Leading the Way

Shari Slate spearheads Cisco’s leading-edge diversity and inclusion efforts

Diversity Woman sat down with Cisco’s Vice President and Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer, Shari Slate, to learn more about Cisco’s recipe for success.

Diversity Woman: Describe Cisco’s culture as it relates to diversity and inclusion.
Shari Slate: Cisco’s goal is to power an inclusive future for all. We’re committed to a culture where all people feel welcomed, valued, respected, accepted, and heard. A culture where the full spectrum of diversity—inclusive of gender, ethnicity, race, orientation, age, ability, veteran status, religion, culture, background, experience, strengths, and perspectives—is enabled through our technology to fully participate in the business. A culture built on fairness, dignity, and respect, free from bias, discrimination, and negative behavior. A culture that positively impacts people, society, and the planet.

DW: What are some proof points that Cisco is moving the needle?
SS: While we still have more work to achieve full-spectrum diversity at every level of the company, I’m extremely proud of our progress. Today we are the most diverse Cisco since we began tracking our diversity in 1998, and we recently ranked No. 2 on Fortune’s 100 Best Workplaces for Diversity for 2019.

DW: How have you managed to build leadership buy-in?
SS: A diverse and inclusive culture starts at the top. Our CEO, board, and executive leadership team are extremely committed to diversity and inclusion. In 2017, our CEO, Chuck Robbins, signed the Action for Diversity and Inclusion™ pledge, joining forces with more than 400 CEOs to create fully diverse and inclusive organizations.

Under Chuck’s leadership, we have one of the most diverse executive leadership teams in the industry. Forty-six percent of our executive leadership team members are women, and 38 percent are ethnically diverse. As part of our broader Inclusive Workforce Planning strategy, our executive leaders each have an action plan in place to hold their organizations accountable to specific diversity and inclusion levels.

DW: How are you using technology to transform D&I at Cisco?
SS: Technology—specifically the digitization of solutions, systems, processes, and practices—is transforming how we solve for diversity, inclusion, and equity. I like to say digitization enables us to “create uncommon solutions to common D&I challenges.”

DW: Can you share an example?
SS: Diverse Talent Accelerators—or DTA as we refer to it internally—is a great proof point for how we’re digitizing our hiring practices. Designed and built by Cisco, DTA is a suite of digital solutions that accelerate our ability to find, attract, and hire diverse top talent. DTA enables us to benchmark diversity goals, identify the best places to find diverse talent, write job advertisements with inclusive language to minimize bias, and assemble diverse interviewer panels, which increases the odds of hiring diverse talent.

Our initial results have been impressive. We piloted DTA with our Meraki acquisition in 2018. The Meraki team saw a 24 percent increase in women representation and increased ethnic diversity in nearly every category—up 30 percent overall. With the company-wide launch of DTA last year, more than 14,000 Cisco leaders and HR employees are enabled with real-time, always-on access to their diversity data to make smarter hiring decisions.

DTA was recently recognized with a Best In-House Diversity Initiative award by the PR Council and PR Week,with one award judge noting, “This is how you use technology and science to advance recruitment in a meaningful way. Very impressive effort, with long-lasting possibilities for all industries.”

DW: When you look around the corner, what are some of the technology trends that will impact the evolution of D&I?
SS: Digitization is creating unprecedented opportunities for people and things to connect, collaborate, and participate. Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things, will have profound implications on diversity and inclusion. From my perspective as a diversity and inclusion leader, there has never been a more exciting time to be doing this work, especially for a company like Cisco that is at the forefront of digital transformation.

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