This is Women’s History Month and I think it is important to highlight companies that are going the extra mile. Cisco stands out because—unlike most tech companies, where diversity is in the lower ranks—Cisco is diverse at the top. Cisco has also fielded the Office of Inclusion and Collaboration, and the Cisco Empowered Women’s network. Finally, Cisco funds the Women of Impact Conference which was held back on the 7th right at the start of Women’s History Month.
Let’s talk a bit about each of these events and why it is important for firms like Cisco to give diversity in the workplace more than lip service.
Office of Inclusion and Collaboration
One of the painful events I recall back when I was working at ROLM Systems and IBM took over was the collapse of the Great Place To Work department that ROLM had made famous. IBM’s position at that time was that making the company a “Great Place To Work” was every manager’s responsibility and that it didn’t need a dedicated group. What happened, of course, was that we once again learned that when something was “everyone’s responsibility” no one assured the result and this change was one of the reasons ROLM failed.
When diversity is a problem, the only way to fix that problem is to put it toward the top of someone’s priority list and give that someone enough authority to make changes. The Cisco Office of Inclusion and Collaboration appears to have both the focus and authority to get things done and one of their accomplishments has been to make Cisco one of the leaders on pay parity. The firm is one of the signers of the White House Equal Pay Pledge (there are 28 founding companies) and Cisco reports they have achieved parity across 99 percent of their global employee population.
In addition, this group has helped Cisco drive change both inside and outside of the firm. One of the interesting initiatives is to assure that Cisco employees are heard on issues surrounding diversity. Cisco regularly collects the employees and has discussions on what the firm needs to do to promote diversity. One of their efforts was to push back on North Caroline and Texas “Bathroom Bills” as a company (in partnership with 13 other firms).
Another area where this group is making a difference is to use Cisco technology to help children undergoing extensive medical procedures, like cancer treatment, to stay connected to their classrooms. This helps not only remove the concerns surrounding falling behin,d but helps make the child feel included and not abandoned. Both can do wonders for the child’s attitude and potentially both improve the quality of their lives under treatment and improve their chance of recovery.
Finally, there is Cisco LifeChanger, this effort is intended to break down barriers to employment for those with disabilities. Sadly, disabled but otherwise highly qualified employees incur excessive unemployment, 44 percent vs. 15 percent for those without disabilities. Since this program’s inception, 100 employees with disabilities have been hired and integrated into Cisco’s workforce and culture. These workers often double the productivity of those without disabilities, are more loyal, make fewer errors, and have extremely low absenteeism. One added benefit is the tools that Cisco creates to empower the disabled also can be used by Cisco customers—having a far greater impact than if Cisco just stood alone.
Cisco Empowered Women’s Network
One of the most effective ways to drive change is to empower those that need that change so they take the lead. People tend to be more passionate about things that affect them and one of the primary issues surrounding the lack of progress on diversity is that white men drove the efforts. If you want to drive real change, then women need to drive it, but they cannot do it individually they need a network. The Cisco Empowered Women’s Network helps fill that need and provides the collective voice needed to drive real change.
Topics the network has addressed include addressing the confidence gap between men and women, how to encourage women in tech, and why networking is important. The Women’s Network also highlights women who have made a difference, illustrating both that standing up has benefits, and that when women stand up, the Cisco Empowered Women’s Network has their back. Both are incredibly important for this effort to be successful.
Women of Impact Conference
This conference, which was held back on March 7th of this year, had around 15,000 attendees under the theme, “Together, For Change”. This couldn’t have been better timed coming on top of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Women shared their stories on the various industries, media, and politics in an effort to effectively work together for change. They don’t just work on women’s issues either—and in 2017 made a massive effort to assist Rise Against Hunger in the elimination of world hunger and has personally assisted in the packing of tens of thousands of meals in areas hit by disasters, both man-made and natural.
A lot of companies give lip service to diversity and seem to feel that is enough. Fortunately, there are a few key companies that stand out because they truly want to drive material change. I think the biggest proof point that Cisco is one of those firms is their diversity in the executive ranks. But their efforts to lead with the Office of Inclusion and Collaboration, the Empowered Women’s Network, and the Women of Impact Conference all highlight a massive commitment to driving change. Cisco both speaks out strongly and walks the talk themselves—you have no idea how unusual and refreshing it is to see a company do both.
Cisco stands out, and up—amongst peers that often seem tone deaf—as a company that listens and has a passion for driving change. We need more like them, let us hope their example is not lost in the noise.