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Daily CSR

Daily CSR
Daily news about corporate social responsibility, ethics and sustainability

Be the leader that you seek: Cisco’s Leadership program


One of Cisco's Leadership Expectations is to Make the Future, which includes sponsoring diversity and inclusion initiatives. Cisco has consistently advocated for sponsorship as a powerful tool that leaders can use to connect, advocate for, and accelerate the careers of diverse talent since The Multiplier Effect (TME) launched in 2017. Leaders can sponsor someone different from themselves and commit to supporting their career advancement by taking the TME pledge.

Why Sponsorship matters
Today, a significant racial disparity in corporate environments prevents many Black employees from gaining equitable access to leadership positions. We know that having a diverse workforce improves innovation, performance, and work efficiency. However, Black employees make up only 14% of all US employees and hold only 7% of managerial positions. While some may see this as just another statistic, Derek Idemoto, Senior Vice President - Corporate Strategy, and Jerome J. Sanders, Product Marketing Manager - Emerging Technologies & Incubation (ET&I), see it as a chance to effect long-term change. We recently had the opportunity to speak with them about how they "Power an Inclusive Future" for one another through sponsorship.

Introducing Derek
Derek (He/Him/His): I'm a third-generation Japanese American who grew up in San Jose, California, so joining Cisco a little more than 15 years ago was a natural fit. My heritage has taught me the importance of resilience, stamina, and hard work in the face of extraordinary challenges that Japanese Americans faced during and after World War II, both personally and professionally. I currently lead our Corporate Development and Cisco Investments team, which is responsible for driving Cisco's innovation and growth through investments and acquisitions.

Jerome (He/Him/His): I work in Cisco's Emerging Technologies and Incubation team as a Product Marketing Manager. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, by two United States Navy Veterans, and I now live in Cary, North Carolina, near the Research Triangle Park. I am the first person in my family to earn a college degree (from Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business) and to pursue a career in technology. In my spare time, you can find me volunteering as Chairperson for First Tech Fund, training for my upcoming 70.3 Chattanooga Ironman Triathlon, or wandering the world with my "do not disturb" button activated.

Sponsorship necessitates leaders using their social capital to advance their sponsee's career. Derek, what has he done for you?

Jerome: Derek's sponsorship is one of the many reasons I see myself at Cisco for many years to come as a leader, shareholder, and champion for the future we're creating together. Aside from our monthly 1:1 meeting, Derek has discussed how I present myself at Cisco with members of the Executive Leadership Team, peers in my organization, and my manager. He is deliberate in assisting my leaders in understanding my career goals and how we can all work together to make them a reality.

Derek has also offered to shadow me in one of my team meetings to observe how I lead and to teach me how to "read the room" so that I can improve my emotional intelligence and better serve my teams. This is what it means to be sponsored!

Some barriers keep Black employees from benefiting from sponsorship in the same way that others do. What are some of the gaps you'd like leaders to be aware of when it comes to advocating for emerging Black leaders?

Jerome: Cisco executives are not always in close proximity to emerging Black leaders on their teams. I challenge leaders to take a quick look through the directory to see how far they are from an emerging Black leader in their organisation. A leader can advocate for an emerging Black leader by holding regular skip-level meetings with them and becoming immersed in one another's goals and aspirations.

Proximity fosters empathy, and empathy fosters sponsorship
It is critical in performance reviews to provide specific, actionable feedback on how emerging Black leaders can improve. Avoid words like "aggressive," "emotional," "unapproachable," or "lack of executive presence," which elicit subjective feedback. Concrete feedback combined with objective evaluations can result in higher performance ratings for emerging Black leaders, resulting in more sponsorship within this community.
Sponsorship is a win-win situation for both the sponsor and the sponsee. What have you learned from each other that you will apply in the future?

Derek: I've learned that there are many paths to success, and it's critical to find one that is truly yours. I find that the reverse mentoring aspects of our relationship with Jerome are more powerful than the forward mentoring takeaways. Because how we show up for one another is important, actions speak louder than words. When Jerome met our CEO, Chuck Robbins, he was struck by something Chuck said about how it's always about the team. It's not all about us.
Always give others credit. "Nothing here at Cisco is done alone," said Jerome.

Relationships, networking, and people in general are extremely important
Jerome: Given that Derek and I are both huge sports fans, I appreciate Derek's constant reminder to "play the long game." It serves as a reminder that our careers aren't about the sprint ahead of us or short-term gains, but rather about seeing the big picture and appreciating how it all fits together over time. The best things in life take time to develop. Many of us can carry this forward as we work to make a business impact while also living purpose-driven lives that create a more inclusive future for all.

How we sponsor today has a direct impact on the type of leaders who will lead tomorrow. Derek, what qualities make a good leader, and what advice do you have for leaders who want to sponsor people with different identities than their own?

Derek: In my opinion, there are five key qualities that leaders must possess in order to fulfil their sponsorship responsibilities:
  • Good decision-making skills are essential - I believe in making decisions that prioritize Cisco first, the team second, and myself third.
  • Recognize the distinction between hard work and results - Leaders must recognise the significance of the "what" (task execution and results) and the "how" (the approach taken to complete the task).
  • Managing people is not a "one-size-fits-all" situation - Leaders must recognise and respect each team member as an individual.
  • Hire for characteristics and train for skills - Ko Nishimura, former CEO and Chair of Solectron and fellow Japanese American, is one of my career and life sponsors.
  • Details are important - Details frequently provide the data required to support your positions and perspectives, which can ultimately influence outcomes.
What advice would you give to young Black technologists, Jerome?
Jerome: "You have to use your status and power to be of service to others," said Dr. Cornel West.

When it comes to the need for sponsorship for underrepresented communities, particularly historically disadvantaged Black and brown communities, this rings true on so many levels. When I mentor a professional, I make it a point to ask my mentees to pay it forward. It is not enough to simply have a seat at the table unless we are willing to pull up another chair and make it available for someone else to sit in and thrive. The more we pay it forward, the more we can help others.

Becoming the Change that you seek
Did you know, seventy percent of sponsors are more likely to choose a sponsee who resembles them. This behavior results in a homogeneous sponsorship experience that continues to benefit those with privilege while harming people from underrepresented communities. TME, in contrast to traditional sponsorship methods, aims to change that experience by strongly encouraging sponsors to step outside of their comfort zone. Globally, 70% of Cisco sponsees have two or more dimensions of difference from their sponsor!

Click here to Take the pledge  to sponsor diverse talent today!