By Andrew Williams
Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.
A company isn’t crowned “best place to work in the U.S.” for a third year in a row by chance. It takes intentionality, awareness, and commitment. From publicly dedicating $300-million-dollars to support social justice, to internally holding leaders accountable for sponsoring the next generation of diverse talent through The Multiplier Effect (TME)–Cisco’s dedication is always bold. And the accountability is always there.
To build on its purpose of Powering an Inclusive Future for All, Cisco offers nearly 20 diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs and events. Last fiscal year, more than 2,500 Cisconians accumulated almost 34,000 hours of structured DEI learning. Nakia Stringfield was one of them.
Owning your career takes initiative
Nakia is a director on Cisco’s Customer Experience team and has been a proud Cisconian for 23 years. However, there was a time earlier in her career where she contemplated resigning. This all changed when she attended a life-changing conference in 2008.
“The Simmons Women Leadership Conference was my first time going to a large professional event targeted at women, helping to empower and develop leaders,” Nakia says. She saw women of different backgrounds including some who looked like her, proudly speaking as their true selves. And this meant a lot. As a Black woman who grew up in the rural southern United States, Nakia went from sometimes being the only woman and/or person of color in the room, to being in a room filled with women of different backgrounds who were current or aspiring leaders. It was powerful.
“I got a booster shot of confidence and encouragement. It was empowering to see people who have been on the same journey as me and have navigated challenges. I realized I needed to stay in those spaces every so often to be inspired to keep going. If those women at Simmons can go from engineers, to leaders, to CEOs–why can’t I?”
Owning your career takes opportunity
Roughly half of Cisco’s DEI programs are available through strategic partnerships and conferences like Simmons. And Nakia has worked her way to attending many. In the years since Simmons, she’s also participated in the Executive Leadership Council, Information Technology Senior Management Forum, and Management Leadership for Tomorrow–programs all dedicated to developing leaders.
Through Cisco’s own learning and development solutions, Nakia has attended Next Generation Leaders, where managers and employees develop trust as a foundation for connecting across difference. She’s also been a sponsee and currently sponsors four people of different backgrounds through The Multiplier Effect (TME).
And, as a member of Connected Black Professional (CBP), Nakia participates in reverse mentoring which partners staff with senior executives to bridge gaps in differences and understanding. CBP is one of Cisco’s 28 Inclusive Communities where more than 30,000 employees can connect, develop leadership skills, and serve as change agents.
“These programs taught me more about showing up, networking strategically, and advocating for myself and others,” reflects Nakia. “They’re not the only reason I was promoted, but I know they were key factors in how I showed up as a leader in the organization and marketplace. They were transformational.”
Owning your career takes an investment
For years, companies treated DEI like leg day at the gym. They knew they should do it, skipped it anyway, and hoped it’d go unnoticed.
But jobseekers and current employees are more aware than ever. Today, DEI is a critical building block for a successful business, and the numbers back this up:
Creating spaces for DEI learning is a vital part of Cisco’s DNA. Leadership recognizes the need to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce to create a workplace where employees feel valued, respected, and empowered to reach their full potential. This also helps Cisco attract and retain the best talent possible–like Nakia–and is one reason why almost half of its workforce has been with the company for more than five years  despite the Great Resignation.
Nakia invested in herself by taking full ownership of her career journey through Cisco’s DEI programs. And these programs continue to provide a learning environment for her growth at every turn. It’s why she’s still here and plans to be for years to come.
Contact the DEI registrations team if you’re a Cisconian interested in learning more about how you can own your career through DEI programs and events.
See what others are saying about DEI learning and development at Cisco!
“NGL was/is one of the best programs for developing new leadership talent. NGL allowed me and my manager, Christopher Whittaker, to understand how one’s culture plays a major part in development. I was fortunate that my manager, Chris is African American, so we were able to understand our position on a unique level. Being able to communicate with other leaders while having disruptive/tough conversations was invaluable.” Bryan Stewart, Next Generation Leaders
“Lesbians Who Tech was the best conference I have been to. The opportunities to learn spanned multiple aspects of technology (to include data) and diverse possibilities on how to continue to evolve as a human being in the workplace. In my view, this is particularly vital for those of us who work in tech, which continues to dramatically shape the world in which we live.” – Anonymous, Lesbians Who Tech
“What a great conference! As usual, the HITEC conference is invigorating, and plants seeds for next wave of innovation.” – Sol Solorzano, Hispanic Information Technology Executive Council
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