At Cisco, we have 29 employee resource organizations (EROs) and networks that are part of what we call our “Inclusive Communities.” These employee groups support full-spectrum diversity and foster Cisco‘s Conscious Culture globally by providing opportunities for proximity, learning, and community impact.
The Global Program Manager for Inclusive Communities at Cisco is Bernadette Liasos. She is currently completing her masters in Organization Leadership with a focus on Workplace Diversity & Inclusion. Even back in high school, Bernadette was interested in advocating for different cultural groups. Then, while still in college, she began working in talent acquisition and learned how to use her passion for diversity initiatives in the corporate world.
I recently sat down with Bernadette to learn more about Inclusive Communities at Cisco and how they create a safe place for employees to learn more from each other.
Can you tell me about your path to working at Cisco?
Bernadette: I started as a consultant over seven years ago and as Sales Diversity University Relations Manager. The energy from the students was contagious. I started realizing that the work I was doing involved advocating for candidates and promoting a diverse pipeline. That started my love for being more inclusive, and I focused more on equity and diversity in university relations.
At that time, the Office of Inclusion and Collaboration was born, merging all diversity and inclusion efforts at Cisco. As a result, I had an opportunity to pivot my role as a program manager and focus more on various diversity initiatives. I have been in this role for over seven years. I am passionate about this work, and I am proud to work in this space.
What are the Inclusive Communities at Cisco, and how many employees participate?
Bernadette: Inclusive Communities is a moving, growing, evolving part of Cisco. It‘s like a big umbrella, and under that umbrella is a thriving base of employee resource organizations (EROs) and networks. When I started, there were only 10 EROs, and now we have grown to 11 EROs and 18 networks. We have 29 communities, including our Cisco Citizen Network, which is our volunteer group. Our EROs are employee groups with members from an underrepresented population or a protective class within a particular region, like Women of Cisco or Connected Black Professionals.
Our networks are focused on raising awareness on various topics; we have some that focus on health, such as our Cancer Support network and Mindfulness and Resilience network. Some focus on advocating, such as the Green Team network and Men for Inclusion network.
Employees who join one of our Inclusive Communities also have an opportunity to gain additional skills outside of their scope of work. For example, you may gain more experience with communications, budgeting, and leading the overall community.
Personally, what’s so great about working in this space is that I feel like Inclusive Communities is that connector. Joining one of these groups is so much more than networking. It gives you a sense of belonging in a supportive environment.
How do Inclusive Communities advocate for employees and foster a more Conscious Culture at Cisco?
Bernadette: Our inclusive communities celebrate diversity and give voice to employees on issues they care most about, including social justice, career development, and environmental causes to name a few.
Some examples of our communities in action was a 100-Day Sprint, where leaders met with representatives from our Connected Black Professionals ERO to get proximate and learn more about the experiences of African American/Black employees. They set a goal to create solutions to improve the lived experiences, career trajectories, and representation across all African American/Black talent levels at Cisco. As a result, we achieved the highest percentage of African American/Black hires in the company’s history during that time. In addition, our PRIDE ERO helped to get appropriate gender-neutral signage for campus bathrooms, and our Interfaith Network influenced how areas can be used on campus for prayer spaces.
Our team makes sure the right people are included in the conversation and that the right community members and leaders are aware. For example, we recently worked with our Connected Black Professionals group for a Juneteenth event that is a collaboration between community members and the company.
We’re providing opportunities to share and to listen and to make sure that we are not only just rolling out various initiatives and programs but that we are also representing the communities themselves.
What has been the role of Cisco‘s Inclusive Communities during a time when employees couldn‘t come into the office?
Bernadette: Before the pandemic hit, we had a lot of activities that were happening on and off Cisco campuses worldwide. Many of these experiences were in person. When the pandemic hit, we had to coach and share best practices with our community leaders on the best ways to engage remotely. In addition, listening sessions were conducted during the pandemic by the company and communities to better understand employee community sentiment and offer opportunities to share their concerns.
Pivoting to a virtual experience, we found out that we can be more inclusive in capturing engagement through virtual connections like WebEx. As a result, our community members have been creating experiences that they haven’t done in the past. Going 100 percent remote was a significant learning experience. Still, our communities could continue programming with Cisco technology and support Cisco‘s social justice initiatives.
Can you explain how Cisco‘s Inclusive Communities are not only transforming our company, our communities, but also the world?
Bernadette: Inclusive Communities is about representation and feeling like you’re able to belong and be heard. I’m very proud that our Inclusive Communities is guiding significant impact within our members and our people strategy to drive inclusion for all.
We actively drive inclusiveness and proximity to make sure our members, especially during the pandemic and the recent events of social unrest, know that Cisco is a safe space. Our members and leaders share our culture of inclusivity, allowing every employee to bring their whole self to work. These experiences and communities play a significant role in driving positive community impact within the places they live, work, and play.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we are creating and cultivating an inclusive work environment where employees can thrive, please visit our Conscious Culture webpage.