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Preparation, Optimism, Goodness: 3 Pearls of Wisdom + 1 from the Conference for Women (2015) in Philadelphia

Have you heard the expression, “People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel?”  Last week, I had the opportunity to participate with more than 8,000 women (80 from Cisco) — in a one-day conference sponsored by Cisco Systems, Inc. and other companies.  There were many amazing speakers who shared their stories of perseverance, optimism and goodness.  I don’t recall everything these presenters had to say, but I certainly remember how they made me feel.  Here are just a few of the great pearls of wisdom from the event.Carli Lloyd_soccer star

Preparation – It’s what defines champions. @CarliLloyd

Carli Lloyd is a star on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and Most Value Player (MVP) of the 2015 Women’s World Cup champion.  She was always the best player on each of her youth soccer teams, but when she reached the collegiate level, she knew she had to step-up her performance if she was to be a leader.  It was her personal coach who told her she needed to not only improve her soccer skills and game technique, but also her character.  Ouch!  This was tough feedback to accept.  Her coach was wise enough to give Carli this needed correction, but also hope and a goal:  If she Read More »

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Changing the Equation

It’s been a little more than a year since we created Cisco’s first Office of Inclusion and Collaboration (OIC).   And it’s been a milestone year.  Today, we’re releasing our annual Corporate Social Responsibility report (CSR), which details Cisco’s high-level priorities for being socially and environmentally responsible, and I’m honored to share the highlights of our progress within Our People section of this amazing document.  As a critical part of Our People Deal, Inclusion and Collaboration are featured prominently in the report.  I invite you to dive in and understand what we’ve accomplished in FY15 and how we’re changing the equation for creating value moving forward.CSR Photo1

What does it mean to change the equation?  For Cisco and the OIC, it means we continue to expand our view on the factors driving inclusion, diversity and collaboration.  It means we leverage fresh perspectives, thought leadership, and data and analytics to gain new insights. It means we use those insights to inform bold new strategies.  We change the way we talk about inclusion, diversity and collaboration, the way we measure our progress, and the way we connect our business strategies and our inclusive practices. And we align with a higher vision of value creation in the work we do to drive transformation through our people.

A Foundational Year with Milestones. Changing the equation was a top priority in this first, foundational year for the OIC. We began by looking at the legacy work of the Global Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) function we were transforming, including over 400 well-intentioned programs designed to support diversity and inclusion across our company.  And while we recognized the progress made through those programs over the years, we knew that more programs would not result in more impact or move us forward in our higher vision of value creation. Read More »

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How Great Quotes Fuel Positive Thinking

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a great quote.  It seems that I’m not the only one – take a look at Twitter and you’ll see a huge number of handles relating to quotes.  Do a quick search on Google and you’ll find endless “Top Quotes” lists. Go to the Forbes home page and you’ll be greeted by the “Quote of the Day.”

Why Do We Love Quotes So Much?

Quite simply, they inspire us.  In a Harvard Business review article, “Why Inspiration Matters,” author Scott Barry Kaufman explains: “In a culture obsessed with measuring talent and ability, we often overlook the important role of inspiration.”

Inspiration isn’t all squishy stuff – it can drive very real results.  Kaufman’s article details studies that prove that inspiration facilitates progress toward goals, promotes creativity, and even increases well-being.

That works for me!  For much of my life, I have turned to quotes when I need inspiration, or a mantra, or to steel myself in challenging situations.  Here are some of my personal favourites and some insight into how they’ve served me.

1.  “It is better to beg forgiveness, than ask permission.”

― Grace Murray Hopper

At school, the pupils who weren’t destined for university were trained as typists.  I wanted to learn how to type but was told I couldn’t.  Luckily the teacher who ran the typing class was also my economics teacher.  She promised to smuggle me into the class and enter me for the exam.  She said, “We won’t ask for permission, we’ll beg forgiveness” when you pass the exam.  Typing turned out to be one of the most useful skills I’ve ever learned.  Not only did I get paid work as a typist at the local hospital during the school holidays, but I can touch-type at speed on a computer keyboard – a very valuable capability in our digital world.

This quote has served me well throughout my career.  After all, if we play it safe all the time, we might never try something truly innovative.  Given the agile, fast-paced environment that we work in, we often don’t have the time to hold off on decisions until permission has been granted.  That’s not to say that begging for forgiveness hasn’t been tough for a rule-follower like me!  But I’ve found that the reward usually outweighs the risk.

