This episode features a conversation with Tony DeGruy, Leader of Service Delivery Management at Cisco, and Gena Pirtle, Global Head of Cisco's Inclusive Community Experience. Tony discusses his journey of becoming the co-lead for Cisco's Men for Inclusion Network, which strives to accelerate, activate and develop male leaders and influencers to use their power and influence to shape a culture of equity, belonging and allyship for all. Gena discusses what inclusive leadership looks like across all levels of an organization and how to enable inclusive leadership. Discover how creating a culture of psychological safety can enable people to explore all of their diversity dimensions.
We typically will attribute imposter syndrome to women. But the reality is that there are a number of men, particularly even some executives who are struggling with, "Here's who I really am, but if I bring who I really am into the conversation, will I still be able to hold on to my title?" But the reality is we're having those conversations. We're having them and as a result of having them, men are evolving in their leadership model. The other thing, when we think about inclusivity, if we go back and we look at what was formerly, if you would, in the leader's tool belt, the lead ability to drive systemic change with regards to achieving work goals and objectives, men were doers.
In this particular case, if you're going to lead inclusively, you're going to have to change your leadership model. You're going to have to lead across every aspect of your life and not just when you get into the workplace. And it's going to require that you're going to evolve.
The Will to Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She's a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results. Informed by nearly two decades of consulting to Fortune 500 companies, she and her team advise top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode.
Welcome to The Will to Change. This is Doug Foresta. Today's episode features a conversation with Tony DeGruy, leader of service delivery Management at Cisco. And Gina Pirtle, global head of Cisco's inclusive community experience. As they discuss Cisco's Men for Inclusion network, which strive to accelerate, activate, and develop male leaders and influencers to use their power and influence to shape a culture of equity, belonging and allyship for all.
Gina talks about what inclusive leadership looks like across all levels of an organization and how to enable inclusive leadership. Tony shares his journey of becoming the co-lead for Cisco's Men for Inclusion network. All this and more and now onto the episode.
Tony and Gina, welcome to The Will to Change.
Thank you, Jennifer.
So happy to have you here, both of you. I asked for someone to come on and speak about what we're going to talk about today, and I got both of you. Lucky me. For my audience, you don't know, but my relationship with Cisco Systems goes back almost 20 years. As long as I've had my consulting company, Cisco was one of my first clients, and it was incredible times. I was young and bright-eyed, and bushy tailed. We did some incredible work with some folks, most of whom are not there anymore. Of course, that's so long ago.
But I really have such fond memories that I cherish of going all over the world, learning with and through your teams that I was supporting and being really there in my own early days of focusing on... And it wasn't DEI then, it was D&I. And actually at Cisco, it's changed names many times. Even in those early days, there were always these incredibly thoughtful conversations about what to call the function and what would really align with Cisco's business and really resonate with people and make sense to people.
That's just the tip of the iceberg of what made and makes your company so thoughtful. What we're going to talk about today is a totally emerging best practice. I'd say next practice, which is men involved in inclusion efforts in a very unique way that is going incredibly well. I just want to say also, I was there at the very creation of this effort with two leaders that I was able to partner with and one other external person, Chuck Shelton actually.
It was called something different at the time, but we had a blast. It was so special to be in a room crafting how might we bring men into this conversation. And literally that was our job to figure out and to see what it's become and what we're going to talk about today is just like a 360 degree moment for me. I hope what this does is everybody listening, I'm always giving you different paradigms to think about on this show.
This is something that should be coming to every organization. These questions, these ideas, these kinds of support structures, we so need to include everyone. And that really means everyone. And that's, I think, the work ahead. I think it will unify us. I think it will minimize or shift a lot of perhaps the conflict and resistance that we're experiencing right now more than ever, and mitigate that, but also take that energy and redirect it towards something that really is so important for all of us to be able to do our jobs, to thrive, to do our best work.
And you have really cracked a code. So I just can't wait to hear about this. Okay. So I've done enough talking and raving, but Gina and Tony... Let's start with you. Gina, tell us about your... We believe everyone has a diversity story, even those that you may not expect. Tell us anything about you'd like to share about how you identify what your journey has been with this work, what were your aha moments. Take us back and give us some context about who you are.
