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How to Foster Gender Diversity in the Workplace

August 27, 2018 - 38 Comments

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?


@cisco #inclusionishappening #neverbetter @cisco_MFI


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  1. Thanks for sharing the information about foster gender diversity in the workplace. Its very helpful for me.

  2. I know we can take this success to a more microscopic level. How do I know? Because we are Cisco plain and simple. Gender diversity is a great success at the macro level of numbers per capita, but lets dig in and peel the onion a bit. What are the numbers at the subdivisions of our factions of engineering teams? If we are going to innovate and expand beyond our wildest dreams, then those wild dreams must include diversity at the engineering level.

  3. I would like to introduce myself as Dr. J. Vasantha Kumari, Consultant Psychologist from Chennai. As I am involved with MNCs as an External Member, Internal Compliance Committee, (ICC) and POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) Trainer, interested in knowing CISCO Gender Diversity and Inclusion policy at workplace. Great work.

  4. very nice article Suresh Nair

  5. Thanks Suresh for the reminder to proactively reflect on sub conscious biases and to keep in mind that leader actions have deeper impact on culture than obviously apparent

    • Sanjiv – thanks. I really believe that Leaders and what they talk or do have a "meta-morphical" impact on team culture.

  6. Nice article and good discussion from a quick read of all of the comments.

    One thing we are doing in APJC to foster inclusion and diversity is ensuring that we have diverse interview panels (both candidates and interviewers) whenever we recruit for all of our open roles.
    This has helped broaden all of our perspectives and foster inclusion and diversity.

    This is a journey and not a destination. Onwards and Upwards. 🙂

    • hi Clarence thanks for specifically mentioning this. We are doing this also. We are also trying to see if blind hiring ( hiring without CV on hand ) can help eliminate many other biases we may have .

  7. Every word/suggestion in the article is very important. Sounds like full of experience. Thanks for writing.

  8. Hi,

    We are too focused on men/women diversity. This is intellect knife that we are using and not our intelligence. We need to look at each individual human beings and do our best. While I agree to encourage women to speak up, at the same time we need women to start acting like feminine cause it's easy to be like men to fit in.

    I hope for the sake of humanity we can be inclusive and collaborate to be a successful workforce and a company.

    Raj Patel

    • hi Raj,
      thanks a lot. While i agree with you that for the sake of humanity we must start acting without gender preferences i don't completely agree that it is easy for Women to "we need women to start acting like feminine cause it's easy to be like men to fit in."

      I have seen that it is really difficult in many social and cultural contexts for women to just blend in like men. It needs support from our side and thats what our intent is
      rgds, Suresh

    • As a female engineer in a sea of males I will agree with this comment. It can be very uncomfortable when you realize your male counter parts and leadership are treating you like a nagging wife. We have to do more than say "inclusion." We have to teach the company what that looks like conversationally. Not just in numbers.

  9. So what does the company consider to be the optimal gender distribution?

  10. Suresh,

    Great message….love the comments from XX-Chromosomes! We must listen and learn from THEIR experiences. I have been experimenting with trying to be "the last one to speak" in any conversation. This has really helped my listening skills and better formulate replies, based on previous ones. Give it a try, y'all (especially XY Chromosomes!).

  11. Great article Suresh, and great examples of how we can all be more inclusive. Also, would like to encourage employees to consider utilizing diverse suppliers (51% owned by a women, minority, veteran, disabled veterans) in addition to preferred suppliers. Diverse Suppliers tend to be more focused on hiring diverse candidates that we bring in as contingent workers!

    • hi Denise,

      You bring about such an important point. This is a facet we sometimes miss to consider.
      Thanks a lot for sharing !

      rgds, Suresh

  12. Suresh, Thanks for the article. I am glad to see the renewed attention to diversity in Cisco. This time, I hope it translates to real change inside.
    From my experience:
    – Don't cut women off when they are speaking or talk over them. For that matter when any person speaks. If talking over people has become a culture, please ask everyone to queue themselves in meetings (we do this very well in media standard organizations where we say "queue Subha" to do a virtual line up to speak)

    – When greeting people, don't leave the women out. This happens to me often and sadly enough by senior engineers/managers. They will greet and shake hands with the men and leave the one women out as if they are not worth knowing or talking to.

    Be mindful of how you relate to your co-workers who are "different".

    • Subha- Such wonderful points – small yet impactful ! i hope people stay aware of these 🙂 Thanks for the feedback !

    • Hi Subha,

      How have you approached a senior engineer or manager who simply does not introduce you in a group? That sounds awful and I would also think it would make the new people being introduced feel uncomfortable. Next time please step in front of the others and introduce yourself. I am far from perfect but I would always introduce all members of a group in a meeting or social situation. I don't really understand why somebody would not do that regardless of who the individuals involved are. It is basic common courtesy.

  13. Hi Suresh,

    Great post. I love your leadership on gender diversity – I'd love to hear more men speaking (and hear examples/success stories) from men. I was thrilled to read that there is a "Men for Inclusion" group at Cisco. Progress!

    You focus on gender diversity in your blog and I'm glad your post title calls that out. I think that it is important to differentiate at this point in time when so much work is still to be done on the forefront of diversity and inclusion. Let's keep moving the dial on gender diversity, I think it is one of the movements of our time. It's more than past time for equality in the workplace, and I am so proud to work for a company moving the dial here. I love the new focus on our people and the people deal.

