Cisco Blogs

Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

October 6, 2008 - 3 Comments

imageBy Marilyn NagelDirector, Human Resources, Worldwide Diversity and InclusionGood ideas come from everywhere. It’s a simple idea, but the concepts behind it -diversity and inclusion -are not only close to my heart, but are also a part of my full-time responsibilities at Cisco. My name is Marilyn Nagel, and I am a director in Cisco human resources, responsible for worldwide diversity and inclusion. At Cisco, we have a great diverse workforce and our efforts are focused on ensuring we all work in an inclusive environment. For example, our goal for employees with disabilities is to not only provide them with the right tools and resources, but also to educate all employees on how to work with people with disabilities.To provide some further context, I’d like to give some background on myself.I have a background in both education and organizational development and organizational change. I have two masters degrees -yes, I really do like school that much, and as long as I am capable of doing so, I will continue to frequent workshops, seminars and read tons of great books and articles on the topics of diversity and inclusion. I’ve been a diversity officer in prior roles, and had diversity as a component of previous positions. My personal connection to diversity and inclusion comes from several experiences. I grew up being Jewish in a community that wasn’t always welcoming -I remember some of the inexplicable and horrendous acts that occurred -such as rocks being thrown at me as a child. I have in-laws who were concentration camp survivors. I recall the countless stories told to me of their lives in the camps and their escape to the United States after the war. My daughter is a lesbian, and she lives with her partner and two beautiful children. Even though they live in Northern California, they still encounter prejudice regularly. I myself have a disability that impacts my hands. All of this has given me a strong respect for the issues of diversity and inclusion and the challenges we face dealing with acceptance of who we are based on our differences. Here’s the good news – I’ve been in this role for a year now and my team at Cisco has made some remarkable progress. While this is definitely a “progress not perfection” journey, it is important to mark the milestones along the way. One of the areas we are very proud of is the development of the Cisco Disability Awareness Network (CDAN), CDAN employee resource group and the advisory group for people with disabilities. The mission of CDAN is to promote an adaptable work environment which enables business benefits to Cisco and its disabled customers, partners, employees, suppliers and communities. The eight-charter CDAN members are crafting a global plan to offer chapters in San Jose, Research Triangle Park and the European Union. Duncan Mitchell, the executive sponsor of CDAN, formed a People With Disabilities advisory board to prioritize and take action on topics brought forth by CDAN. The global advisory board consists of 11 leaders who are agents for change in the functional area of the company they represent. As a first-time blogger, I am both excited and eager to engage in a dialogue with you all around the concepts of diversity and inclusion.This is an exciting time for Cisco. We have the reputation for putting together collaborative technology solutions by leveraging the human network -now is the time to extend this to the core of our company -our employees.

In an effort to keep conversations fresh, Cisco Blogs closes comments after 60 days. Please visit the Cisco Blogs hub page for the latest content.


  1. I think My. Ives touches on an important concept: reciprocal value. For the sake of company productivity and overall employee health, workers must feel that they are valued and that they value their role in the workplace. Without this reciprocity, productivity and employee health suffer.

  2. Workplace diversity has taken on a new face. Today, workplace diversity is no longer just about anti-discrimination compliance. Workplace diversity now focuses on inclusion and the impact on the bottom line. Leveraging workplace diversity is increasingly seen as a vital strategic resource for competitive advantage. More companies are linking workplace diversity to their strategic goals and objectives--and holding management accountable for results. Thus, HR plays a key role in diversity management and leadership to create and empower an organizational culture that fosters a respectful, inclusive, knowledge-based environment where each employee has the opportunity to learn, grow and meaningfully contribute to the organization's success.Shreyas Borse

