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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 Robbins, 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. Women comprise more than 40% of of the ELT and racial minorities 36%, making it the most diverse executive group of its kind in the tech industry.

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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CSO Professional Women’s Day: The Power of “Story”

Growing up, my grandfather and I were very close.  As a boy and young man, I learned a lot about the world from the stories he would tell me on his porch in Chicago about his life growing up black in the segregated south, the lessons he learned trying to fit in when he moved to the north, and his hopes for his sons and daughters—and their children—to have opportunities that he did not have.  I knew from the way he told his stories, that he was sharing special and life changing knowledge.  I would do my best to sit still and listen hard so I would remember every word.

Last week a group of 650 women from Cisco and our customers, came together in person and via Telepresence to take part in an exciting and meaningful event called the CSO Professional Women’s Day.  This gathering is a great example of the power of sharing special and life changing knowledge. The event was started three years ago by Padmasree Warrior and the women on her team as a way to share inspiring stories of personal and professional experiences – extending that “porch” in my mind.

This year the theme was Presence & Bravery and I have to tell you, all of us were doing our best to sit very still and listen hard so we would remember every word.

  • Two-star Michelin Chef Dominique Crenn energetically urged us to embrace diversity in all its forms and help connect the world by creating the platform for conversation, which is what she aspires to do every day through her food.
  • Jacqueline Novogratz, the CEO and Founder of Acumen, took us from Wall Street to Rwanda where combined her banking expertise with a passion for equality to help victims of poverty through microfunding. Her wisdom was clear in all her stories, “Courage is taking on the status quo and speaking your truth, even if it’s through trembling lips.”
  • Our Ted Talk-style panel offered us new points of view from a rock-star millennial to a pharma executive (Laura Hamill) to a woman who re-invented her career (Karine Allouche Salanon).  Winning the prize for presence was Isabella Panisci, our rock-star millennial, whose wisdom was as profound as it was fundamental, “Don’t raise quitters.”
  • Finally, leader, author, gospel singer and 20-year Wall Street veteran Carla Harris brought her leadership wisdom to life with dynamic, humorous and insightful stories that convinced us that it is always worth taking a risk because “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” and failure brings the gift of experience.

These amazing women inspired us all and demonstrated the importance and power of inclusion, diversity and “porch” wisdom. I am committed to sponsoring this event next year and I’m looking forward to driving more great forums like the CSO Professional Women’s Day in the future. Let’s keep on moving together.

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Inclusion: The New Core Competence for Leaders

We all know that not one person has all the answers, so it only makes sense that a company would want to have an inclusive, diverse workforce to bring in varying points of view. The problem is that most companies focus on diversity stats, but that doesn’t really make a difference in the culture of an organization, particularly when the whole point is to drive better business results through collaboration.

GVSOteamdiverseI prefer to focus on inclusion, and believe that inclusion precedes diversity. A more inclusive work environment will attract a more diverse workforce. Just as communication is a core skill for a modern leader, I believe inclusion is a core skill for the 21st Century – a style you can learn and practice. What is inclusion?  Simply put, it means including people…seeking diverse opinions and taking into account other points of view.  It’s treating people like they belong and feel valued, and making sure you are building teams and environments where no one feels they are on the outside. This isn’t always easy. You have to demonstrate it by interacting and engaging, and treating people with respect. It’s not what you say, but how you are that counts.

I also believe in focusing on the strengths of our people, rather than their weaknesses. That’s how we get people to go from good to great, instead of not-so-good to mediocre. This is especially important for women. In my experience, there is no difference in competence between men and women, but there is a massive difference in self-belief. We try to challenge women to regularly operate outside of their comfort zone so they can build confidence, aspiration level and impact on the organization.  Read More »

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