Inclusion and Diversity Built for the Digital Era

Shari Slate, 
Vice President,
Chief Inclusion & Collaboration Officer

Digitization is Reshaping the Future of Work…and D&I

Digital transformation is radically changing companies across the globe—of every size and in every industry. It’s resetting expectations for the customer and workforce experience. As a result, companies are being forced to reinvent their business and operating models faster than ever. This urgency applies not only to Cisco, as technology is the second-most disrupted industry, but to every company. In a recent study, 23% of global executives said that competitive pressures would force them to reinvent their business models every year. Another 41% said this would be required every 1 to 3 years. In the recent past, companies could prosper using decades-old business models. This is no longer the case. The study also surfaced a stark reality for slow-moving organizations – more than 40% of executives viewed digital disruption as an existential threat – a force that could put them out of business entirely.

Thus, companies will be compelled to embrace emerging technologies and processes to be successful. And these changes will cascade throughout their organizations, “breaking” HR and reshaping the future of work. Technology – specifically the digitization of solutions, systems, processes, and practices – will also transform how we solve for diversity, inclusion, and equity inside our companies. Digitization is creating an unprecedented opportunity for people and things to connect, collaborate, and participate. As a result, digitization is accelerating and amplifying the value and impact of diversity and inclusion. Emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual reality, will create new possibilities and opportunities for diversity and inclusion.

Transformational Shift in D&I

At Cisco, we’ve made a transformational shift in how we view diversity and inclusion. For the past several years, the discipline of diversity and inclusion has been in a state of transition. In the first transition, diversity was focused on government compliance – counting people. The second transition focused on how employees feel and creating an environment where they had a sense of belonging and could thrive. The third transition, which we are in now, focuses on leveraging collaboration technology to enable the full spectrum of diversity to participate in business outcomes. It is important to note that “collaboration technology” extends beyond today’s collaboration processes and tools to include emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence, virtual reality) that are set to transform how people work together, and with machines, to achieve business outcomes.

This transformational shift led us to create the first-of-its kind Office of Inclusion and Collaboration (OIC) in 2014. The vision for OIC is to:

Create exponential value for Cisco, our employees, customers, partners, and communities through the intersection of diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and technology.

It’s important to note that with this name change we were by no means abandoning our commitment to diversity. Diversity is foundational to our value proposition. The value of diversity is amplified and accelerated through inclusion, collaboration, and technology.

Creating Exponential Value Through Digitization

OIC is focused on developing digital solutions that architect the future of fairness and equity by delivering data and insights at the point of decision-making. We believe that in an era of digitization, this will accelerate our ability to fully realize the power and potential of people (e.g., diverse mindsets, skill sets, experiences, and perspectives), and to foster an environment in which they can thrive.

Our flagship solution Diverse Talent Accelerators (DTA) illustrates our approach to leveraging collaboration and technology to drive value for the organization. DTA is a suite of digital solutions that Cisco designed and built to help find, attract, and hire diverse top talent. Digitization has allowed us to expand our aspiration from simply mirroring the markets where we do business, based on generic talent market data, to using analytics-driven insights to mirror the markets where we do business, for every job we hire for, in the regions where we hire, and at every level.

The goal was to give our leaders business intelligence, geo-data, process automation, augmented content, and interactive guidance to locate and match the best people with the best opportunities.

Based on this need, we began a multi-year journey to design and build a custom solution and deploy it across our global organization.

Innovating a New Digital Offering

Within DTA, we’ve built a suite of four digital solutions targeted at different levels of management within the company as part of a comprehensive strategy:

  • Smart Insights helps VPs and above reset diverse talent aspirations, rethink inclusive hiring strategies, and respond to opportunities to capture a competitive share of diverse talent.
  • Smart Tracker provides data to help business leaders understand their organization’s mix of diverse talent and where to recruit. With search capabilities, including job family, experience, location, and diversity (e.g., gender, ethnicity) it enables focused and accelerated recruitment.
  • Smart Start by Textio helps create job advertisements designed for maximum impact with a simple, intuitive interface and a clear, graphic scoring system that enables recruiting teams to neutralize bias and utilize vocabulary and phrasing that’s proven to resonate with a wide array of candidates.
  • Smart Select simplifies the process of assembling and participating in diverse interviewer panels, with capabilities that enable managers to search for participants by gender, grade, region, role, skills, and more.

DTA launched to our global HR organization in May 2018 through targeted live training sessions. We built a dedicated website for all supporting materials and on-demand training to ensure our client-facing HR teams had 24×7 access to our enablement solutions.

Driving Awareness and Adoption

In October 2018, we implemented a top-down adoption strategy and consultative approach for our Executive Leadership Team (ELT). The ELT used DTA to set diversity aspirations and create detailed inclusion and collaboration action plans to deliver on those aspirations. These digitized plans were then cascaded down through the business for further implementation.