  3. “Diversity and inclusion exists when members of an organization act in a manner that recognizes and respects individual similarities and differences such that employees feel they and their work are valued and meaningfully contribute to the mission of the organization.”Nathan IvesPrincipal ContributorStrategyDrivenRemaining relevant in today’s hyper-competitive business environment requires the full engagement of an organization’s workforce and the retention of highly talented employees. To accomplish this, leaders must capture the passion and commitment of subordinates by providing them with work that has a meaningful impactful on others and is quantifiably measureable and rewarded; all while connecting with them on a personal level. Similarly, individuals need to connect with their peers in a way that makes them feel their contributions meaningfully add to the team and the organization’s overall success. Simply put, individuals seek to be valuable to and valued by their organizations; limited only by their abilities and desires. Without this sense of value and connectedness, a job becomes nothing more than the means to a paycheck, productivity declines toward that which is required to maintain employment, and attrition rises as employees seek more fulfilling work; all at great cost to the organization.Increasing workforce diversification challenges all members of an organization attempting to satisfy the individual value proposition. Differences in age, race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation to name but only a few, influence what makes individuals feel valued. Studies have shown the degree to which an individual feels valued by his/her superiors and peers in large part defines his/her work engagement and the subsequent value offered to the organization. Thus, the challenge is a circular one best solved by fostering an organizational culture that respects and embraces diversity and inclusion.A diverse and inclusive work environment can only exist when members of an organization act in a manner that respects employee similarities and differences such that employees feel they and their work are valued and meaningfully contribute to the mission of the organization. It is in this kind of environment that employees become engaged and motivated to contribute the full extent of their knowledge, skills, and experience to the benefit of the organization on a day-to-day basis. Because they feel valued, employees within a diverse and inclusive work environment are less likely to seek employment opportunities elsewhere; subsequently reducing attrition and its associated productivity knowledge, and social cost.Diversity and inclusion is not the forcible redistribution of corporate power and wealth to its unique minority employee classes. Rather, diversity and inclusion seeks equitable distribution of rewards and opportunities to all employees based on their quantifiable contributions to the organization free from the skewing that often takes place because of organizationally held biases. Put another way, the diverse and inclusive organization is a meritocracy where performance is factually assessed against predefined, measurable benchmarks uniformly applied to all employees and equitable rewards are distributed on the basis of the individual’s performance.In these terms, equality is both easy and difficult to define. As in all accountable organizations, contribution of the individual is assessed against predefined measures cascaded down from the organization’s mission; helping to simplify and quantify and individuals overall contribution to the organization in comparison to that of others. What is more difficult is to equitably reward individuals in a way they find to be of value; value personalized to the individual and equitable in cost to the organization when compared with rewards given to others demonstrating similar performance.Changing Workforce Demographics and the Definition of ValueBut what makes an employee feel valued?Studies show that what makes us feel valued differs depending on our particular circumstance and background. Often, these studies assess the needs, values, and attitudes of individuals sharing a common background to provide broad insight to what makes members of these groups seek and subsequently make them feel valued. While not perfect, these studies provide a starting point for becoming aware of and understanding individual preferences; awareness and understanding that is becoming increasingly important given the rapidly changing workforce demographic.Fallacy of the Golden Rule“Treat others as you would like to be treated.”The Golden RuleWilipediaEveryone defines value differently. While studies suggest members of a defined demographic find value in similar rewards, individuals within these groups will differ in what they believe is of value. Therefore, while important to recognize general group-related preferences, members of a diverse and inclusive organization must understand what is important to an individual in order to reward him/her in a way that makes that person feel valued. Thus, the fallacy of the Golden Rule. It assumes others want to be treated in the same manner we do. If we treat others as we would like to be treated, that is in a manner that makes us feel valued, we risk making these individuals feel unappreciated because of omission or worse yet, treating them in a way they find demeaning. Therefore, to ensure our behaviors and organizational systems make individuals feel genuinely and equitably valued for their contributions, we need a new rule.The Platinum Standard“Treat others the way they want to be treated.”The Platinum RuleTony Alessandra, PhDThe Platinum Rule lies at the center of a diverse and inclusive work environment. The power of this rule comes from the fact that it demands action be taken to demonstrate an understanding and respect for others’ uniqueness. Following this rule means that individuals are valued based on their contributions and equitably rewarded in ways they find to be of value. When this occurs, individuals feel appreciated and more fully engage with the organization and its value creating work.Scope of Diversity and InclusionWhen discussing diversity and inclusion several questions tend to naturally arise: To whom does diversity and inclusion apply? What must this program include? When will the organization know it is diverse and inclusive?Diversity and inclusion involves and applies to all members of an organization; permeating its culture, policies, and programs. While diversity and inclusion encompasses both the Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity programs, these represent legal minimums against which discrimination is judged; not a benchmark for diversity and inclusion excellence.