Maria Callaghan

This blog follows a mutual interview between Carlos Pignataro, Chief Technology Officer of Customer Experience at Cisco, and Maria Callaghan, Privacy and Transparency Program Manager in Cisco Security & Trust.

“Diversity is not how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.” -Ola Joseph

The Start of a Mentorship

Carlos: Thank you for joining me today to discuss the importance of inclusion and collaboration in the realm of innovation. Why don’t we start by talking about how we met? 

Maria: Of course! You and I met at Cisco over two years ago through a shared passion for innovation and social impact. When I first joined Cisco, I was searching for a mentor that was not only enthusiastic about innovation, but understood diversity applied through innovation to be at the heart of positive societal change. I had always felt that it was important to bring compassion for the world’s most challenging problems to the ideas we create. Through your mentorship, I’ve learned this at the heart of Cisco’s inclusive innovative culture.

Carlos: Absolutely, we are a company that is committed to leading the way. To think aspirationally and to inspire positive change. To celebrate difference. And to see the world through the eyes of others to create new possibilities for tomorrow. Specifically, I truly see inclusivity as a key catalyst for innovation, and innovation as the driver for sustainable growth. By inviting diverse experiences and including unique perspectives in the invention process, we better the quality of solutions and elevates our relevancy.

The Innovation Coalition

Maria: On that topic, the Research Triangle Park (RTP) Innovation Coalition comes to mind as a group that celebrates inclusive innovation. Could you share more about how we helped kickstart the group?

Carlos: Definitely! That’s a great example leveraging the momentum of a more traditional Patent Award Ceremony, and expanding it into an inclusive innovation movement. To inspire an interest in inclusive innovation across all backgrounds, and as executive sponsor for Innovation on the Cisco RTP site, I facilitated the creation of the Cisco RTP Innovation Coalition by engaging and empowering employees. This group drives innovation across our campus through patent education, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship events, outside-in startup mindset speakers, and innovation ceremonies. We celebrate everyday innovation and debunk myths. Anyone can be an inventor regardless of their background, and it is especially important to encourage those who might not see themselves as an inventor to look deeper. As a founding member, Maria, what’s been your favorite part of the coalition?

2019 RTP Coalition: Carlos Pignataro, April Thornton, Pam Rivers, Katey Regan, Maria Callaghan, Corben Wall, Mike Lake, Anna De Magalhaes

Maria: It has absolutely been the encouragement. My college education was a BBA focused on entrepreneurial studies, which was not incredibly technical, so there is often an imposter syndrome when working in a technology-heavy space such as cybersecurity. However, the degree did teach me management, how to think fast on my feet, and gave me an ability to dive into uncharted territory with confidence.

These transferable skills have helped tremendously in cybersecurity. I’ve learned to adopt a new lens, in which I now see myself as an innovator; a person that can use my unique experiences to create meaningful solutions to difficult problems regardless of the subject matter. You can work hard to learn any subject, including cybersecurity. If you take ownership of your strengths, and never sell yourself short, you have a world of possibilities ahead of you Thanks to the Innovation Coalition, I go into work and instead of doing the job I had yesterday, I consciously create the job I will have tomorrow.

Employee Resource Organizations

2019 WISE Event: Daisy Magnus-Aryitey, Carlos Pignataro, Sweetie Browne

Maria: How has sponsorship played a role in your career?

Carlos: Great question! My ability to drive diversity across every segment of the $13B customer experience business started with the focused, dedicated sponsorship of individuals and programs fostering inclusion and experiential learning. This pathway from proximity to sponsorship first began by recognizing and conquering self-imposed barriers that limited me as an innovation and leader. Second, it took-off with getting to know about various communities and sharing my personal experiences. I believe to drive change it takes a village – and Cisco provides an opportunity through employee resource communities to do just that: to learn, to grow, and to understand the world around us. The power of proximity is real and has resulted in my sponsorship across multiple programs. I’ve been the RTP executive sponsor for Cisco’s PRIDE, Cisco’s Women in Science and Engineering organization that provides opportunities for women to lead with technology, Emerging Talent at Cisco, and Conexión, a group aimed at accelerating LatinX leadership. Maria, in my experience, it is often times when we step outside our comfort zones we are able to grow, connect and embrace different perspectives. Do you feel the same way?

Maria: Absolutely. Stepping outside of my main role helps me constantly stretch my horizons and give back to our local community. Besides the RTP Innovation Coalition, I founded RTP Night Outside, which collaborates with local nonprofits who support those experiencing homelessness and created Cisco’s Bi/Pan+ Professional Group. I’ve been able to take part in Cisco’s “Movement”, a group dedicated to fostering inclusive culture at Cisco, the Emergency Response Team, a group of trained employees who provide medical aid on campus, and Cisco PRIDE, which advocates for and provides support to LGBTQIA+ employees.

2019 Workplace Summit-Out & Equal: Corben Wall, Maria Callaghan

Innovation for Social Impact

Carlos: Now more than ever, we need full-spectrum diversity and inclusive innovation to help solve pressing problems we as a society face today. Where is an example of a space we can do this in?

Maria: Innovation is greatly needed at the intersection of racial equality and public health. With BIPOC communities encountering up to up to 3x the Covid-19 hospitalization rate of white communities, we know that inequality is furthered by this global pandemic. These effects are hindering equal access to technology, education, and job access in the coming years. As an industry, we must move towards driving opportunity for those disproportionally affected by the Covid-19 education gap. More individuals need a fairer chance of becoming future leaders in our industry. We cannot wait to ask for underrepresented groups out of our universities, without supporting students of all ages in having equal access to the technologies that make remote school possible, students who are having a harder time juggling school while losing members of their family at 2.8x the rate of their white classmates. What are we doing as an industry that will help close this education gap for these individuals, and ensure they too can see themselves as innovators?

Carlos: Absolutely. And in order to build the partnerships and programs that will make lasting change in our communities, we must focus on what unites us. Picture the earth from space and think how we are all together. It is paramount to make “being a leader in innovation” a bridgeable, achievable goal for anyone to embark on.

Carlos and Maria: What are you doing to create an inclusive environment for innovation and celebrate diverse perspectives?

“Drucker Institute research shows that the best-managed 25% of large-cap U.S.-based firms have nearly twice as many women in top executive posts as the worst-managed 25% (20.2% for the top quartile vs. 12% for the bottom quartile)*. Gender diversity matters especially for an innovation-driven firm like Cisco; because innovation is both conceptual and perceptual, diversity in the executive ranks gives a company more eyes with which to spot opportunities.”
— Zach First, Executive Director, Drucker Institute


* Source: Wall Street Journal,  If Women Drop Out of the Labor Force, Corporate Effectiveness Will Suffer



Carlos Pignataro

Head of Technology and Data

Engineering Sustainability Office