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.



Venky Nanniyur

Vice President, Engineering

Enterprise Networking Business