Advancing Diversity with ‘The Power of One’

October 13, 2015 - 30 Comments

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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  1. I’m still in my “ELC After Glow”, feeding on morsels each day. Morsels of confidence, grit, bravery, clarity, knowing, positivity and action.

    There is so much percolating across the global CBP Community and I can’t remember a time when I’ve been more excited to go big for Cisco.

    Thanks so very much for all you do to further Cisco’s I&C vision.

  2. The ELC was 2 days of eye opening awesomeness. The opportunity to network amongst so many professionals in different industries was unparalleled. The speakers and panelists shared real career advise that was applicable to my career. I feel honored to have been selected to attend an event of the ELC’s caliber. The Cisco Development Day drove home the commitment Cisco has to making all of it’s performing employees feel valued. The presence of Chuck and his Executive Leadership Team put the importance and commitment to Inclusion and Diversity in perspective. Thank you to all whom prepared the entire experience.

  3. This was my first ELC event and I can honestly say I was blown away by the enthusiasm, encouragement, and energy that this event provided. I was especially proud of how our Cisco Systems Family came out and supported the vision of increasing inclusion and diversity at our Company. The ELC has provided me with a new level of motivation and education to take charge of my career and move it in the direction that I want to go in. Thank you to Ehrika Gladden, Shari Slate, Francine Katsoudas, Chuck Robbins and the Cisco Systems leadership team for the opportunity to attend this great event!!! Power of One!!!!!

  4. This was my first time attending ELC MLMS event and it has been an exceptional experience and I’m thankful for these two days of leadership training and networking opportunity. Cisco has demonstrated that diversity in the workplace is an important element in our success. Development day was remarkable with Chuck’s presence and the leadership team. This truly was a “Moment that Matters”!

  5. I was fortunate to have attended this event, and many thanks to our Cisco executive sponsors for their support and encouragement of growing a diverse and collaborative workplace by providing enriching opportunities like the ELC MLMS. The event offered two full days of inspirational & professional growth workshops and seminars and a networking opportunity second to none. The ability to network with peers from various industries to share experiences and learn from theirs, along with inspirational nuggets of wisdom from some of the top executives from fortune 500 companies as well as our own Cisco executives was truly a Moment that Matters.

  6. We have come a long way, the road ahead is still long, but surely we are making progress.

    Chuck’s presence with the leadership team that attended the ELC sends a clear message that the company is committed to its people and value their contributions. Thanks Shari for making this happen with the call Chuck referenced.

    I firmly believe that we are stronger TOGETHER(Power of ONE) and our best days are yet to come.

  7. now i litterally crave a career in cisco but smeone tel me where exactly to start.

    • Hi Abel! There are lots of ways to start. 🙂 By just commenting, that’s a start! But I think the best place to start is by going to, and searching for open opportunities. If you’re new to your career, use those job descriptions to help you determine different areas of study. If you’re experienced, and you see a job that matches your skills, apply 🙂

  8. I did not get to attend but reading all of the comments was inspiring. It sound like a great event to network and learn more about the direction Cisco is going in and how committed Cisco to get there. This also makes me really believe Cisco is a great place to work and the possibilities for growth are here.

  9. What a great event!!!!!!!
    The lessons learned are real, practical and applicable. Thank you Cisco for supporting and demonstrating the value of inclusion and diversity.

  10. This was my first time to attend an event like this and I am so happy I did. It inspired me so much and I really feel like coming out of my comfort zone to do something more outstanding.

    Thank you to the organizers and thank you for making me a part of this!

  11. Before attending, I had heard many great things about the event and having a chance to attend myself, I can tell you that it is world class! This two day leadership training and networking event, allowed me to broaden my perspectives and understand how some of our peers in other Fortune 500 organizations are capitalizing on market opportunities to grow their businesses.

    The Cisco Day was amazing! I was blown away that Chuck, Fran and 40 other Cisco executives joined us for this break out. I found it impactful, insightful and energizing; I have already been sharing the message with others.

    I have received questions around some key highlights for me at the event and here are a couple I can share:

    I have a better understanding of why diversity in the workplace is key for all organizations who want to stay relevant and expand their organizations. The world is flat, and understanding different perspectives allows us to address and capture market opportunities.

    Talent and Leadership is the lifeblood of any organization. Build diverse pools of candidates and a diverse interview panel to attract top level talent that you are looking for. The importance of a diverse interview panel really stuck out to me.

    Taking RISK is a must in today’s complex business environment. Chuck spoke about business risk, attacking new markets, and personal risk, trying things that are new that you can have a high level of impact on. Both of these will need to continue to happen in order for Cisco to continue to be a great company.

  12. I’m proud to be a part of Cisco and am ecstatic to see Cisco being intentional about diversity and taking huge steps to change the status quo. #wearecisco

  13. I’m happy that I was able to attend. This was an amazing event. The Cisco Day of Development’s brainstorming time with some of our top leaders and Q&A with Chuck was the icing on the cake. CIsco’s all in on inclusion and diversity and you see it in the actions of our leaders.

  14. Great to see Cisco’s tangible investment in diversity and inclusion at Cisco and in the community.

  15. I saw this phrase over the weekend and it really rings true: Innovation Involves Inclusion. So glad we are driving this effort, it is so important.

  16. Very inspiring! Proud to be a part of Cisco! #WeAreCisco #ThisIsHowWeDoIt #PowerofOne

  17. Cisco is an amazing place to work and it’s events like this that make me proud to be part of the Cisco Family! The energy shined through in all the pictures! Special thanks to our Cisco leadership for standing behind what really matters…our people! #WeareCisco!

  18. This is what makes me so proud to be part of Cisco!!!! What a wonderful place to build a career!

  19. I attended the ELC and it was a transformational experience for me. The speakers were inspirational and provided tactical pragmatic advice about career development. I was honored by Cisco’s investment in diversity and each of us who attended. The most moving moment was the presence and engagement of Chuck and his executive leadership team. The investment of their time to enagage in a dialogue with us was very powerful and encouraging. I have never been more fired up about working for a company. I really believe “we”, (each one of us with our diverse backgrounds and cultures) working together equals one Cisco. #WEARECISCO. If this is the PeopleDeal, I am all in!

  20. I remember where we were in 2000, when I joined Cisco. I am moved by how far we’ve come. The People Deal?…You’d better believe it! Thank you, Cisco, for changing the way we Live and Work….TOGETHER!

  21. The People Deal is alive and well – this is fantastic on every level!

  22. The event was nothing short of spectacular and I was honored to participate in this program again this year. Cisco’s incredible commitment to the ELC’s vision, and how it resonates with Cisco, was boldly demonstrated from the tremendous investment in sponsoring the event, the sound messaging to our talented audience of 180 managers, and broad visibility of our inclusive efforts before close to 2,000 people from the public and private sector across the US. Thanks and kudos to the team that planned and executed flawlessly!

  23. #DiversityMatters and the direct attention inclusion matters. Bravo #Cisco for making the true effort to engage and make a difference.

  24. What a fantastic initiative to build, nurture and promote diverse & dynamic leaders ! So proud to be a Cisco citizen .

  25. Very exciting to see the impact Cisco is having!

  26. It’s always inspiring to see Cisco’s initiatives in action and read about the impact they make on individuals!

  27. One person, one idea, one action. It’s all it takes to start something great! Thanks for sharing this information about the fantastic event last week, Shari! Inspiring!

  28. A great reminder to all of us that change starts with me – thank you

    • So absolutely fantastic to see Belviane working towards her dream, having a clear vision of where she wants to go. So inspirational, so proud to be a member of the Cisco family.