A work environment in which everyone feels they belong increases employee satisfaction and fuels innovation. In this TechTalk, Jen Vasin, senior vice president for human resources at Insight, and Shari Slate, vice president for inclusive future and strategy and chief inclusion and collaboration officer with Cisco, discuss how their organizations foster inclusivity and embrace diversity.
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Published September 8, 2020
Hello everyone, thanks so much for joining another Insight TechTalk. I'm Jen Vasin, Senior Vice President of Human Resources with Insight. Joining me today is Shari Slate, Vice President, and Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer at Cisco.
Shari, how are you?
Oh my gosh Jen first of all, thank you so much for having me and thank you for the question. I am great today, today's a good day, but I can say that over the last couple of weeks and months, there have been those moments where I wasn't great and so you sincerely asking that question means a lot to me.
How are you doing?
I'm also doing really well. I also have had struggles over the past several months and I'm doing great because we've learned as of yesterday that our kids will be going back to in-person school in about six weeks. So, we're all looking forward to that opportunity.
The countdown begins, Jen.
Yes, it does, it does. Well, thanks again for joining us for those of you in the audience, Shari’s been with Cisco for 10 years. So, we're really looking forward to spending time with you today. In our last issue of the Insight Tech journal, your EVP and Chief People Officer Francine Katsuda contributed to the CXO corner. I don't know if you were listening into that, but in her interview she mentioned Cisco's conscious culture and that's such a great phrase. I just wondered if you could give us a summary of what that means to you, both in your role and as an employee at Cisco.
Absolutely, and it all stems from our purpose which is to power an inclusive future for all and in order to do that, you actually have to see people create that environment where people can thrive. From a conscious culture standpoint, it really does start and end with full spectrum diversity that all of us have a place in space inside and outside of this organization. But there are some other core tenants that are really, really important.
One is that we have an environment free from bias, harassment, and discrimination. The second is that we empower and expect our people to do sense-making inside the organization to see opportunities to take care of each other and the culture and environment. We want to create a place in space where everyone feels welcome, respected, valued and heard and probably most importantly, is that we empower everyone that if you see something that is counter to who and what we are as a company, you need to say something, against the backdrop of an inclusive future for all, those are the ingredients for creating the place in space where we all belong and can thrive, but it also starts with the way we treat each other. The way you welcomed me onto this call Jen was the perfect example of a conscious culture. When you think about the last couple of weeks and months, the unprecedented time that we're in that question of “how are you today?” means something so different than it meant before. I mean, when people ask me that now I sincerely believe that they honestly want to know how I'm doing, it's more keen to I see you versus filler for conversation, but with a conscious culture, that is what it evokes in people and that's what's expected in terms of how we show up.
Great, thank you Shari. What guides you and your executive team, you know, through a crisis like we're going through and our current events?
So as we think about the unprecedented time, we have been looking at how do we respond against the backdrop of an inclusive future for all. For us, we've got four lenses that we look at from a response standpoint.
The first one is that we think about, you know, serving the most vulnerable. The second is that we wanna make sure that in serving the most vulnerable, we are serving families and communities. We also look at our response in the sense that we wanna make sure that we are doing research to ensure that we can drive resilience in how we show up. And then last but not least, we wanna make sure that everything that we do drives towards strategic recovery.
Now that's kind of our framework for crisis. But that framework, the actual actions that we take inside of it, have everything to do with what we believe as a company and there are five things that, you know, it doesn't matter where crisis is happening in the world, the way in which we think about how we're gonna shape bold, deliberate, intentional action comes from, you know, our belief in tech for good. We fundamentally believe that tech makes the world better, we are gonna continue to be committed to creating technology that empowers people and communities to explore new possibilities. But what we're clear about is that we aren't going to customize our technology in a way that would facilitate injustice or oppression. When we think about our beliefs, this belief in justice, I mean, we do believe in justice, we believe that it's a-political, we see it as a calling for us as a company, and that we're committed to making sure that communities that are on the margin, that they get to experience a just world too and we wanna do our part in creating that.
The third belief is one that's probably newer for most companies out there where people it has to do with addressing the insecurity of being and what's powerful about that is we have long been very clear about our commitment to addressing the insecurity of human need, right? Think food, water, shelter, but the insecurity of being is one that we have absolutely been heavily steeped in not just in the last six weeks, last year, it's decades old opportunity for us and so the insecurity of being what is that, that is when people are targeted with violence or hatred, because they're a member of a community that's on the margin. So, we wanna do our part in addressing that insecurity of being to ensure that they are safe and can thrive. We also believe in this opportunity around curiosity and empathy and proximity. We believe that what you're curious about, you're gonna get close to and given the events of the last, oh gosh, six weeks and this landscape, it's important to get really close to those things that are challenges in our world close to, you know, injustice and oppression, both historical and future forms of it so that as we get close to it we actually start to care about it that's where empathy comes in. Ultimately, it drives our commitment to delivering action that is actually gonna be sustainable
And then the last piece is coalescence and Jen, this is part of what you all have been driving with your tech talks is how do you do things together? How do you drive things with other people? We are committed as a company to coalesce both our people, our customers, our partners, our employees, our suppliers, when there are challenges that we know we can't solve alone.
So, for us, that lens on how do we navigate these waters has everything to do with what we believe and then we map that to our execution path, with our crisis framework and we're off to the races.
