusion leads to “greater engagement and retention.


Jason Gallo

Jason Gallo

Jason W. Gallo, Global Director of Channel Sales for Collaboration & Software, felt a personal connection with Chuck when he shared what a huge leap it was back when he was promoted to Director.  Gallo also stated that, as a leader who is currently expanding his team, the ELC-Cisco experience reinforced to him the impact of “having access to a diversity of ideas and relationships that build a stronger pipeline of talent for Cisco.”


Shawn Dawson Troutt

Shawn Dawson Troutt

For Shawn Dawson Troutt, Director, Services & Cloud, Legal, the ELC-Cisco experience provides an “opportunity to pause, focus on being intentional about your career and have access to amazing individuals at Cisco and industry leaders.  There aren’t a lot of African-Americans at Cisco and we don’t find ourselves in the same room together very much.  It’s a real benefit to be together and meet with executives, with the joint purpose of improving our effectiveness as a company.”

I too am one of the beneficiaries of our partnership with ELC and its leadership growth programs. They have contributed mightily to developing and advancing diverse leaders both at Cisco and industry wide.

Through powerful partnerships like we have with ELC, we have made progress with inclusion and diversity at Cisco, but much more is still needed. True transformation will evolve with the “Power of One” – the power of one person, one organization or one partnership to transform the world, or one person at a time like Belviane and each of our high-performance managers.

Just imagine the possibilities if a million Belvianes started their journeys like hers and continued to get partner support like our mid-level managers along the way.



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Texas Conference for Women: An Empowering Partnership

#CiscoInspiredWoman will be a hashtag reverberating throughout social media spheres this week as 6,500 attendees experience what I call, “Moments that Matter”, at the Conference for Women (CFW) in Austin, Texas. Cisco is the Exclusive Networking Partner of CFW for the fourth year in row, has 90 attendees and six speakers (three women and three men) at the Texas event, which aligns with our commitment to build and empower a more inclusive, diverse and collaborative culture.

The Texas Conference for Women on Thursday kicks off a series of three more in successive months that will be held in Pennsylvania, MassachusettsTexas CFW and California, collectively expected to attract about 27,000 women dedicated to personal and professional growth. We will have a major presence at all of them.

We are ramping up our partnerships with organizations like CFW to empower and equip women and other underrepresented minorities with skills needed to advance in the workplace. Such partnerships not only help us to leverage diversity to spark greater innovations and outcomes for our customers, but also to attract a full spectrum of the best talent to join our increasingly vibrant workplace.

Our partnerships, combined with a number of internal leadership programs for women and Texas CWF Cisco Speakers Tableother minorities, is part of a holistic approach to create an environment in which everyone can feel welcomed, respected, valued, and heard. In effect, to have a seat at the table.

Inclusion and Diversity Starts at the Top

This starts at the top. Cisco is fortunate to have a CEO who not only champions the value of inclusion and diversity, but also walks the talk. In one of his first actions as incoming CEO, Chuck Robbins formed a next-generation Executive Leadership Team to help chart Cisco’s direction.

We have made a lot of progress at Cisco to advance women and other minorities, but total, true transformation has not been realized yet throughout industry. That’s why we’re building a first-of-its-kind framework using digital analytics to identify our gaps, next-generation systems, practices and tools as well as areas of opportunity. I will detail these inspiring programs in future blogs after our Corporate Social Responsibility Report is published before the end of this year.

All this provides context for why we’re so excited to be partnering so deeply with CFW and other organizations committed like us to inclusion, diversity and collaboration. I have benefitted immeasurably from such programs and I have urged all Cisco attendees to take full advantage of CFW’s programs and networks to create Moments that Matter.

I can attest that deeply engaging with partners like CFW is one more essential thread that weaves into a mosaic of different perspectives, backgrounds and approaches that can accelerate exponential results for our customers, partners and employees.

What programs have you found most effective in advancing diversity and gender representation in the workplace?


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Define Your Future @Cisco

I am looking forward to the Grace Hopper Women in Computing Conference, Oct 14-16 2015, Houston, Texas.

From Cisco Women in Cybersecurity to extraordinary software developers and inspiring executive I invite you to join us at Cisco to invent together.

Monique Morrow

Intercloud, security, and IoE are all areas that present massive opportunity for re-invention and innovation. The need for enhanced security is real Read More »

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A Better Way to Network for Women?

“Networking is my idea of hell.”

These are the exact words spoken by a woman attendee at a recent event where I gave a talk about the importance of networking.

Her sentiments are echoed by many professional women who have experienced a traditional networking approach, which is:

a) based on entering a crowded room full of strangers and making small talk

b) scheduled on evenings and weekends, making it impossible to fit in around family commitments and

c) centred on male-oriented activities like rugby and golf

No wonder so many women shudder when they’re told they need to “network” in order to advance their careers. What’s more alarming is that this approach doesn’t even work for us. A recent HBR article, Why Networking More is Bad Advice For Women,” dissects several research studies which prove that standard approaches to getting ahead fail women – and can even backfire. The article’s author, Sarah Green Carmichael, concludes: “To me, the upshot of all of this research is increasingly clear: we need to stop telling women to follow a male playbook.”