Yeah. Thank you so much, Jennifer. It's so amazing to hear about your Cisco journey because I was right there at Cisco all those years ago, bright-eyed as well, again, on this kind of purpose journey. And I didn't realize it at the time, but as I've gone through my career, which has been 24 years now, 25 at Cisco, I've actually grown up with this purpose lens. And as Cisco has evolved its own strategy around purpose and what does that mean, and now even evolved to a more focused organization around DE&I, I've been right alongside. And so my personal story has been I identify as a Latina female. I'm the wife of an army veteran. I'm a mother of a just graduated high school sun. I think we all have different aspects of who we are and when we come to companies, and what's beautiful about Cisco is that we truly do believe in the value of different perspectives, different experiences, and bringing our whole selves to work.
When you talk about the communities and the work that happens there, it's just been amazing to see we can all take part in this work in our own very unique way. Now, I actually have the amazing gratefulness that I actually do this work for my real job. So most of us are in this space as a volunteer or in addition to our regular work, but I actually am now leading our inclusive community organization, which encompasses over 26,000 employees that are part of 29 different organizations including communities of identity, communities of wellbeing.
So we are very laser focused on how do we bring our employees close because they're our biggest value. And so I actually get to do the work alongside all amazing people, including Tony as a partner. It's just been an incredible experience for me. So I'm just happy to be here and looking at what's ahead and what's next for this work. So just happy to be here having this conversation with both of you today.
Thank you so much, Gina. Wow, we were in parallel back then and it's still an amazing organization. That's just incredible. So Tony, tell us about your journey.
Wow, it's amazing because I've always had a passion for standing the table, if you would. But it's always been primarily focused on men. I've spent over 20 plus years coaching high school football and using football as a mechanism to really introduce men into the game of life and how working as part of a team because no player plays for themselves. No player plays for the coach, they play for the person next to them. And so it's always been part of it.
But really for me, my aha moment was, and I am so grateful for folks like Antoinette Ligens. So I joined Cisco, in my former role I led the advanced Cisco experience team which was responsible for parallel network, which supported worldwide collaboration sales to give us early access to Cisco's collaboration features such that not just could they sell them, but they actually was a lived experience.
Now, I was walking in the hallway of San Jose building and Antoinette Ligens who was then working with Paul Sidwell who led up the organization said, "Hey, we've got this event that we've got tickets for and it's called Better Man." I go, "Okay. Well, what's Better Man?" And they said, "We would really like to have someone join and attend, but the only requirement that we would have of you is that you would then come back and you would deliver a report based on your experience."
"Okay, sure. Let's go do this. It's in my wheelhouse maybe." But I go and I am infected. I hear Ray, I hear folks like Karen Fleischman. I hear others share their story. I've sat with former colleagues at Intel who I've worked with in the past and other areas, and we sat and I was mesmerized. And, Jennifer, if you may recall, you even shared the iceberg. As you took the stage and you talked about what we see versus what's beyond the surface was just absolutely amazing.
I came back and I put together, in typical Cisco format, this 20-page PowerPoint presentation that talked about everything that what it stood for, everything that the event brought, every message, the various intersections of each of the stories. From there, I was absolutely hooked because I could see where my life purpose aligned with my work purpose and it was a match made in heaven. And the fact that I worked for a company that allows me to be able to blend the two for where that intersectionality takes place, and I didn't have to separate one from the other was just amazing.
So being part of this and then seeing how infectious it can be, I was having a conversation as recently as early this week with a couple of our executive sponsors. They were like, "Tony, the fact that you've continued to bring men into the conversation, the fact that you've continued to inspire leaders to support the vision and strategy that you have with MFI is just so amazing because it's your personality issue. That's it." But it's not my personality, it is my lived experience. I don't turn this on when I get to work and then formally when I got to the office or when I log on, it's every aspect of my life and this is just one part of it.
Beautiful. Such purpose from you two. And I know it doesn't feel like work because it's so aligned with who you are and the legacy that you want to leave and really what lights you up. I can tell. Yes, that Better Man Conference, which by the way, we are expanding and calling now Better Together Conference, which is this fall, and I want everybody in The Will to Change who's listening. We'll be in touch with more information on that, but I know you'll both be there virtually and we'll be probably presenting together on something. A little preview. But it is such a powerful place. I agree, Tony, it was like a game changer for me to have all those interested male presenting faces in that audience, dedicating all that time to analyzing and assessing themselves and their own inclusive leadership journey, and the discussions, and the openness, and the vulnerability in the room. And the transparency about who am I and what do I want to be about and how do I want to impact people? Am I doing enough?
