Shannon Leininger, President, Cisco Canada
Being a woman in tech hasn’t always been easy.
Early in my career, I had been asked – more than once – to attend meetings and not say anything, to just sit there and “look pretty.”
My gender, marital status, and the fact that I have children have all been brought up in performance reviews early in my career.
I could have let those experiences bring me down. Truthfully, at times they did. But I also used them as fuel. To drive my success and career growth, and as motivation to create a more inclusive world in the hopes that there would come a time when other women wouldn’t be asked the same questions I was asked.
Throughout my career, I’ve consistently seen the impact that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives can have on employees, teams and companies. Thankfully, DE&I initiatives are no longer add-ons to corporate culture. They’re critical. They’re essential.
For me as a leader, a focus on full-spectrum diversity is central to how I run my organization.
Having faced the roadblocks that I did early in my career, and since moving into leadership positions, I make a conscious and concerted effort to create safe spaces so my employees and team members feel comfortable and encouraged to bring their full and authentic selves to work.
This isn’t always easy, either. It takes commitment, intention, and a real desire to make things better. But anyone can make a difference. Sometimes this means starting small, and focusing on things you can control.
I started with some small steps at Cisco. We had a requirement for diverse interview panelists in recruitment interviews, but if we were to bring in more diverse talent to the organization, we needed to go further. I implemented a requirement within my organization for diverse candidate slates, in addition to requiring a diverse panel. If the hiring team couldn’t show me a diverse candidate slate and a diverse interview panel, I wouldn’t approve the job requisition. In time, this requirement was implemented beyond just my own organization within Cisco.
Another program that has been incredibly impactful has been Cisco’s Proximity Initiative. It’s an effort to bring company leaders closer to employees from underrepresented communities throughout the organization through one-on-one conversations. These conversations have been moving and eye-opening.They’ve given me new perspectives as a leader, and they’ve brought issues to light that I might not have known about before. Knowing about these challenges also gives me the opportunity to help solve them. I’m a passionate supporter of the Proximity Initiative and I encourage future leaders I speak with, as well as my own leadership team, to lean into the initiative, to get proximate to people who are different from them, and to become a better leader for it.
We’re finally seeing more and more evidence that diverse, equitable and inclusive organizations perform better than their peers. It goes beyond culture. It affects their bottom line. DE&I is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative. And for good reason.