What if women rewrote the playbook?

Clearly, there has to be a better way. But what does “good” networking look like? How can we make it more palatable to – and productive for – professional women. Here are five strategies that have worked for me:

1. Start with giving

The key to successful networking for women is adapting a completely different mindset: one that is based on giving vs. getting.   The famous law of reciprocity! A Fast Company article, “A Networking Paradigm Shift: Focus on Giving Not Taking,” explains it quite well: Networking from a giving rather than a getting perspective is “a much more empowered way to think about your career: It forces you to realize that you are not a needy person who has to rely on others to succeed, and focuses on the many things you have to offer the world.”

2. Join a women’s networking group

By design, many women-centric networking groups provide a supportive environment and operate according to the “give vs. get” philosophy. At Cisco, I’m the global and EMEAR co-lead for Connected Women, a global community at Cisco formed by volunteers to attract, develop, retain, and celebrate talented women as part of a competitive and diverse workforce.  It isn’t an “HR initiative” – it’s run by women who all have a day job and who give up their time to proactively share experiences and to help and support other women.

Another terrific women’s networking resource is WeAreTheCity, a website and organisation that promotes female-related networks, events, and training in the UK. In a recent BBC Radio 4 interview, WeAreTheCity’s Founder Vanessa Vallely offered this advice:   “Don’t put too much emphasis on the word networking. It’s the art of having a conversation with someone and being inquisitive and getting to know them.”

3. Embrace digital networking

Many women who don’t enjoy traditional in-person networking are absolutely daunted by digital networking. But this need not be the case – especially if you take a “what can I give/what can I learn” stance.

Using social platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook is a brilliant way to surround yourself with supportive, varied, and incredibly knowledgeable people –not just people who can “deliver.” Vanessa DiMauro, CEO of Leader Networks, has just published a great article “Who’s afraid of Digital Networking? Women?”. She advises us “what works in-person also works online.  So when you approach the social world, put aside your fears and misconceptions and remember that there’s a person behind every worthwhile social media account”.

In fact, a diverse network may be critical to generating innovative ideas, according to a new recent study on Twitter conducted by MIT’s Sloan School of Management.   Another study, by Facebook’s data team, shows that it’s easier than ever to find and make connections with interesting people – regardless of where in the world they’re located.

The takeaway? People are on social networking platforms because they want to share. There’s very little small talk. And, because you can do it wherever, whenever, it may be a better fit for working mothers.

4. Stay in touch

Everyone has a pre-existing network of colleagues, former classmates, and industry acquaintances. But, like any relationship, your network needs attention in order to thrive. So stay in touch with people – through both physical and virtual means – on a regular basis, not just when you need something.

Connect with people on LinkedIn to see what they’re up to. Have drinks with people you used to work with. Go to your university reunions – or give talks at alumni events. Retain the mind-set of having conversations instead of extracting favours. And remember – treat people well, up and down the food chain. After all, your former employee could be your next boss.

5. Perform random acts of kindness

To be successful at “give-driven” networking, you have to actually care about other people’s success instead of just your own – and you have to show it. Strengthen your network through small, day-to-day acts: help head-hunters when they call, recommend people on LinkedIn, tweet about people’s books or blog posts, send a congratulatory note to someone who received a promotion or started a new job.

This process does not have to be overly time consuming. Keep your finger on your network’s pulse with a service like Newsle (now part of LinkedIn) – it scans your contacts and notifies you when someone you know is “in the news.” Random acts of kindness have a boomerang effect – the goodwill you extend will eventually come back to you.

Where to from here?

Personally, I’ve always placed huge value on networking and have made the effort, even when sometimes I didn’t feel like doing so. The kind of ‘old-style’ networking that is driven by uncomfortable, inconvenient, needs-based transactions quite frankly is my idea of hell too. So let’s invent a new way of networking that doesn’t fill us with dread, based on supportive, dynamic, relationship-building interactions. Sounds much more like my cup of tea. What do you think?

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Carpe Diem – Seize the day! Inspiration from everyday heroes of CEWN: Shubhra Sinha



Anuja SinghGuest Blog and Interview by Anuja Singh 

Welcome to the September edition of our monthly CEWN segment about role models. We all make resolutions and set goals to improve ourselves– but somewhere along the way, life interrupts our plans, we find ourselves juggling different priorities and invariably things get dropped. What you will find in this segment are experiences of some ordinary people who remained focused and went on to achieve extraordinary results. Everyone featured in this series has faced challenges and opportunities that the rest of us can identify with. Let’s draw inspiration from the choices they made and aspire to the outcomes they created.

ShubraShubhra Sinha

Find out more about Shubhra.

Cisco Empowered Women’s Network (CEWN): You have had a successful career spanning two different continents – what impact did your formative years have on you? Read More »

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