Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Inclusion and diversity is a top enabler for unlocking value: Sharie Slate

Cisco's VP is on a listening tour to look at the best inclusion and diversity practices across 100-plus countries where Cisco is present

A little over a year ago, Sharie Slate, took charge of the newly created Office of Inclusion and Collaboration at Cisco Systems Inc. As vice-president and chief inclusion and collaboration officer, she is on a listening tour across countries to look at the best inclusion and diversity practices across the 100-plus countries where Cisco is present.

Among them is project Athena that was launched in India early this year by Seema Nair, the human resource head for Cisco India, that has been picked for global implementation. Under this project, women who quit Cisco are being wooed back. Edited excerpts from an interview:

How big a business opportunity is diversity for Cisco?

Slate: Almost half of our talent and half of (our) revenue comes from outside the US. Our growth strategy is through M&A and we see that (a successful) M&A (strategy) is not just tied to just professional competencies but also to cultural competencies. That’s how the chief diversity officer started playing a more business role (at Cisco).

We are now in the next level of transition where there is a great deal of convergence between people, processes, data and things (devices). This is what we call digital transformation. And it is a $19 trillion value creation opportunity.

We found inclusion and diversity as the number two enabler of unlocking that value, second only to technology infrastructure, outranking human capital practices.

Our vision is to create and fuel exponential growth for Cisco through the intersection of inclusion, diversity, collaboration and technology and have it play out in every business outcome.

What is your mandate?

Slate: The practices of yesterday are not going to enable value creation because these inclusion and diversity practices were not built for digital transformation.

So last year, we set up the office of inclusion and collaboration and we looked at the entire portfolio of things we had across the company. We had some 400 initiatives happening and it is impossible to see the value outcome of these 400 things. So what we did quickly was double down on the critical 70. I’m now on a listening tour globally and we are taking a new look at the best of the best that is happening in different regions, which we could pull up into the enterprise and have it play out everywhere.

What ideas from India are you adopting?

Slate: There are some significant projects coming out of India...

Seema Nair: Project Athena is a fantastic programme we launched early this year. It is a homecoming project for ex-Cisco women that aims to give opportunities to women who would like to return to Cisco. Women make life choices partly because of social compulsions and lack of support system, despite having had fantastic careers. And 90% of those who we spoke to said they would love to come back.

The intent is also to provide mentorship and counselling as some may not have the necessary confidence or industry knowledge. This will also help beef-up our mid and senior level hiring of women.

We are doing the first batch of hiring now and we’ve already hired a woman director through Project Athena.