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How Inclusion and Diversity is driving customer relationships

August 12, 2011 - 7 Comments

“When it comes to Inclusion and Diversity, you have to make it personal. You have to find a way to incorporate it into Cisco and outside of Cisco every day – make it part of your life and your DNA. Share your commitments to Inclusion and Diversity with your family, your friends, your co-workers and your customers, partners and shareholders. If we start having discussions with our customers around Inclusion and Diversity, we realise that other than a vendor relationship we have core values in common.” Brad Oliver, Services Sales Manager and Inclusion and Diversity Lead in Canada

 Brad Oliver was on his way to a customer site and he knew they were about to have a difficult business conversation. He walked into a large boardroom, was introduced to a group of people he had never met before (and from their body language were feeling very defensive) and in the process handed out his business cards. Just as he was beginning to talk, a senior executive raised her hand and asked him, “How many blind people have you met in the IT industry?”

You see, Brad didn’t hand out standard business cards; his were Braille. And when his customers received a business card in Braille, they immediately started touching the card, turning it over and tracing the Braille with their fingers. When Brad explained that he has the cards to encourage conversations around Inclusion and Diversity, the discussion shifted to blind or visually impaired employees, wheel chair access in offices and driving inclusion to individual contributors. By the time the conversation shifted back to the planned agenda, Brad could see people had relaxed, the general tone had changed and as a result, the meeting was a lot more productive.

Brad now encourages all members of his team to have regular conversations with their customers around Inclusion and Diversity. His theory is that if you talk to your customers day-in and day-out about the same thing, try asking them who in their company runs Inclusion and Diversity. Either they will know, they won’t know or they are going to be extremely passionate about it. That relationship is going to help Cisco because those people are going to talk to other people about your conversation.  “Either way, you’re building strong relationships based on something we all share – being human,” says Brad.

The other day, Brad and 3 other Cisco Inclusion and Diversity Leaders went to a Pride at Work event in Canada. He decided to test his theory and asked one of the attendees if she was involved in Inclusion and Diversity. Not only does she lead the Inclusion and Diversity practice at the Bank of Montreal, but she is also on a board  for 60 different companies in Ontario who are firm supporters of Inclusion and Diversity. So what did he do? Hand her his Braille business card and in a couple of weeks Brad is going to present to the board about Cisco’s Services, Products and our Inclusion and Diversity philosophy.

Braille card is the easiest door to open an Inclusion and Diversity conversation. Why don’t you give it a go?

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  1. Great story – thanks for sharing. I find that a short I&D story really helps business partners “lower their shields” and enable an authentic conversation. Everyone has someone in their network that can benefit from greater appreciation for diversity and inclusion. And when they see you have similar values – it leads you into a conversation that results in a stronger relationship.

    • Hi Patricia,

      Thanks for your comment. I would love to post some stories on the blog about partners and I&D. Do you have any examples you can share? Please email me and let me know at


  2. Excellent blogpost, Laura. A compelling story, illustrating a way in which we put the “human” in the network. Well told!

  3. Hi Sedef, let’s catch up next week about the Employers Forum on Disability – this could be a great next topic for the blog.


  4. Well I did get a few brownie points at my meetings at the Employers Forum on Disability where I’m co-chairing an employer work-group for gold member employers on how to attract more graduates/students to job opportunities 🙂

    Outside of that I’ve found that the cards really demonstrait Cisco’s commitment to inclusion across the board and you know the old saying – actions speak louder than words!

  5. I do have braille business cards as well and I find they’re a great conversation starter in Cisco’s commitment to inclusion and diversity. I think everyone at Cisco has a great story to tell about their experience with our diverse workforce and how its positively impacted our own perspectives and careers. Thanks for sharing this Laura, great blog!

    • Hi Sedef,

      Great to hear that other employees at Cisco have braille business cards! Apart from great conversation starters, have you found that the cards have helped you add value to your relationships and led to tangible results?