- Diversity and Inclusion: Diversity and inclusion exists when members of an organization act in a manner that recognizes and respects individual similarities and differences such that employees feel they and their work are valued and meaningfully contribute to the mission of the organization. - Affirmative Action: Policies that seek to redress past discriminatory practices that denied fair consideration of members of minority groups seeking access to employment and educational opportunities.- Equal Employment Opportunity: Employment practices ensuring nondiscrimination based on race, color, age, gender, national origin, religion, or mental or physical disability; thereby ensuring all individuals have equal opportunity access.To reach beyond legal minimums and truly maximize the potential of all employees, diverse and inclusive organizations embody a culture of valuing individuals through:* personal behaviors that respect and value individual differences * training programs that build awareness and skills to effectively respond to the differences between individuals * mentoring programs that encourage personal growth and development, thereby, ensuring all qualified employees, regardless of background, are well prepared for positions of increased responsibility * decision-making that is open to the opinions, insights, and thoughts of organization members based on the merit of the contribution and not a stereotype based on the individual’s position or demographic representation * rewards and recognition programs, including performance appraisal, compensation, advancement, and developmental and leadership position opportunities, that treats individuals equitably based on their performance and organizational value contributions * recruiting that focuses on acquiring the best talent rather than a homogeneous workforce (Note that seeking the best talent from today’s increasingly diverse talent pool will yield a diverse candidate slate and ultimately a diverse workforce.) * affinity programs that both celebrate and leverage the uniqueness of individuals in a way that brings value to the organization * ongoing evaluation programs that recognize diversity and inclusion is a journey rather than a destination Beyond its own walls, a diverse and inclusive organization will promote their values through activities such as:* seeking suppliers and vendors that embrace diversity and inclusion * participating in external diversity and inclusion conventions and workshops Thus, while encompassing the Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity programs, diversity and inclusion is far deeper and richer; representing a broader array of programs and more importantly a mindset, a way of being and behaving, that is embraced by all members of the organization, who in turn understand that being diverse and inclusive is an ever evolving journey, one without an end.Final Thoughts…Organizational diversity is often defined in terms of the national workforce. While a convenient standard against which to measure an organization’s diversity, we find the most effective diversity assessments focus on the organization’s demographic as at times those who are members of the national majority will themselves be in the minority within a particular organization. Similarly, inclusiveness applies to all employees; with understanding and respect afforded everyone regardless of their diversity status.It is the opinion of this author that while diverse and inclusive organizations are not necessarily accountable, highly accountable organizations will always be diverse and inclusive or in the process of becoming more so. Consider an organization of notable size; being large enough to warrant an organization structure where labor is divided into specialized work groups such as departments or divisions. Simple mathematics suggest that organizations of this size cannot be highly accountable without being diverse and inclusive because an organization resisting diversity would incur significantly higher recruitment costs in order to maintain a homogeneous employee set given the increasingly diverse American workforce. These costs would be incurred from the expanded search for qualified employees required as a result of passing over organizationally defined minority candidates. Additionally, failure to equitably recognize and reward organizational minority employees will disenfranchise these individuals; resulting in lower productivity and increased turnover, both of which negatively impact the organization’s bottom line. Such unnecessary costs diminish the organization’s ultimate return to stakeholders; thus relegating it to the realm of the unaccountable.While it may be easier to measure the cost savings that higher productivity and lower attrition afford the diverse and inclusive organization, I believe an even greater, if less tangible, benefit results from the convergence of the differing experiences, perspectives, and opinions members of these organizations’ possess. Because members of diverse and inclusive organizations respect and value each other, they tend to work better in teams; ably synthesizing their differing thoughts into a richer, deeper understanding of opportunities and challenges. Communications regarding these circumstances flow and are heard more readily both vertically and horizontally throughout these organizations. Combined with the superior talent earned by high accountability, diverse and inclusive organizations’ subsequently gain access to opportunities and avoid problems that remain unseen by more homogeneous groups.Becoming diverse and inclusive is not an exercise that takes place in a day, a week, or even a month but instead evolves over longer periods of time. As organizations increase their level of accountability, they will naturally evolve into a more diverse and inclusive workplace with individuals representing an increasingly wide range of backgrounds assuming more and more positions both vertically and horizontally across the organization.Focus of StrategyDriven's Diversity and Inclusion CategoryWhile there exists a natural association between diversity and inclusion and organizational accountability, posts in this category will focus on the principles, best practices, and warning flags associated with establishing and maintaining a workplace environment that respects and values individual differences in order to earn full employee engagement and commitment to the achievement of the organization’s goals.I hope you and your readers will visit the StrategyDriven website and share your thoughts and insights with us.All the Best,Nathan IvesPrincipal Contributor andco-Host, StrategyDriven