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  • Katica Roy

Gender Equity and Innovation Go Hand-in-Hand. Just Ask this Tech Giant.

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

The first time delivering any keynote can be a bit nerve-racking, and on June 12, it was the first time I was delivering this one. I titled the speech, “The Dream of Pipeline™: An Immigrant Daughter’s Promise,” and presented it for the opening keynote at Cisco Live’s newly minted Equality and Leadership track.

In years past, the topic of equality at Cisco Live had been a one-day session, and I was encouraged by the organization expanding its commitment to equality by putting it front and center in 2018. Then, eight days after I provided the keynote, my encouragement turned to curiosity.

Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins, who chairs the Business Roundtable immigration committee, had issued a strong statement. In it, he urged “the Administration to end immediately the policy of separating accompanied minors from their parents.” On behalf of the Business Roundtable and as the face of his $221 billion company, he stated that the policy “is cruel and contrary to American values.”

In commenting on his statement, Robbins said the practice of separating accompanied minors from parents “doesn’t represent the values of the entire company.”

As the daughter of an immigrant and a refugee, and as the face of my company, I decided to do some digging. I wanted to learn about Cisco’s commitment to a more equitable world.

What I discovered is that Cisco has a history of standing forward on issues of equity. The following are a few examples that stood out in my research.

Doing Its Part: A Commitment to Fairness

For Cisco, pay parity is part of their Future of Fairness commitment. “Pay parity is an ongoing commitment – not a point-in-time initiative. Where we find gaps, we’ll fix them. That’s the Future of Fairness in action.” This commitment is paramount. A company can make the reputable decision to close their gender pay gap, but they must realize that every new hire, new promotion, and new human capital decision risks reopening that very gap.

As part of their commitment to be a global leader addressing the issue of pay parity, Cisco is a member of Employers for Pay Equity Consortium, where they share their best practices on promoting gender equity. They are also a founding signatory of the 2016 White House Equal Pay Pledge and a signatory of Glassdoor’s Equal Pay Pledge.

Takeaway: As members of the Consortium and signatories of these pledges, Cisco is showing forward-thinking leadership on a longstanding issue.

The CEO’s Commitment Matters Too

Chuck Robbins is one of the first CEOs to sign CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion. This pledge, launched by U.S. chairman of PwC Tim Ryan, aims to deepen the commitment to advance diversity in the workplace.

The goal is to open dialog among CEOs in an effort to support all underrepresented groups in business. In just over a year, the number of CEOs signing the pledge has increased from 175 to 450.

Takeaway: Just as Cisco stood forward by bringing the Future of Fairness to Equal Pay, they are broadening their commitment to fairness by including all types of diversity, including gender equity.

Leaning-In to a Better Workplace

Cisco is partnering with LeanIn to create a more equitable workplace for women. They also participate in McKinsey’s and LeanIn’s Women in the Workplace study. The study comprises data on 12 million employees in 222 companies, and it provides valuable insights into the state of gender equity in the workplace. Achieving such equity in the workplace is a formidable challenge, and Cisco is not backing down.

Takeaway: Instead of backing down from the challenge, Cisco is committed to fixing the system by partnering with LeanIn and using data as a tool for change through Women in the Workplace.

Conclusion: Our Shared History

The keynote I gave for Cisco’s Equality and Leadership track was just that: a track. Their commitment to a more equitable world was not buried somewhere in a satellite session. It was woven throughout their conference and baked into the ethos of the company.

Delivering my keynote, “The Dream of Pipeline™: An Immigrant Daughter’s Promise,” at Cisco Live was a success. I had a receptive audience. (As a speaker, that’s exactly what you want.) But delivering the keynote that day, speaking on my dream of Pipeline™, was not so much about my story as it is about OUR story.

It’s an honor to be part of the collective gender equity history shaping our future. Myself, along with many brave others—Cisco included—are standing forward to create a more equitable world.


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