It was intoxicating and I've never been able to forget it. It's why I continue to return to it because it contains I think some ingredients for our progress. It really does. And yet it's so new and unexplored, I think overall. And that's why I get so excited about what you've built. So at the time, I'm going back maybe for me 10 years or if I'm getting that timeline, it was called Cisco Men Advocating for Real Change. So see Mark. Take us through what has happened over the last many years now, what is it called now? And how has it grown in those strategic moments and choices that enabled it to really grow in number and in profile, and in impact? So to the degree that both of you can talk about when you joined the effort and in what capacity? What did you notice in those early days? And when were those early days? Because I'm ballparking the timeline, but I'm not sure I have it right.
Yeah. I think if you think about all our ERGs, they have evolved very organically as over the years. And some of them are at different stages of maturity and sometimes they exist and then they don't. Sometimes it's a matter of who's championing and leading those efforts. So across our portfolio of our communities, we have communities like our women of Cisco used to be called Connected Women that have been around in Conexión for Latinx have been around 20 years. And so in those early stages.
You'll see that they're much more advanced in terms of how do they build their strategies, how do they align to the business, how do they engage leaders, the types of partnerships that they have and the types of experiences. And so it really does vary. So I think we all have seen them grow. Where we're at right now with our communities in terms of how we are really propping them up is to help them understand the value that they can bring, what really is core to them, what makes them unique. But also what's really, really been interesting is this idea of intersectionality and how myself as a Latina mother, veteran military spouse, I have a lot of different hats or identities that I have, which also means that I really am representative across so many different communities.
And then if you add the allyship piece, really we're seeing so much more opportunity for that intersectionality. And that's why what Tony is doing and the work that they're doing with our Men for Inclusion is really critical because they're really starting to look at what is that model for leaning in to these various communities and how we can build awareness and allyship and proximity?
So I think that he's really become a champion for us that we lean to is in terms of you don't have to identify with a community to really make a difference and an impact. And so there is a shift that's going on where we're seeing a lot more integration, collaboration across our communities to really bring exponential value. So Tony, I'd love to hear your side of that.
It's so interesting and thank you so much, Gina. What we look at... And when I say we, before I can sit here, I have to tell you as an Antoinette Ligens right now who is no longer with Cisco was really instrumental and continued to fan the flame of this. What Tanya Escobar brings to this organization as a co-lead for our program is absolutely amazing. What we're finding is probably three things. When we think about our purpose, it's really to educate and then you start... If you can start there because we say head, heart, hands,. Most of us being engineers, being developers and such, if you look at us, we're critical thinkers.
So if you can at least frame it for me and have that conversation, and at which point now we can start to expand and explore what's my privilege? If you think back a few years ago when it was the whole #MeToo, men were scared to get engaged, but the reality was men still wielded power within our environments. First, let's deconstruct what that looks like. We have a tool that we use is called a fishbowl exercise where we will sit down with leaders of teams and say, "We'd love to come in and have a conversation with your team. Let's look at it through the lens of gender and gender representing whether it be male, female."
Let's have a conversation and let's ask a couple of questions and start with the question of when as a male were you first introduced into some of the toxic masculinity ideas that have shaped who you were and how then have you evolved from that? And then we pivot. We take men through a series of questions and the women get an opportunity or get to listen. And then we flip it and we ask women questions like, "When did you have to have something mansplained for you? When did you have to first have to engage an ally in order for you to have your voice heard? And what does that look like? What does it look like for you to work within a safe environment and how can we help do that? It's facilitating those conversations. And in doing so, what we've identified is that as Gina stated, it's not just I'm a woman or I'm just a man, but I happen to be a woman who is trans or a trans woman, or I am a person who represents life through a different lens and I want the whole of me to be seen.
