Fostering Diversity in Enterprise Networking Engineering

September 6, 2019 - 18 Comments

Even in human relationships, hard data is an eye-opener.

When I joined Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Group in 2016 and took on oversight of its Diversity & Inclusion efforts, one data point was immediately concerning: we had gender imbalance, especially in the leadership ranks.

Statistically, more women in our team were seeing their careers reach a ceiling just below the director level, compared to men. This led to even more gender imbalance higher up in leadership ranks.

The situation in our team at Cisco reminded me, unhappily, of what my mother went through during my childhood in India. I watched her struggle to break into the top ranks of her profession despite having the necessary skills and being highly motivated. This personal experience, combined with the data from  multiple studies that show diverse groups foster greater innovation and drive better business outcomes, has motivated me to ensure that all employees in our division at Cisco have access to the best opportunities, based on their merits.

The very first thing that I did was pull together a focused group of engineers, well-represented by women, to start the conversation. This working group quickly helped create concrete projects that I am sharing here. My goal in doing this is to  further the conversation, and improve diversity.

Programs to Foster Gender Diversity

First, we transformed our hiring process to ensure we had diverse interview panels, and we worked with recruiters to expand our candidate pools to include better gender and ethnic diversity. The hiring decisions are fully based on merit; having a diverse candidate pool and interview panel is a step towards creating a level playing field for all candidates. With this new process, we now see better diversity in our hiring.

Cisco volunteers lead orientation for a women’s mentoring session.

Second, we created specific programs to engage and develop the women engineers on our teams. This helped build a stronger pipeline for women progressing into leadership positions. We created the “Women’s Mentoring Program,” a volunteer-run effort that connects aspiring women engineers with mentors from senior engineering leadership. This program helps women develop both core technology and soft skills. Women self-nominate themselves to be a part of this program, which has become popular among our employees and leadership alike. The program has been running successfully for years and the seventh cohort is experiencing it this year.

Third, we launched a program called “Propel,” to bridge the gender gap in our leadership ranks. The goal is to fast-track mid-career women to senior technology leadership and management positions. We prepare candidate profiles, match people with mentors and sponsors, and provide career projections of up to three years.

We have had excellent traction and success with these programs, and this has led our team to expand our focus and create programs to support other groups. For example, we now work with “Early in Career” employees on valuable communication skills. We created a platform for them to give TED-style talks, and we coach them on improving their speaking and presentation skills.

More Programs to Come

I continue to be motivated to improve the diversity of experience, and diversity of thought, in Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Group. I know that nurturing diversity and inclusion is a journey, and we are just getting started. It is deeply gratifying to work for a company that shares my values and supports diversity efforts. I have enjoyed working with people who understand that diversity of talent and perspective in the workplace leads to better outcomes for our employees, customers, shareholders, and society in general. I’m proud to be at a company that supports this vision.

Any positive change starts with a conversation. I welcome you to join this conversation and share how you foster diversity in your organization. Please reach out to me if you’d like to learn more.


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  1. @Liliana, to answer your question, ethnic diversity is of equal importance to us as gender diversity. We are working with many organizations such as SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), and Conexion that help us foster ethnic diversity. The Enterprise Networking team in San Jose is also running a high school mentoring program with The Foundation for Hispanic Education (TFHE).

    And in the last few years, we have started to focus recruiting efforts on ethnically rich universities like Howard, FIU, Cal Poly, and Texas A&M. We're making progress. I'm glad to say that our diversity hiring has increased in the last few cycles, and is on the rise.

  2. Venky,
    This is great beginning and foundational effort that we all can bootstrap. I always believe that we have most to learn from leaders that have experienced significant exclusions in their lives, you seem to reflect that. Keep it up, I am proud to be part of this transformation you are leading.

    We are ONE great team….

  3. How many promotions and what percentage during the last round in the TL, PE, Sr Mgr, Director level went to our female employees to show that we are truly walking the talk per the comment "we launched a program called “Propel,” to bridge the gender gap in our leadership ranks. The goal is to fast-track mid-career women to senior technology leadership and management positions. We prepare candidate profiles, match people with mentors and sponsors, and provide career projections of up to three years."

  4. thats excellent Venky. Great work!

  5. Blessed and thankful to be part of Cisco's Returnship program, as one of a cohort of women seeking to return to a fulfilling, challenging career after a career break. This is a forward-thinking organization, with forward-thinking, lead-by-example executives. Thank you Venky!

  6. Thanks Venky for your unwavering support!!

  7. Way to Go Venky ! This will be a rewarding journey !

  8. It takes vision and fearless leadership to lead a team this big and endorse diversity among many other cisco's initiatives! Having worked 6 years in this org, I have felt great every single day and so proud to be here.
    Thanks Venky & team for Leading With Example !

  9. I am part of mentoring program and also involved in many early career networking programs. All off these initiatives have a greater impact to gender diversity and helping in building the confidence in so many women employees. Proud to be part of EN and many initiatives to promote diversity.

  10. EN women's mentoring part has played a huge role in building confidence in so many women over the years! Proud to be part of EN and the diversity initiatives.

  11. How does Cisco try to achieve ethnic diversity? A lack of representation in tech includes both educated men and women of Latino, African (American), Native American, and Pacific Islander origins, etc… How are they included in the diversity plan when they tend to come from underserved communities that lack resources and connections.

  12. Excellent steps in the right direction! I am also greatly appreciative of the "Returnship" program supported by EN, another initiative that most definitely addresses the issue of gender diversity, enabling women who have taken a career break to care for children, aging parents, or other reasons, to return to their careers.

  13. Proud to be part of the EN group. Happy to see so much importance being given to diversity at the executive level.

  14. I have experienced the coaching on providing TED styles talks and it helped me improve not only in public speaking, but, also confidence. Amazing efforts by Venky and team. Thank you so much for the opportunity

  15. Good stuff and proud to be a woman engineer on your team! Thanks for all that you do!

  16. Congratulations Venky, several people in my team have mentioned the impact woman's mentoring has had on their career.

  17. Hello Venky, congratulations on starting theses excellent programs, the woman mentoring is entering their 7th wave…

  18. I was part of the second wave Mentoring program & I can vouch that it was very helpful to understand what it takes to step up and be a leader. It was an amazing experience that helped me highlight areas for future development! Thanks Venky & team for the oppurtunity!