In the corporate world, growth is not just about numbers. It is about creating an environment to help people thrive. An excellent example is corporate mogul Cisco Systems, Inc., a tech industry leader that has managed to create an exceptionally supportive corporate culture. Cisco is regularly included in Fortune Magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For and consistently achieves recognition in Best Workplaces surveys.
One of Cisco’s strategies for corporate growth is a commitment to developing diverse talent. Although Cisco is well-known as a leader in the technology industry, it’s also a leader in a less appreciated category – board diversity. For many years, Cisco has diversified its Board of Directors to include women, which few other companies have done. Cisco’s female board members bring forth years of experience in areas including technology, operations, human resources, and management alongside their respective technical knowledge.
Carol Bartz joined Cisco’s Board back in 1996 and brings to it the experience of serving as a board member, CEO and President for Yahoo! Inc. and Autodesk. Bartz also contributes vital technology industry expertise, along with marketing, operational, and global management expertise. Bartz couples her industry experience with a bold approach to challenges: she was responsible for keeping Yahoo! afloat during the rise of other Internet giants such as Facebook. She also spearheaded Autodesk during a competitive market while battling cancer. Bartz has been part of the technology industry from the rise of the software giants, to the Internet revolution, and has become a tech giant in her own right. As one of the Bay Area’s most prominent female technology executives, Bartz is a prime example of the power of female leaders. She is quoted as saying, “We have to keep the fight up. We have to make sure women do get their proper place in American business.
Michele Burns joined the board in 2003. Her previous experience includes serving as CEO for the Retirement Policy Center sponsored by Marsh & McLennan Companies, serving as Chairman and CEO for Mercer LLC, serving as CEO for Mirant Corporation, and serving as CFO for Delta Air Lines, Inc. Michele currently serves on the boards for other reputable corporations alongside Cisco. Burns brings significant expertise in corporate finance, accounting, and strategy. She also has expertise in global and operational management, as well as organizational leadership and human resources. Burns is well-known for her “steely resolve,” which she used to lead Delta through the uneasy post-9/11 period. By combining her acute financial knowledge with well-honed fact-based decision-making, Burns has become an excellent example of strong corporate leadership. Burns believes in the importance of “human capital” and is an active supporter of art and political advocacy groups.
Kristina Johnson has been on the board since 2012. She also serves on the boards for multiple other tech companies. She also co-founded Cube Hydro Partners LLC and is serving as its CEO. Kristina’s background is extremely diverse, as she has served as the Under Secretary at the Department of Energy, Provost and Senior VP for Academic Affairs at Johns Hopkins University. Johnson is a strong proponent of women in leadership and STEM positions, and is an excellent example of a strong female STEM leader herself. She is a recipient of awards such as the International Dennis Gabor Award and the John Fritz Medal. Kristina was also inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame. As Cisco transitions from a networking hardware giant to an innovator in cloud and Internet-based services, Johnson brings unparalleled expertise in science and technology.
Last but not least, Amy Chang joined the board in 2016. She currently serves on the boards for Cisco and Splunk, and served on the boards for Informatica and Target’s Digital Advisory Council. Amy previously led Google Analytics and served as a consultant at McKinsey. Alongside founding and serving as the CEO for Accompany, Amy also manages to serve as an advisory for many Bay Area tech companies, including Hubspot, Optimizely, ClearSlide, BloomReach, Skyhigh Networks, Origami Logic, Kanjoya and Datorama. Chang brings a strong engineering background as well as diverse leadership experience. Her expertise in go-to-market strategy and product management are vital as Cisco innovates in the new digital business environment. Chang is an excellent example of how gender diversity on boards can lead to new perspectives. The future of technology is not limited to the “old boys’ club.” Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers declares that Chang, as an entrepreneur, an engineer, and an industry disruptor, provides Cisco with fresh insights into Cisco’s technology and business priorities.
By being proactively inclusive, Cisco has fostered an environment where its diverse employees and leaders can thrive. And, by helping its diverse talent thrive, Cisco itself achieves consistent corporate growth. For example, Cisco is one of the few companies that pioneered onsite childcare at corporate headquarters, elder care resources, lactation rooms, childcare reimbursement during business travel, onsite health screenings, onsite fitness centers, flexible work arrangements, fully paid volunteer days, and various corporate responsibility programs. These innovative programs help employees at all levels of the company thrive, which results in employee satisfaction and loyalty.
Those who think gender diversity on boards is merely “for the sake of diversity” can learn from Cisco’s example. At Cisco, innovation in tech is matched by innovation in corporate culture. Cisco is one of the few companies that has recognized the importance of gender diversity on its board: when diverse leaders make big picture decisions, corporate culture thrives, and corporate growth follows. Following Cisco’s example, any company seeking corporate growth should look beyond the numbers, and focus on hiring diverse, talented leadership. Diversity at all levels, especially in leadership and boards, creates a supportive corporate culture where employees can thrive.
Olga V. Mack has been disrupting the status quo and fighting for equality since she can remember. She is the founder of the WomenServeOnBoards.com movement making a fiscal and social case for gender equality on corporate boards. To stay deeply connected to her mission, Mack dedicates her time as an advisory board member for ChannelMeter and TimeJoy. As a startup enthusiast, she currently brings her passion for seeing her clients succeed and grow as general counsel at ClearSlide. Previously she held positions at Zoosk, Visa Inc., Pacific Art League of Palo Alto, California, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Neha Sareen is an attorney with a passion to help corporations grow and handle all legal issues efficiently. She is currently Deputy General Counsel for Petersen-Dean, Inc., a leader in the roofing, solar and energy storage industries. Before moving in-house, she practiced business and commercial litigation in San Francisco and San Diego.
Note: Our valued interviewees and Contributors speak in their own words and their views reflect their own opinions.