And now that I've expressed who I am, now that I've shared that with you, I need you male leaders to really help me to feel safe, to help me navigate this thing called work and then balance it with what we do in life. It's not just how do we do it. So we share with men in particular. If you can't be an ally in your home and in your community, then when you come to work it's performative. So it's got to be part of your lived experience. And so it's having those sorts of conversations and really driving it that has helped us to evolve this.
And now it's really, we have organizations that are coming to us in one in particular asking how do we start our own Men for Inclusion so that we have our sub-organization within our organization so that we can drive this? It's not my day job, but it's our passion and we've continued to evolve that. You asked a question earlier and I'll just touch on it briefly. We actually have had the opportunity to talk to other companies outside of Cisco.
There are probably four right now that are just, "Hey, how can you help us get our own MFI started." And we're starting to put together that framework. We're doing some consulting work in that space. And so it has evolved. It really truly has. We're only able to accomplish what we have because we have great leaders. I sit here today and I am so amazed that I actually have on our sponsorship... I've got three vice presidents who absolutely believe in what we do and support wholeheartedly everything that we do. And they provide a lot of air cover, whether it be through funding, whether it be through them lending their voices. The reality is we don't do it without that leadership and with everyone working together.
I'll just add because there really is a groundswell when we talk about proximity and allyship, and for some of us, this is a really new concept that least within the past five years for some. And the importance that we have accountability for leaders to actually lean in and champion this work because we can't be just speaking to each other and saying, "This needs to happen." So at Cisco, what we're really looking at is what does inclusive leadership look like across all levels, across all organizations, and how can we enable inclusive leadership?
It needs to come from our executives and they need to demonstrate that. And so that's really powerful about this is our inclusive communities, all of our inclusive communities, the larger ones are all, we have executive sponsors or executive advisors that are all EVP, SVP. So we have representation at the highest levels leaning in and engaging and listening, and getting proximate to those communities.
That's an expectation from our CEO in fact. So we know that they're in it. So it's really our responsibility to also help them understand how can they lean in and then how can they be that voice to not only just keep it within the community themselves, but bring it to their organizations, empower their own teams to be part of these communities. And then you start to see real exponential change.
One thing that I just wanted to add here is research shows that if you have 25% of a company that adopts a certain set of behaviors, they become the tipping point for driving wholesale cultural change for the entire organization. So if you think about we have close to 30,000 people within our inclusive communities, that's 30% of our employees, that's transformational. So that's exciting for us to see what this wave is going to look like at the other side of it.
That's amazing. I want to know, so ERGs... Are they still called EROs or ERGs or what do you call them?
So we've gone through transformation also, and there's a lot in the words. So internally at Cisco, we do call them inclusive communities.
But externally they're known as ERGs.
What's interesting now is that we have just stood up a formal diversity, equity, and inclusion organization that actually is part of our HR organization. So directly aligned to what we call people in communities. What's really exciting about that is that we are no longer on the side this organization doing all the good work because that doesn't work. If you don't have it part of the people strategy, then it's always going to be owned by those people. It's always going to be owned by the chief diversity officers.
The beauty of it now is that we are squarely aligned to our benefits organization, our talent organization, those that are responsible for recruiting diverse talent, our learning organization. And so now what's happening is that we are now seen as partners to the business. And so that's really been exciting for us as we evolve into this new.
Oh, cool. So was it difficult at any point when MFI started to get men to come, who were the men that came, who were those who felt comfortable enough to show up to raise their hand to publicly be involved? I think there's that too. There's, "Oh, I'm privately lurking on a mailing list or I'm showing up," and then taking a leadership role and talking about it and then becoming an ambassador for it. That's the kind of curve that people go through. But I wonder, has it grown steadily in terms of numbers and participation or however you measure engagement and success? Because I don't want to assume because more bodies or bigger mailing list doesn't necessarily mean more engagement.
But who initially showed up seniority wise, identity wise? And then how has it changed as the community has grown, the profile of those that are involved? And why they're being attracted to it? What might be driving that in the environment?
I would defer, Gina, to you to the beginning, and I will tell you how we've evolved and what we're seeing and what we're really excited about for next year.
And the reality is, like I said, a lot of times it's just very organic and sometimes it's very focused. So maybe there are certain leaders within an organization that are doing this work. So Tony has got probably the most experience right now because it really has evolved pretty rapidly and steadily in terms of how you're seeing people engage now. So I don't have that historical perspective, but I feel like it has been organic and following maybe some trends that we're seeing. But now I think it's certainly part of a broader strategy of our communities.