    Personally, I would like to see more on Diversity & Inclusion, in particular on the topic of bias (vs prejudice). It's not just gender or race; it's age, disability, gender identity, orientation, size, religion, culture and all the other beautiful things that make us different, and that we bring bias with us in the workplace. Many of us don't understand bias (not prejudice) or how it affects us and how we work and collaborate. Hearing open discussions and specific examples and solutions, access to tips and ideas help with awareness and makes it less taboo to think about and discuss.

    Thank you for the post! Great things are happening! : )

    • hi Char,
      thanks for your feedback 🙂 i so much appreciate it .

      Thanks a bunch for bringing about all these other facets that need awareness , discussion and action. You have given me great ideas to write on in my next piece. Look out for more stuff here.

      Great things happen when we think that every small step is a contribution to a great change !

      Again appreciate your support.
      thanks – Suresh

  14. Very nice blog, Suresh. Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective on inclusion! I would also encourage everyone to check out our Inclusion and Collaboration community space, where you can explore ways to get involved and learn about our many solutions. Check it out here:

  15. Hi Suresh,

    This is a good write up, I am glad you have been able to break free of the Complaince mode at the right time, but not any teams and leaders have reached that level yet. I have personally experienced that questioning if you start in one topic, it leads to targeting you on some other irrelevant topic.

    I agree with Meen Seher, that more we need more leaders like Chuck Robbins who are comfortable havign more and more women on their ELT. It is worth thinking, how many managers have Women as their back up/second line leader, while they are out of office. This is simple question, can lead us to a lot of answers regarding Gender diversity.

    • hi Prasanna – Totally agree with you ! you asked a great question about backups and substitutes. Incidentally i have wonderful women & men colleagues in my team that seamlessly substitute me even when i need 🙂 .

  16. What are we doing to educate men about being inclusive???We have so many programs for women to step up, how about we have mandatory programs for men to learn how to create an inclusive environment???
    When will we stop telling the women what to do and shift our focus on the men?

    • hi Meen Sehar,
      1. Most of the point mentioned above are for men 🙂 to follow .
      2. I am part of the Men For Inclusion group which is mainly create with this intent .

      hope that answers.

      rgds, Suresh

  17. Thank you for writing this article and for giving attention to the important topic of gender diversity, which is of particular importance in the tech industry. You are right that for most corporations, it is "just talk," and I'm glad that this is not the case for Cisco. I especially appreciate that you encourage us to call each other out on our biases.

    One suggestion that I have is to include other genders in the conversation as well–not just "men" and "women." In order to fully address the issue and to promote inclusion, it is necessary to (at the very least) acknowledge nonbinary folks and those with other gender identities.

    • Hi Maryellen , Totally accepted 🙂 . In no way want to restrict the conversation to Men and Women. Inclusive is for all genders . Will write more on this in the coming blogs.
      rgds, Suresh

  18. Very nice write up Suresh. Woman in core technology is very much needed and they see everything in different angle which others cant see.

    • <reply to Chandan>
      i completely concur that diversity brings in a completely different viewpopint of lookign at things

  19. < reply to Vidhya Govindan >
    hi Vidhya ,

    Thanks for reading and reaching out with feedback !
    We have multiple initiatives here like CCW – Cisco Connected Women that holds sessions every year. you can reach out to the SP POC here ( Jharana Vasavad) . The other is the GraceHopper Conference – CISCO supports folks who want to volunteer in the panel for paper submission and evaluation – this is a great opportunity. Its important that we have people like you that are able to contribute here.

    On the tech side we really dont have other initiaitives and this could be a great opportunity to meet and see what we can do to may be start things like WIT here.
    rgds, Suresh

  20. Hi Suresh,

    Good to see this writeup. Thanks for taking time to jot it down.
    I am looking forward to see how these points are going to be reflected in the form of actions. What are the initiatives taken or will be taken to foster?

    I have been a member of Women In Technology which is hosting many tech talks in US. Is there something similar in India? It would be great if you could shed some light on different tracks that Cisco provides for women empowerment and how we can associate with those. Those inputs would gain traction in seeing the results.


  21. Fantastic blog, thanks for sharing Suresh!

  22. I have a question to ask about the meaning of Diverse? Why there is only a mentioning of particular gender in your blog where as the title is diverse gender? See Women empowerment is not about scream it out, its about be sensible enough to accept that my colleague can be anyone irrespective of gender or no gender at all. So please see all of us as an individual not as Gender.

    • hi Vedika,
      Good question to clarify. The reason to focus on women is that in the current context the balance is tilted against them and thats the part of the population that needs support. If you follow Sheryl Sandbergs recent report ( for insights on diversity you would see that only 20% of C-suite roles are held by women, Moving from entry-level to the C-suite, female representation falls by more than 50%. Furthermore 50% of men think women are well represented in companies where only 10% of senior leaders are women.
      These data tell you why we need to focus on women and help them in their career journey.
      Our Intent is not to discriminate any gender but help create an environment where people are aware of social sentivities around gender and then employ that awareness to give everyone a fair chance at success !
      Thanks a lot once again for reading and asking this.

      • Hi Suresh,

        Thanks for this well written blog. I had the same question as Vedika, which you answered already. So basically you focused on one particular inclusion topic as there are many more challenges and opportunites on diversity in the workplace. And in a global workplace the priority can differ per region or country even. Thanks for good information.

        • hi anonymous, i totally agree on the fact that there are a multitude of opportunities and perspectives to address when it comes to diversity. In Future posts i will try to focus on some of the other ones.