At Cisco, we are committed to our conscious culture, built on the importance of everyone being aware or ‘conscious’ of the environment in which they work. We all have a right to feel safe at work and we should all be able to thrive when we apply ourselves; the workplace needs to be a meritocracy. I believe we all have an obligation to make our environment feel safe and inclusive. Take difference to heart is a principle built on conscious culture. It reminds us that we must respect and value our unique personal differences.

In an increasingly polarised world, we need to be mindful that we continue to encourage discourse and debate, moving away from the echo chamber which limits dialogue and opinion, and opening ourselves up to a wide range of views and ideas, which may differ from our own, but are nonetheless equally valid. Developing a charitable mindset and assuming good intent enables us to accept difference and thrive. Of course, it is not always easy to accept views that differ from our own, but it is critical that we are able to respect difference and open conversations up as opposed to shutting them down. Good discourse leads to enrichment of our opinions and can sometimes change them.

I know for a fact I can unconsciously take a less than charitable mindset to other peoples’ opinions that differ from my own; labelling and putting them into boxes. At times like these, I feel myself failing to engage my ‘human’ cognitive brain, defaulting instead to stereotyping in order to deal with difference. These are the times when my emotional, more ‘primitive’ brain can take over, leading me to be less open to difference. I continue to try my hardest to foster an understanding and respect of difference, continuing my journey towards becoming a truly rational, enlightened human being.

I strongly believe that in today’s turbulent times, the responsibility of a leader should be to nurture openness, fairness, respect and inclusivity, through building diverse teams. Diverse teams not only represent the societies in which we live and our clients live, but they also outperform traditional teams made up of similar backgrounds and opinions. One of the key responsibilities of leadership is to drive performance. Building diverse teams goes hand in hand with building high performing teams. The most important part of my role is to encourage behaviours across my team that makes sure we embrace difference, are open to new opinions, aware of bias and respectful of our fellow human beings. This is where inclusivity comes into play; there’s no point building a diverse team if you don’t include them in decision-making or ask for their opinion. The power comes from making everyone feel valued members of the team.

Human beings are complex and unique, they cannot be defined by labels and boxes. When we think of diversity, we should not limit ourselves to thinking about gender or race for example. We need to think in the context of full spectrum diversity, which is a term that makes me feel very comfortable, because for me diversity is diversity of thought. As I continue my journey on awareness, I regularly push back on my own stereotyping and push myself to think across the spectrum.

At Cisco we aspire to power an inclusive future for all, and that means opening our hearts and minds to difference, celebrating individuality and learning to walk in the shoes of those different from ourselves. To embrace the power of difference is to open the way for transformational change.

Cisco’s Proximity initiative challenges leaders to embrace difference. For me, it has been an experience which has been both educational and humbling. Proximity has opened my eyes to diversity and the importance of actively listening and learning from colleagues whose experience and outlook is completely different from my own. And the more I learn, the more I grow and the more I want to learn. Most importantly, I am more aware of difference and more conscious of how we can be inclusive of that difference to benefit Cisco, the teams, the clients and, in a small way, the societies in which we all live.

There have been times in recent months when I’ve turned off the news; the pandemic, lockdown and isolation, racial injustice and economic depression driving the narrative. Then I remind myself that actions speak louder than words, and while I am one individual amongst billions, I have a role to play in celebrating and nurturing the strength that comes from taking difference to heart.


Richard Everard

Director, Services Sales

Sales - EMEAR