So if we want to talk about now, I think what's really interesting, I was sharing with someone earlier in the week, men respond differently and I'll use this and I'll say, I can sit in a conversation and I can hear something and Gina can hear something and we can walk away with two different perspectives and take two different tracks of action. It may have been a call to action, but we'll respond to it differently. And for a period of time, we were struggling to gain a little bit of traction. But what I found out was is that if I went out and I had a personal conversation, I was fortunate because I supported collaboration sales. So I had access to a network of over 13,000 people to begin with who wanted to learn how to sell.
So anytime I had an opportunity to plug for it, I would. And so I'd have those conversations with leaders and said, "But here's what we're doing and here's how you can help me. Here's how you can really get engaged." So having those conversations, those one-on-one conversations that says, "Hey, how are you doing in this space? What does it really look like? Are you inclusive just at work or are you addressing it in terms of a full conversation in terms of your community?"
And then COVID happened, and I think COVID was probably the tipping point or the inflection point if you would, for our growth because allyship is a muscle. If you're not using it, it's going to [inaudible 00:24:57]. Where we had gone from having conversations with people, having seen them, having been proximate to them, to now we're hole up in our man caves where we can scratch and spit, and do all of the things that men have traditionally done.
There was still that hunger because there were things happening, whether it be the murder of George Floyd or all the civil unrest that we went through in 2020, there's COVID and then it became, "Hey, can I get five minutes? Can we have 15 minutes? Can we talk? Can we have that sweaty palm conversation around what's bothering us?" And so it was an opportunity to extend an olive branch to reach across the aisle if you would, and have a conversation with men and say, "Hey, how do we do it?"
Now, fortunately enough, we have another program at Cisco under our CBP umbrella that was literally the LIFT program. And so it was an opportunity for our senior executives to have access to mid-level Cisco Black professionals to talk about our lived experience and for us to reverse mentor them through the process and not just through lip service, but really engage conversations where we leaned in and they leaned in and we came across and we developed friendships and relationships and sponsorships.
So as a result of that, folks like Eric who absolutely love what we do, and Eric is not lip service, it's part of his passion, but it was pulling him in and what he's doing within his organization, and having conversations with folks like Jason who absolutely love supporting men. And the list goes on having conversations with folks like Johnno Locke, who is also one of our executive sponsors and who Johnno shared something with us and we had a conversation and I don't think Johnno would be offended by me sharing. But Johnno is part of the LGBTQ community who during COVID was able to get married to his husband and he says, "Tony, I wasn't really sure how that would be received, but I felt comfortable because you pulled me into the conversation and we're able to see things through a lens," that he says, "I wouldn't have been comfortable if we had not had that conversation."
So it is really about reaching out and having one person talking to another person and infecting them with why it's important that they share their privilege, that they explore their privilege and they understand why it's important that they lean in and really help provide context and covering if you would, for others who may not be like them, who may not share their privilege.
Jennifer, [inaudible 00:27:32]. This is messy and there's no real rule book. But the fact that we have people feeling confident and feeling psychological safety to be able to have conversations in the workplace where it would never happen in other times. And so I think there's something... What I would say to those who are considering maybe exploring this path is just start small and don't feel so overwhelmed by... Because it is a journey and Tony knows this. We have gone through a journey and we are still going through it and we're still learning and we're still making mistakes. But that's okay. And if you create a space where you have that safety and you enable people and empower people to just truly be honest and ask for forgiveness when we make mistakes, but then just continue to build upon it, there are rewards in putting the work in and putting that effort.
You may not have ever dealt with this concept being controversial at Cisco. I don't know if you did or not, but regardless, what advice might you have for those of us listening who know this is the right answer and yet are sitting there saying, "It would never happen here. I could never get that done. I could never get it started. I fear..." Whether it's real or not, it's perceived, fear, I think that keeps us inactive. And so I guess how do we make this not controversial, make it all the beautiful things we know it is and get it going? What's key to setting it up? We've talked about sponsorship, right? We've talked about the involvement of senior people. I think that's so important. Maybe it's the chartering of it and the way that the purpose and the goals of something being created, why does it exist is really important.
