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Cisco: How Sponsorship Is a Catalyst for Change

By Andrew Williams

Cisco: How Sponsorship Is a Catalyst for Change

By Andrew Williams

Published 03-15-24

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

Four people stood together wearing formal attire

Here’s an (un)fun fact: Almost 90 percent of companies had sponsorship programs in 2021, yet only 33 percent of Black employees actually had sponsors, and even fewer Black employees (23 percent) felt support to advance in their careers¹. More shocking? The number of Black employees with sponsors dropped as low as five percent² a year later.

We need to improve these numbers and Cisco believes The Multiplier Effect (TME) is part of the solution. Through sponsorship, TME helps advance the careers of underrepresented groups in the tech industry including women, the Latine community, and Black talent.

At its core, sponsorship is a mutually beneficial relationship where leaders use their influence, position, and social capital to advocate for the career advancement of their sponsees. Unlike mentorship, which involves giving advice and feedback, sponsorship requires a commitment to directly advocate for a sponsee by offering support and introducing them to new opportunities. This is where leaders come in. And at Cisco, they’ve come in droves with 100 percent of Cisco leaders at or above the vice president level taking the TME pledge to sponsor across difference in FY23.

Getting sponsored as a Black employee has clear upsides. Black managers are 65 percent more likely to advance in their career if they’re sponsored while Black employees are 60 percent less likely to quit within a year than peers who aren’t sponsored². And, for companies, many reports have highlighted the benefits of diverse teams, from better decision-making, to higher performance, improved bottom lines, and more³.

Cisco Taps into Sponsorship

In 2020, Cisco launched its Social Justice Beliefs and 12 Actions backed by a five-year, $300 million commitment to explore new ways to address inequities, break down barriers, and create more inclusive opportunities for people to thrive. These 12 Social Justice Actions form a wide-ranging plan with one of the goals being to connect leaders to employees.

Cisco’s most recent Purpose Report highlights promising progress since 2020. By expanding its diverse talent pipeline through enhanced hiring practices, interview training, sponsorship and more, the company’s seen a 73 percent increase in representation of all employees who identify as African American/Black from entry level through manager. That percentage jumps to a 103 percent increase at the director level and a 240 percent increase for vice presidents and above.

Sponsorship starts with leaders but benefits everyone and Michelle Lee, Senior Manager, ONEx Employee Engagement, is proof. She’s excelled as a sponsee and sponsor (five times each!) throughout her 28-year Cisco career, and shares some of her sponsorship journey.

Why did you get involved with sponsorship? 

I have a strong passion for people, culture, career development and talent growth. I learned early in my career that having an “advocate” is critical to your career journey. Sponsors have your back and are willing to speak on your behalf about your work, accomplishments, value, and strengths, so that you can reach your full potential. I’ve lived the company motto: “One Company, Many Careers” by working in sales, communications, program management, and more. Many leaders have advocated for me, and I want to showcase that same positive energy for others through sharing my personal experiences. I feel great gratitude and joy seeing others succeed and grow.

What inspires you about sponsorship? 

Sponsorship is foundational to our business and how we grow as a company. It’s imperative in driving employees to transform their skills, learning and growth. Cisco needs employees who are continuously learning and growing with the support of sponsors to help drive that action.

What advice would you give to employees who are on the fence about becoming sponsees? And what advice do you have for leaders who are considering sponsorship but haven’t done so yet? 

  • To sponsees: You OWN your career. Take ownership by getting a sponsor who can help your career advancement. You can’t do it alone so don’t miss out on this opportunity! Let someone help you. The opportunities are endless. I am a testimony of this!
  • To sponsors: It’s the right thing to do. You get a sense of gratitude in connecting with different perspectives and backgrounds while helping them to advance in their career.

Make Your Mark: Get Involved with Sponsorship!

Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives aren’t just priorities on World Day of Social Justice (February 20) or during Black History Month. Social justice is something Cisco strives for everyday.

You’re invited to take the TME pledge and join Cisco on its journey towards equity. Whether it’s through supporting Cisco’s 12 Social Justice Actions or getting involved in The Multiplier Effect, everyone has a role to play in powering an inclusive future for all.


[1] McKinsey & Company (2021) 
[2]Harvard Business Review (2022) 
[3]McKinsey & Company (2020)

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