“If not ME, then WHO? If not NOW, then WHEN?”

Being a global citizen, having lived in, worked in, and visited almost 50 cities across four continents and being a Cisco citizen for 16 years, I am grateful and privileged to have had early exposure, awareness, and knowledge of the power of multi-faceted diversity and witnessed the importance of inclusion. However, my personal journey as an ‘active’ Pride ally did not start until my 17-year-old rainbow child came out to me four years back. It was clear to me then that I must show up, speak up, and stand up as an upstanding ally, not just a bystander, to play my role, as a mother and a human, in creating a safe and inclusive future for the LGBTQIA+ community, especially the youth.

Varsha sitting behind a laptop with many Cisco stickers, including Pride ones.

Active allyship has not been an easy journey, as I had to start with lots to learn, unlearn, and re-learn by acknowledging and addressing my own subconscious biases, misinformed prejudices, and societal fears. I am so thankful for the safe space Cisco’s Pride Parent Ally Community provided me, where I could ask questions, debunk barriers by being vulnerable, and lean in with other parents as we shared our lived experiences and sought each other’s help to become stronger, better-informed parents, who are also loud and proud allies in action.

From the many heart-warming and action-inspiring conversations with multiple active Pride leaders, as well as having a springboard to candidly share, seek help, and learn from each other’s experiences over monthly Webex connects, across time zones, with fellow Pride parents, belonging to Cisco’s Pride Parent Ally Community continually equips, enables, and empowers me on my allyship journey.

One of the most impactful moments for me in my allyship journey was co-organizing the first-ever Cisco Pride Inclusive Community (formerly known as Employee Resource Group) allyship networking event at Cisco Live APJC in partnership with Les, Kim and the Cisco ANZ Pride leadership team. The power of teamwork makes the dream work was evident as we rallied together from proposing this event to seeking required approvals, funding and planning the execution and amplification. I was inspired by the heart and courage of all Cisconians I work with every day who went above and beyond to make this event happen as well as grateful for Cisco APJC leadership who pave the way through allyship in action for Cisco ANZ and the Cisco APJC Pride Inclusive Community.

“The future is intersectional” came to life as we listened to the courage, care and compassion-filled sharing of rainbow journeys, including a keynote by Jacqui Guichelaar, who leads from the front, by example, and in action, as our global executive sponsor for Cisco Pride.

This event’s impact, from the record participation and purposeful connections made via shared experiences and personal stories, has inspired me and many others across Cisco and beyond to remain steadfast in our commitment as Pride allies. Here are some ways, based on key learnings from speakers and leaders.

  • Varsha holding a Pride flag next to a colleague. Show Up: The best way to build allyship, sensitize LGBTQIA+ existence, and harness collective action is to show up and share our stories with courage, vulnerability, and conviction. In the allyship journey every action matters, and showing up goes a long way in building trust and breaking barriers.
  • Speak Up: For allyship to bring true change, it needs to be an ‘everyone, every day’ thing and a ‘see something, say something’ attitude, not just during Pride month. Recognize your privilege (of your voice, position, opportunities, resources, advantages, access), and deploy it towards creating a safe and more equitable world for our rainbow community.
  • Look Up: The melting point of intersectionality allows us to see different perspectives. Deliberately seek feedback, get proximate with marginalized groups, connect with people’s values, humanize your message, listen to understand, and be open to differences as an opportunity to understand, change, and evolve.
  • Team Up: Focus your advocacy on evidence-based tactics that will drive small wins within your sphere of influence and create opportunities to interact through networking, mentoring, and professional development events. There’s power in allyship in action and coming together as a collective community.
  • Lift Each Other Up: Don’t invalidate people just because they are different than you. Embrace difference/s. As humans, there is more that unites us than what divides us.
  • Never Give Up: Allyship work is so difficult because it is necessary. As allies, we are responsible for taking part in the uncomfortable work. Allyship isn’t all just rainbows and Pride flags, and it will take a lot more work, to cede the oppression faced by LGBTQIA+ people every day. And it will take all of us to lift up the LGBTQIA+ community in celebration and solidarity.

I am immensely grateful for being part of Cisco, where humanity comes first, and where we, with our technology, talent, and culture, are bridging the gap between hope and possibility, every day. Inclusive Communities, like Cisco Pride, play a pivotal role in enabling and mobilizing allyship and a sense of community. When you combine the sense of familiarity and the safe space these communities provide with a learning and growth mindset, true inclusion becomes a reality.

As a Pride parent ally, my hope is for my rainbow child to thrive in being her best and true self in a truly inclusive world that embraces the wonder and connectedness of the diversity of humanity.  Because it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, or who you love … everyone deserves equity, inclusion, and belonging. We at Cisco are all about building an inclusive future for all.

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Varsha posing with three collegues.


Varsha Kanwar

Chief Of Staff

TS Global GTM