But how would you get around that? Particularly, it's getting worse. The controversy question is getting I think more and more hot and I worry that it's in opposition to the work that actually we need more than ever, which is for communities like this to exist and for this work to be occurring in a safe space because it is messy and there's no other real place that I think people have to practice to learn new language, to get feedback in a kind and gracious way so that they might try again and try again.
None of us is going to learn or can learn without that kind of environment. But honestly, I don't find... While some of us have inclusive communities, ERGs to come into and breathe and say, "This is hard and I'm trying to be heard. Here's the microaggressions of my daily life." That's a place a lot of us really seek harbor in. But I do worry that male leaders don't have something similar in organizations that don't have this sort of support. And yet we expect those leaders to somehow have expertise in this like yesterday. I don't think that's very realistic. All of us need to incubate somewhere fundamentally. But when it's controversial, we never even get off the ground. What would you say?
Yeah. And it is hard. You know what I've seen, and Tony alluded to some of those anecdotes of storytelling and really showing where we see that value coming in and playing a role in. And when you have leaders that are willing, because it's really sometimes at the leadership level, you really have to engage them and say, "Would you be willing to talk about this?" And actually giving them a platform to help them and truly ask them to be that ally that if they're signing up to be an ally or an executive sponsor, set an expectation that we're expecting you to help us figure this out.
I think that one thing that really misses in this work, and partly because we're all working so hard and we're always thinking about what's the next thing, is actually stopping and talking about the stories and talking about the people that have been impacted and really make sure that we have others hearing what that impact has been.
So just even putting some blogs together or put up a website and profile some of the work that's happening and just really start to showcase it so that people see this isn't just happening behind closed doors and actually put a face to it. I think that's really critical when you start to build this out and that face will evolve and change, but at least be overt about making people have to realize that this is something that we need to pay attention to.
And then the other piece to that is we cannot have a healthy company without healthy people and we cannot have a healthy environment without creating those spaces where we all do feel like we are safe and we have a sense of belonging. So this is business critical. And so that's the conversation that we're starting to flip with our own leaders is that they need to be paying attention because this is the health and wellbeing of our company and our employees, and we don't exist without them. So that's what I would say.
I love that, Jennifer. I'm sorry, I love that, Gina, because it talks about the business value. It's not something that's abstract, but it really ties back to the business. It's also part of really having a vision. We understand who we are. At the leadership level, Chuck and the ELT has set a vision that we need to go and accomplish. And as it continues to boil down or drill down into the organization, each of those respective leaders have their role in helping achieve that vision and coming along. And all of those visions involve people, real people with real lives who aren't just cogs in the wheel, but yet they bring their complex intersect selves into the environment. And you've got to speak to each of them and having those conversations where you can say, "Tell me genuinely how this impacts you and how will this impact your business?"
And then let's juxtapose that with what if they're not there? What if you only have a single length line of lens to look through or one single strand of thought that you're working from, how would that defeat your objectives that you have in place? Now, it kindles a fire for it. And then there's how can we talk more about it? And then bringing that conversation in and having men be uncomfortable, being uncomfortable, or be comfortable being uncomfortable and having those conversations and having them in smaller sessions and then bring them into larger venues.
So that's what we found that has really worked for us. What's really interesting is through storytelling. We've got folks who want to join our organizations who come with just really unique perspectives that, as Gina said, we probably wouldn't have spoken on a couple of years ago. Maybe even as far back as even five years ago.
But when you're having conversations with people who says, "Tony, I'm following you. I hear you say this. Or I'm following some of the other leaders of our organization and I want to run something by you." And just, hey, my son came home and he's five and he says he wants to wear a dress. What would your response be?" And I'm like, "He's five. Listen, when I was five, I was going to be a starting right fielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and I'm not right. At six, I didn't even like the Dodgers anymore.
But anyway, the reality is just having those conversations and it's just building those genuine relationships where people feel comfortable expressing that and then that allows them to then go back and do their day jobs because they've been able to be seen as old rather than having to compartmentalize or live fragmented lives within the workplace.
