CiscoInclusion has long been both a core value and a deep commitment for Cisco. For the past four years the company has been driving thought leadership and cutting edge research, exploring intriguing theories on the business value created through the convergence of diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and technology. In 2014 they decided to make a shift – combining these bold new ideas and a transformational approach to accelerate toward the goal of becoming the world’s number one IT company. To lead the transformation, Shari Slate was named Cisco’s first Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer.

Why the title change – what happened to diversity? “The change is critical to shifting mindsets.” Slate notes. “It makes our value clear and differentiates the transformational work of identifying the key drivers of highly inclusive, collaborative organizations building on the classic approach to I&D. Diversity is the foundation we aim to accelerate and amplify through collaboration. We’re shifting the focus to the true value we are creating.”
Chuck Robbins, Cisco’s CEO Designate, agrees. “The biggest advantage that Cisco has is our people, who wake up every day with a passion for winning and changing the world. Cisco’s Inclusion and Collaboration strategies give us a huge opportunity to increase the impact of a diverse workforce and the drive toward the business outcomes our customers are asking for.” Robbins, a longtime passionate advocate for a bold approach for inclusion, brought Slate into the company four years ago to drive diversity across his Americas Sales organization. “Our industry is experiencing so much change, and in an environment this dynamic, no one person can have all the answers—there is incredible power in diverse perspectives, now more than ever,” he says.
With so much at stake – how is Cisco blazing the transformational trail? To start, the company decided to bring a new level of transparency to the conversation around diverse representation by publishing an expanded set of workforce diversity data in October of 2014, detailing key statistics for gender and ethnicity representation across the company. Sharing diversity data was nothing new for Cisco – they’ve published gender and representation data within the contents of their annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report since 2009. The expanded data was released to employees first in order to initiate a powerful new level of dialogue and collaboration. According to Slate, “Enhanced reporting helps shines the light on performance against our goals – highlighting gaps and opportunities – and intensifying accountability. We welcome that light.”
Both Robbins and Slate believe that diverse representation is a catalyst to building Cisco’s much larger vision of value creation. With that vision always in mind, Slate has built an agile, strengths-based organization around the four key focus areas of Inclusion and Collaboration: thought leadership, transformational practices, business relevance, and market acceleration. To clear the path for bold new strategies, she and her team evaluated over 400 existing initiatives, solving the “problem of more” by re-focusing on a critical few.

Six months into her role, Slate says the organization is gaining momentum. “The transformation is exciting – but more important is what the shift represents. We’re unleashing the power and potential of our people. And ultimately, what could drive more value than that?”

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