  1. “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

―Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own”

This quote got me through my toughest mental endurance challenge and my most demanding physical challenge:  getting my doctorate and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  I managed both by telling myself that each step, however small, got me closer to my goal.

When it comes to business, sometimes we set goals for ourselves that seem too enormous and therefore unachievable.  However, by breaking a big task down into bite-sized chunks, we can stay motivated over long distances or periods of time.   Let’s not forget that all achievement comes with hard work.  This is particularly helpful advice to people who are starting their careers and have a long way to go to reach their goal.   Perseverance is key!

  1. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

―John Lennon

Have a direction, not a plan

In work and in life, I believe we should have a direction, not necessarily a plan.  I’ve found that if you set yourself a direction, your brain will work to make it happen in ways that you probably can’t or didn’t imagine.  Plans can be too restrictive and we experience disappointment when they don’t work out.  Instead, if we set a clear direction, we experience joy when circumstances take us down the right path.

For example, years ago I wanted to work in Germany, but was told I needed to “earn my stripes in the UK” before getting a transfer to Germany.  As it turned out, I ended up being sponsored by a Swiss German company at university, getting a work placement with them in Germany during my “gap year,” and making contacts then that eventually led me to starting work in Germany the weekend after I graduated.  I couldn’t have planned or predicted that path, but it perfectly matched my direction.

  1. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

―Steve Jobs

I have made “love what you do” my mantra because life is too short to do a job that doesn’t inspire you or work with people who don’t inspire you.  Loving what you do does wonders for your psyche.  According to a Huffington Post article, loving your job drives engagement which is defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor (high levels of energy and mental resilience), dedication (being strongly involved and challenged by your work), and absorption (when you’re working, you’re in the zone and time passes quickly).”

What if you don’t love your job – should you quit?  Maybe not.  Research shows that great work is produced when people focus on doing work that benefits other people.  A Forbes article, “Do What You Love? Or Love What You Do?” explains this phenomenon:  “The Great Work Study showed that 88% of projects that earned awards began with an employee asking their own version of the question, “What difference could I make that other people would love?”… They were focused on the recipient of their work—their customer, their colleague who depends on them, their leader who trusts in them, the community who expects their support, or others who benefit from their work.”

  1. “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” 

―William James

We all need to feel that what we do makes a difference.  This quote inspires me to trust my knowledge and have confidence in my opinions.  As Chris Dedicoat’s, Cisco’s Executive Vice President for Worldwide Sales, says, “Together, knowledge and confidence give you the foundation to experiment and take risks.”

How do you gain confidence in your career?  When I speak on this topic, I always touch on four key elements.  First, read a lot!  This helps build your knowledge and inform your point of view.  Second, encourage feedback and then act on it. Next, pick good mentors.  Be clear about what you want a mentor for (functional expertise, advancing your career) then pick someone who models that behaviour.  Finally, be self-aware – know what you stand for and build your personal brand.

For me, a quote a day keeps the blues away.  It’s my daily dose of positive psychology – helping me cultivate what is best within myself.

What are your favourite quotes? Find a quote that inspires you and share it in the comments!

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The Power of Interconnected Partnerships – Internally and Externally

Conexion Badge updated2I have always been a passionate believer in The Power of Partnerships to improve diversity in the talent pipeline, the workplace and leadership positions at enterprises everywhere. My experience shows that partnerships must be formed both within the enterprise and outside of it in order to make a real impact on diversity.

This has been made more obvious to me in the last month than at any other time in my 20-year business career. The Power of Partnerships – both internally and externally – can make a difference, and I’ve seen that difference accelerated when these partnerships interconnect to advance Hispanic  representation in the high-tech industry.

For example, on Oct. 21, Conexión, the Latino Employee Resource Organization (ERO) at Cisco, recognized its corporate history of progress, innovation and impact with a Cisco TV broadcast featuring presentations by Cisco leaders such as Guillermo Diaz Jr., Cisco’s CIO; Shari Slate, our Chief Inclusion & Collaboration Officer; and, Maria Dincel, a Marketing director who oversees Cisco’s sponsorship of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We also invited Gina Rudan, a Leadership Coach at Google, who inspired everyone with her insights on how each of us can unleash our “inner genius” by combining our specific skills and experience with our unique passion in life. Read More »

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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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