Men struggle on all aspects of exclusion. It's not easy for any of us to be in these systems that I think weren't built to be safe and comfortable places. For all of us, many of us, I usually say it. But I actually think the diversity amongst men is one of the biggest things, aha moments I've had in being part of these conferences with you, Tony, over the years, and really exploring the intersectionality of men and the visible and invisible under the waterline of the iceberg, stuff you would never imagine, stuff that carries so much stigma and yet could if asked... I appreciate what you said. If I say I need you to share your story.
First, we've got to find the story or stories, plural and elevate it and in a safe space, explore it, excavate it, explore it, shine a light on it, and then lead with it. And that is, I think this process you nurture people through that can feel very uncomfortable because it wasn't how particularly men were or are socialized and leaders aren't socialized to think that this is so integral to their success.
And yet we all know how integral it is, but there's just not this process that enables it to go through all those steps to someday create a leader who knows how to role model all the time, who knows how to go out to that stage and say what needs to be said and be courageous and personal. We know how important that is, but it's been to me, an undeveloped skillset entirely. So I'm really glad to hear you talk about storytelling.
We're actually going to spend a lot of time in the Better Together Conference on storytelling because we are aligned in knowing that this is one of the most powerful tools for change that we have. And it transforms us to share our story too. It changes something in us. It was like when I wrote my books, every book changed me so much because I had to dig so deep and I had to be really brave over and over again. And there's something that is formative for leaders to have to go through that process and that forges them, and that changes them and actually updates their operating system for who they are going to be in the future, which is what every organization needs.
They need updated, upgraded leaders. And inclusion work is the ingredients of that upgrade. So to your point, this is business critical that people understand that what got us here won't get us there. As leaders we cannot rely on how we used to lead because it's not going to resonate anymore because the world is changing, the customers are changing, your team is changing. They're not going to look like you probably. They're going to live all over the world.
They're going to have a lot of different cultural identity. There's such a beautiful opportunity in this for transformation. Anyway.
Yeah, there is. And I got to channel Brene Brown. That vulnerability piece is gold. For everybody to really just embrace because we all are vulnerable and we can't put up these shields, and even though it's the workplace, we have to obviously keep a face. But that vulnerability is actually what breaks down barriers. And so when you see your leaders getting vulnerable... And we saw this with COVID actually because we would have regular check-ins with our leaders where they got vulnerable and they allowed us to get vulnerable.
So they created that environment where it was okay to not be okay. And I think when we think about full spectrum diversity and having all voices, males need to be right alongside us if it's not in front of this work. And so we can't just be pulling them along and say, "Oh, you need to do this." If we cannot be successful without them at the table and leaning.
That's right. That's right.
I would add a couple of things because what I heard from the both of you is really interesting. We typically will attribute imposter syndrome to women, but the reality is that there are a number of men, particularly even some executives who are struggling with, "Here's who I really am, but if I bring who I really am into the conversation, will I still be able to hold onto my title? Will I still be able to hold onto my respect?" But the reality is we're having those conversations, we're having them, and as a result of having them, men are evolving in their leadership model.
The other thing, when we think about inclusivity, if we go back and we look at what was formerly, if you would, in the leader's tool belt, the leadability to drive systemic change with regards to achieving work goals and objectives, men were doers. In this particular case, if you're going to lead inclusively, you're going to have to change your leadership model. You're going to have to live differently. You're going have to lead across every aspect of your life and not just when you get into the workplace. And it's going to require that you're going to evolve. Having those conversations and picking up those tools will help us all be better leaders.
I like that, doers to leaders. I like that. Moving from I execute to... Also, I thought what you were going to say is doers to feelers. I think there's a lot of transitions going on in terms of how we see ourselves. And it's counterintuitive to the leaders need to know best, leaders need to have all the answers, command and control. I remember very early days learning a lot of that from Cisco. I think there were efforts afoot a long time ago before this was even a conversation about moving from command and control. It was so inspired by that obviously, because at its heart it's so much more democratic, it's so much more inclusive to bring all those viewpoints up around and encourage it and create enough safety so that people feel they can bring that fuller self, especially the stigmatized parts to bear.