Once we had executive buy-in for the launch of DTA, we designed a tailored go-to-market approach for each of our stakeholders: Client-facing HR, Talent Acquisition, People Managers, and our ELT.

The size of our global organization also created change management challenges. We had to enlist the help of our client-facing HR teams to support the business as we rolled out the DTA solutions designed for our People Managers worldwide – an audience that totals approximately 11,000.

To increase awareness and adoption, we partnered with our global team responsible for implementing Cisco’s overall workforce planning activities. Together, we created a new strategy known as Inclusive Workforce Planning that enables us to use insights from DTA as part of our annual planning cycle to increase inclusion and diversity in hiring and track our progress.

We conducted two highly successful pilot projects before we officially launched DTA to the business at large. The first enabled our Advanced Services (AS) organization to:

  • Validate trends and readjust talent priorities based on actual data vs. assumptions;
  • Create customized inclusion and collaboration action plans tailored to each group within AS;
  • Provide leaders with data insights into current levels of diverse representation and attrition rates

As a result of the pilot, AS exceeded its aspirations in every category, including a 2.5% increase in female hires and a 4% increase in GenY retention.

We also tested DTA with our Meraki acquisition. They saw a 24% increase in women representation and increased ethnic diversity in nearly every category – up 30% overall. The keys to success for this pilot were active executive engagement, motivated leadership, early involvement with OIC post-acquisition, and the creation of a custom Diversity Dashboard to meet Meraki’s unique organizational needs.

With the official launch of DTA in October of last year, 100% of our ELT has used the solution to build customized action plans for their respective organizations to drive higher levels of diversity, inclusion and collaboration. These plans are now being cascaded down throughout the company, where our People Leaders are beginning to implement them.

Our Results

Currently, we are the most diverse Cisco since 1998 across the full spectrum of diversity. We have one of the most diverse Executive Leadership Teams in the industry – 50% women and 67% diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity. And at the end of our last fiscal year, we had record representation of women at 25% globally. This result was due in part to a record hiring rate for women of 29%. We transparently share our data annually in our Corporate Social Responsibility report. We are continually evolving our solutions to be more innovative, digitized, and fully integrated into the business for maximum impact.

At Cisco, our vision is to build an inclusive future – a future that’s being shaped by digital transformation. We’re experimenting, learning, and working with our 74,000 employees and business leaders to navigate the rapidly changing landscape. Across industries, we have an opportunity as CDOs to come together to help each other dive deep, ask the right questions, and leverage each other’s experience and expertise. Collectively, I am confident we will deliver on the promise of diversity and inclusion and build the bridge between where our organizations are operating today and what will be required of us in the digital era.

Shari Slate is the Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer at Cisco. Her organization is responsible for leading Cisco’s Office of Inclusion and Collaboration, as well as global Community Relations. Slate has been widely recognized for her visionary leadership and transformational views on the business value created at the intersection of diversity, inclusion, collaboration and technology. Guided by her thought leadership in this area, Cisco is embracing new models of inclusion and collaboration to fuel innovation, accelerate market leadership, and reimagine workplace practices in the digital era.

In her previous role, Slate served as Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Strategist for Cisco’s sales organization. She was responsible for increasing inclusion in the revenue-generating arm of the business and incubating new strategies for fostering full spectrum diversity.

Slate joined Cisco in 2010. Prior to that, she served as Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Global Community Affairs at Sun Microsystems.

Slate is a respected and highly regarded leader in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Recent honors include the Catalyst Award from the Information Technology Senior Management Forum, The Network Journal’s 25 Influential Black Women in Business Award for 2019, Savoy Magazine’s Most Influential Women in Corporate America list for 2019, and Black Enterprise’s Top Executives in Corporate Diversity list for 2018. Prior to these honors, Slate was named a 2017 Diversity Leader by Profiles in Diversity Journal, and one of the Top Influential Women in Corporate America for 2016 by Savoy Magazine. In 2014, the YWCA named her a “Tribute to Women in Industry” honoree. In 2013, she was named one of Diversity Woman Magazine’s “Stars Who Mean Business”. She has also been recognized as one of the “Most Influential Women in California” by the California Diversity Council and a “Woman Worth Watching” by Diversity Journal Magazine, as well as the recipient of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women 2010 Corporate Leader Award and The Network Journal’s “40 Under Forty” Achievement Award.

Slate holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political, legal, and economic analysis from Mills College.

Source: Wade, Macaulay, Barbier, Noronha. (2019). Orchestrating Transformation. Global Center for Digital Business Transformation
Source: Wade, Macaulay, Loucks, Noronha. (2016). Digital Vortex. Global Center for Digital Business Transformation
Cisco Systems. 2018 Corporate Social Responsibility Report.