Most corporations talk about gender diversity and it remains just that — talk. Why? Mainly because this key aspect of organizational design is treated as an afterthought, more of a box to be checked to satisfy HR as opposed to being part of a competitive talent strategy.
Cisco is different, and it starts at the top. Women make up 50% of our executive leadership team, making it one of the most diverse in our industry, and 27% of our Board of Directors are women. I have seen commitment from the highest levels to make diversity, inclusion and collaboration a top priority, and women are taking leadership positions that will shape the future of this remarkable company. As a manager of engineering teams and a leader in Cisco’s Men for Inclusion employee organization, I wanted to share some thoughts on how to create gender-balanced organizations that lead to greater inclusion and innovation:
- A focus on gender diversity in hiring is essential, but it’s equally important to support the diverse employees you bring in. Stay connected with them. Frequent check-ins and informal conversations over coffee are a great way to build and nurture these relationships at work.
- Lead by example. If you lead an organization, even a small team, make sure you practice inclusion and balance in everyday behavior. Your team watches you and emulates your actions, even more than you imagine. So, make sure you set the right example.
- Be aware of unconscious biases that cloud your judgement. Make sure you and your colleagues call each other out when you see such biases in practice.
- Encourage women team members to speak up. Many times, I have had situations where diverse perspectives from my staff helped me stay true to Cisco values. This became apparent during my efforts to transition a software team from waterfall to Agile methods. The men on my staff were very aligned to my way of dealing with the situation. We were all thinking alike (alert: too many people thinking alike is the indication of a potential pitfall). One of the women on my team, however, recognized this bias and asked me to consider being more collaborative rather than prescriptive. I cannot thank her enough. That was the beginning of a change that we still drive together.
- Be a mentor to diverse employees. Help them feel safe, help them be heard, coach them to be confident, help them succeed. I have personally mentored many women employees, and the one thing I can confidently say is that the organizations these women are part of have greatly benefitted from having confident and engaged women on their side.
- Take everyone along. A varied, diverse organization cannot be successful if there isn’t opportunity for everyone to participate. Cisco’s Men for Inclusion organization ensures men are part of the solution, and that gender diversity initiatives include men as important allies and sponsors of change.
- Encourage and make time for the women on your team to join groups like Lean In, Women Who Code, or your company’s specific support groups, such as WISE or Women in Technology at Cisco. These groups provide a much-needed social platform to help women employees connect and support each other’s professional development.
Diversity is no longer a “box to be checked” on an HR form. It’s a competitive strategy that fosters innovation and results in the best teams. The most progressive companies will make diversity, inclusion and collaboration central to their talent strategies.
How are you fostering diversity in your workplace?
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