Because those, folks, once you feel that you never want to leave that kind of place, it's an addictive feeling. It's a feeling that tethers you. Just like inclusive communities, as we've learned, create a connection to the employer that is one of those high engagement, high return connection. So the statistics have shown this over and over again that people involved in those, and you have tens of thousands of them. Like you said, you've passed the 30% tipping point Gina of involvement which is great news for your culture, great news for the health of your company that you have that level of participation.
So gosh, I have so many more questions, but I guess if you're listening to this audience for the pod, Cisco, I know, and I think I can speak for both of you, that you'd always be willing to be a resource because this is so new because you've had such success and momentum, and I would love to tell you, offer you to this audience to be a resource as you begin to mentor other companies to set these sorts of efforts up.
It's important how we set them up. I think it's sensitive and it's delicate, particularly at this moment in time. And it may be delicate in companies that don't have all of the arms and legs and history and support of a Cisco. Particularly you're a big company and been at it for a long time. So I would imagine if you're listening to this and you're in a newer company, a younger company, a smaller company, an industry that isn't as versed with this, or maybe you're at the very beginning of your journey, it might be something to think about setting up from the beginning.
I think baking this in as part of a first strategy is what I would recommend if I can put my consultant hat on and normalize this as just like all the other developmental and community opportunities that you're beginning to build if you're starting your ERGs or whatever. I just would say, "Look, can we afford not to have some people who are not included in the communities that we're determining?" Imagine the message of that.
When we look at it that way, it doesn't feel good. And it's missing this huge opportunity too. So maybe the sidestepping of the controversy that may or may not happen for all of you listening is just to be really savvy, really smart about it, make the points I think that we've heard Gina and Tony make today around a connection to the business, what drives the business, the need for leadership to evolve. But any last pieces of advice? Or is it okay that I opened up your LinkedIn messages that I apologize?
I love it. And actually, I was going to actually say this is just the tip of the iceberg to use your analogy because when you start to unpack the business value and the value proposition of this work that's where we're heading with this because we understand the employment engagement piece and a lot of the belonging aspects of this work. But we have just started to recognize that this is actually going to help us influence how we're going to transform as a company by tapping into our inclusive communities and the work that the ERGs do. So I feel like that's a whole other podcast and if not another book.
Let's do it.
Certainly there's a blog on the way, so keep... I'm working on it. But I do think that that's an area of the... Because in the end, we are all companies and working for companies that have a bottom line and have shareholders. When we can start to demonstrate that intrinsic connection between how this is driving and transforming business, I think that's when you're going to get a lot more buy-in and support. So I think they go hand in hand and I absolutely would love to have continuing conversations around that.
Yeah, me too. Me too. Tony?
I would say a couple of things. First and foremost, we do have what we call, "MFI in a box". Right? So we talk about meeting in a box. If an organization inside of Cisco wants to launch it, we can take you from cradle to grave in terms of cradle to where you are when you say grave and the experience. But beyond that, it's a journey. Where we are in our allyship journey is ever evolving. I tell people first and foremost, we use the term allyship and be cautious with that because you cannot as a person say that you are an ally to a person, to a community unless they say you are.
You can act in ways as though you are an ally, but it's up to them to say that you are. And so as you do that, admit that you're learning, admit that there are things that... Like I'll say, for me, I'm really learning what it means that we have people who have different neurodiverse experiences and what does that look like? And so continue to evolve, continue to grow, and I'm open to anyone who wants to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Let's have a conversation. Let's have that 15-minute sweaty palm conversation and make this world a better place because we're in it.
Boy, I want everybody to hear these generous offers and thank you both for how you're leading this and early charting a course. I hope a year from now or two year, I don't know how many years it's going to take, they're popping up everywhere. I really hope for that. I think we need it. I think it's necessary. It can't be a hope. It needs to be a part of our strategy, everybody as we move forward and more inclusively into the future. Thank you both and I hope this is one of several because there's a lot to cover, Gina, to your point. And yes, everybody follow these leaders, follow Cisco's story.
I would imagine there's probably a fair amount in social media about what you're up to, knowing you, so make sure that you tap into these folks and utilize that time that they've so generously offered. And thank you for joining me today.
Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com? You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion and the future of work and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together and standing up for ourselves and each other.
You've been listening to The Will to Change: Uncovering True Stories of Diversity and Inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you've enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening, and we'll be back next time with a new episode.
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