While I’m out on maternity leave, I’m excited to highlight the varied viewpoints of some of the amazing people that make up CHILL. I’m proud to work with this diverse and talented team. They hail from around the globe, and bring a rich set of experiences, skills, and passions to bear on everything they do. Today’s guest blogger is Alice Pollard, my chief of staff, who manages the CHILL team and leads the delivery and execution of CHILL Living Lab Experiences. This week, she shares insights on women, power, and innovation.


Alice Pollard

Chief of Staff, CHILL


I’ve just returned from the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston—and what an amazing experience it was! Simmons is the longest-running women’s leadership event in the U.S., inspiring generations of women over the last 39 years with such luminaries as Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Billie Jean King and Oprah Winfrey.

This year was no different. I knew I would fit right in when I saw the theme: “Disrupt the Ordinary.” In the era of #MeToo, when women’s rights and women’s empowerment are headline issues, the messages of standing up, speaking out, and taking bold action resonated strongly with me, and the other 3400 women in attendance.

It was a rich and varied agenda:

  • Gretchen Carlson, American commentator, news anchor and author, recounted her own experience of speaking out against misogyny and sexual harassment at Fox News and the work she is doing to support women and girls.
  • Nelly Galan, former president of entertainment for Telumundo, emphasized the importance of bold action, standing up for yourself, knowing your goals, and having a plan to achieve them.
  • Edie Weiner, president and CEO of The Future Hunters, spoke about the onrush of a starkly different future and the need to ensure respect, equitable pay, dignity and purpose in this new era, so that a tech-driven future does not leave humans and human values behind.
  • Michelle Obama addressed a wide range of topics with grace, eloquence, and humor. She talked about being at a point in time where we need to figure out who we want to be as a nation—choosing to fight for a vision of a country built on compassion, generosity, and goodwill—and she urged idealistic millennials not to lose hope. “You do the work because you are slowly moving the needle,’’ she said. “There are times in history when we feel we are going backward. But that is part of the growth.”

Overall, the big themes for the day were about being bold, speaking out, and connecting with each other to build a culture of empowerment. It was inspiring to be in a room with so many powerful women, and to experience no judgement, only acceptance and support.

I was proud to be at Simmons as a representative of Cisco, one of the sponsors of the event, and that Joe Cozzolino, Senior Vice President of Cisco Services, was an executive sponsor. This reflects Cisco’s strong commitment to a broad view of inclusion and diversity, which embraces the full spectrum of different genders, ethnicities, orientations, backgrounds, cultures, affiliations, abilities, work styles, and perspectives. We believe this expansive view of diversity is fundamental to who we are—and the possibilities we see through the convergence of diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and technology are fundamental to where we are going.

Being different, with a different point of view from those around us means we have even more to contribute than if we simply blend in. It’s by being ourselves—in all our quirky glory—that we can truly Disrupt the Ordinary.

In my work with CHILL (Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs), we also see diversity and inclusion as a fundamental requirement of innovation. It is only through the collision of different perspectives and experiences that the best ideas can emerge and move forward. We design our co-innovation experiences with the principle of “massive inclusion.” This simply means that we make sure that everyone needed to move an idea forward is in the room—a range of diverse customers, engineers, hackers and builders, along with potential end users to test and validate concepts, and investors authorized to commit on-the-spot funding. By including everyone, we avoid the pitfalls and delays that often sabotage corporate innovation efforts.

At the Simmons Conference, I saw first-hand the energy and creativity that is unleashed when women are simply themselves—successful, powerful, and authentic. This is where the idea of diversity and inclusion resonates so deeply with me. Being different, with a different point of view from those around us means we have even more to contribute than if we simply blend in. It’s by being ourselves—in all our quirky glory—that we can truly Disrupt the Ordinary.


Kate O'Keeffe

Senior Director

Customer and Partner Innovation