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.
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.
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.”
“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 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.”
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.