That's great, thank you for sharing all of that you know, certainly as you, as you kicked off with tech for good, you know, I sit here realizing I wouldn't even have met you without, you know, without this sort of technology. So, it really does bring people together. For us at Insight, you know, culture and inclusion is just a big piece of our story and our history. In fact, you know, harmony is one of our core values and was really around collaboration and, you know, it's a team sport out there. So that sort of culture just doesn't happen though, you don't just wake up and have this strong and admirable culture and I wonder if you could give us some guidance on, you know, accompanies or leaders that are just starting on this journey or maybe they need to of course corrections within their culture. How would you go about doing that? How would you create a strategy for that sort of initiative?
Oh, I love the question and it's so important right now, Jen, and let me tell you why. In the first quarter of this year, McKenzie did a study and that study found that 27% of companies had either stopped, or put on hold, their diversity and inclusion efforts and I have to tell you, there's never been a better time to be doing this work, it's never been more important and critical to the outcomes of people and communities and so the first thing would be, make sure you are doing the work around, making sure people feel welcome, respected, valued, and heard. That diversity and inclusion is paramount as a core part of who and what you are as a company. But then inside of that, then embracing, I would say three things.
The first is transparency, there's so much power in transparency of data. It is perception versus reality. It is the way in which you can acknowledge where you are and how far you have come. It is the way in which you can signal how welcoming your environment is or how much work you have to do to actually get there. Transparency matters. I'll give you an example we have been sharing our data transparently since 2005. So, if you think everything from total populations of gender and ethnicity from individual contributors, all the way up to our board level, here's what that has done for us. It has allowed people to see opportunity and possibility for themselves inside the walls of this company, as well as outside the walls of the company, we still have a lot of work to do Jen, but certainly transparency has been the foundation by which we have been able to build trust. One of those ways in building trust with transparency is, you know, if you think back to the hashtag me too movement, we certainly leveraged our philosophy around transparency and sharing the data around our ER cases, everything from all of the categories that we look at the total number of cases, how we triaged them and I will tell you, it laid down a foundation of trust with our employees that you can't put a value on transparency matters, and it contributes significantly both to a conscious culture and secondly, to how people feel inside the walls of the company.
The second one is in beliefs. I just shared with you some of Cisco's beliefs, those beliefs guide us in how we create action and how we wanna show up both in the world or I would say, even in moment, right? We have all these micro moments in how we show up that are the sum of our brand and who we are and what you believe matters. So, spend the time getting clear on what you believe, and here's the beautiful piece. Whatever you believed yesterday is still valid and relevant, but just add onto it because this unprecedented moment has hopefully allowed you to see bigger and wider as a company to see what else we need to bring into focus, to be what I call our best. Always on.
The last piece is about fear what we have learned in the last, oh gosh, over decades is that fear keeps us from moving forward, it keeps us from progress, it keeps us from innovation, it keeps us trapped into norms that don't allow for us to be our best. So, I would say whatever the fear is inside the walls of your company, things like having conversations around race, don't be beholden to them. I'll give you a perfect example there was an article in fortune about six weeks ago, a woman by the name of (mumbling) wrote an article and she talked about how important it is to actually have race conversations inside the walls of our company. Now here's what's interesting, Jen, I've been doing diversity and inclusion work for 15 plus years. We've always talked about inclusion that Delta for us has always been kind of a deeper push into conversations around race inside the walls of the company and here's what that article said it said, you know, the place where you're gonna have the intersection of races is actually not in your personal life. It's actually within the walls of a company and so it's really important for us as companies to not be fearful, to get good at having these conversations that lead us to being our best to lead us, to seeing each other. And for me personally, it has given me clarity on the thing that's going to unlock the opportunity for diversity and inclusion, certainly inside of my company and hopefully in many others and fear is what has kept us from having those conversations in a deeper, richer way and today I think we get to step into and step up to those opportunities with courage.
Absolutely, thank you, thank you for sharing all of that Shari, just one final closing question. Really we're in a shift gears to our remote workforce and the impact that it may be having on culture. I don't think there's any denying that there is some impact, even though things are going relatively well, you know, like anyone else who has kids, a lot of us are homeschooling and trying to figure that out among many other challenges, health and everything else. What advice, one piece of advice would you give to a leader who's currently managing in this environment?
Oh gosh, you know what? I have a couple, I wish I could keep it to one. The first one is pay attention to your people. Jen, you did it role modeled it beautifully when you asked me, how are you? It's okay for people not to be okay in the moment or in the week, but paying attention to your people it's gonna give you the clues to whether or not you need to adjust or bridge or help support them in the moment.
I think the second piece is in taking care of them on the other side of that so once you have done and engaged, asking them how they are, being okay with them not being on video I had a conversation with somebody on one of my teams the other day, and I asked them how they were and they said to me, they said, you know, Shari, I'm not gonna be on video today and I said, you know what? That's okay, right? Or they're on that call with you and they're taking a walk and that's okay too, right? You're meeting them where they are so that they can be their best in the moment, given the magnitude of what they are probably managing both at home and at work, and then taking care of them along the way. The technology, Jen, that you and I get to deliver to the world every day because of our day jobs has made it possible for people to work anytime, anywhere on any device and oh, by the way, always on and that's the piece as leaders that we have to take stock in while it's super inclusive, we also have to help be the regulators so that we can successfully navigate both today and tomorrow with technology enabling us to be our best.
Great, thank you very much for those tips for leaders who are struggling to manage in this environment. And really appreciate your time today, Shari, for everyone listening in, you can find more inspiration from Cisco's conscious culture in our summer issue of insights digital magazine, the tech journal, you can read and subscribe at insight.com. Thank you so much for your time today.
Thank you so much, Jen, thank you.