• Carolina MIlanesi

Cisco’s Inclusive Future For All Starts With 12 Actions And A New Webex

"The power of our technology to create positive outcomes on a global scale was immediately apparent to Cisco's founders and has been core to our CSR programs ever since," says Tae Yoo, Cisco's SVP Corporate Affairs. Cisco has had a history of engaging in long-term commitments that engaged everybody within the company and their partners. 2020 was a challenging year, but not everybody was impacted in quite the same way, which is why it is paramount that inequities are addressed so that the future can really be inclusive for all.

As you read through the 68 pages of the report highlights, you realize the comprehensive nature of Cisco's approach to CSR, as well as the measurable outcomes it builds on. The redesigned Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting hub now holds all the information and data that relate to the ESG initiatives, policies and performance with reports going back to 2005. Transparency is clearly top of mind for the leaders at Cisco. They use a materiality assessment process conducted in full every two years to readjust their CSR strategy and keep it relevant and effective.

The 2020 CSR report had a lot of information ranging from environmental impact to diversity and inclusion, trust and responsibility, employee engagement, circular economy, tech for good and Covid-19 response. This article will focus on inclusion and collaboration, which best reflects how Cisco's CSR strategy is a business pillar, not a side project. It is woven into their products and solutions.

Under the leadership of Francine Katsoudas, EVP and Chief People Officer, Cisco transformed Human Resources from a traditional department focused on maximizing resources and managing assets to an organization that sees its employees as communities. As such, it is focused on how these communities are impacted as people, as a community and as the broader society. In this vein, "Cisco has started to codify a set of beliefs to further our purpose and demonstrate publicly who we are as an organization," says Shari Slate, VP Inclusive Future & Strategy and Chief Inclusion & Collaboration Officer. These beliefs are:

  • Technology makes the world a better place

  • Social justice is apolitical

  • Addressing insecurity across fundamental human needs, rights and access

  • Fostering a culture that is beneficial to all

  • Modeling curiosity by continually educating ourselves about all forms of inequality and injustice

With these as the bedrock of its call to action, Cisco felt that in 2020 the initial 12 actions needed to address the issues that most specifically impacted African American/Black employees and communities.

Part of the 12 actions address diversity and inclusion within its own community where Cisco is committing to:

  • Achieve a 25% increase in representation of all employees who self-identify as AA/Black from entry-level through manager level and a 75% increase in representation of employees who self-identify as AA/Black from Director through VP+ level by 2023.

  • Close gaps in the representation on the board and our Executive Leadership Team (ELT) beginning in 2020 and beyond by leveraging diverse candidate slates, robust succession planning and a commitment to developing a pipeline of diverse talent for the executive ranks.

  • Expand their competitive sourcing to require 100% of bids include at least one qualified diverse supplier to double our percentage spend with diverse suppliers by 2023.

Cisco's language in the document that outlines the 12 actions is clear and direct. It might be too blunt for some, but it is good to see leadership not shying away from commitment in a year that saw a lot of "marketing activism." Social justice is indeed apolitical, but we must recognize that a significant part of Cisco's business is rooted in very risk-averse verticals such as finance and, of course, government. Making a strong statement against systematic racism and calling out the need for institutional reforms is something many other organizations only tiptoe around.

'Inclusive for All' Is Reflected In Products Like Webex

Inclusion does not start and end with employees. It is distilled into products, as it should, especially when it comes to collaboration. The Webex team launched the newly integrated platform that brings video, voice and chats together with a long list of new features and enhancements to make virtual collaboration rich, natural and accessible to all. From live transcriptions and real-time translation to new templates that give everybody in the meeting the opportunity to speak.

Of course, these advancements in experience are as much about staying competitive as they are about driving long term engagement. As we start thinking about returning to the office, it is paramount that participants joining meetings remotely feel that their voice is as important as the voice of those entering the meeting from the office. A lack of parity of experience will quickly drive people to old habits relegating video conferencing to where it was before the pandemic: a much weaker second choice to in-person collaboration.

This goal of working towards an inclusive tomorrow applies to CSR initiatives as well as business solutions. Both are equally needed to make sure what is waiting for us on the other side of the pandemic is not the new normal but something different and better.

Cisco's CEO Chuck Robbins wrote in his opening to their CSR report: "We are at a critical moment in the history of our nation and world. There is so much more we can do to seize the moment and create a more inclusive and sustainable world together. I remain hopeful for the future and optimistic that together we can continue to drive change and leave a lasting impact for generations to come."

I, too, remain hopeful that 2020 will be a watershed year for many companies, not just in their digital transformation advancements but also in their commitment to building a diverse and inclusive business that works on creating products and services that address inequities rather than create them.

This article was originally published on Forbes

Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column

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