Cisco’s Broader Take on Diversity

Cisco’s Broader Take on Diversity

a broader approach to diversity that addresses problem-solving instead of optics is necessary

There should be no argument that we live in a diverse world, and that the technology industry doesn’t reflect that diversity. The lack of diversity in employees makes it very difficult for companies, both in and out of the tech market, to address their increasingly diverse customer base effectively, whether buyers or end users.

This has resulted in books like Technically Wrong, which point to why companies can’t bring out products that women love. They don’t understand women — let alone the other aspects of what generally, and especially specifically, make each of us different.

What brought this to mind was a Cisco briefing last week and a slide that spoke to a broader definition of diversity, beyond sex and color. It said, “Cisco is committed to full spectrum diversity, inclusive of gender, age, race, ethnicity, orientation, ability, nationality, religion, veteran status, background, culture, experience, strengths, and perspectives.”

I’ll address diversity in its broad sense this week and why it is critical we get this right. I’ll close with my product of the week: Movies Anywhere, a tool that bridges your movie streaming sources.

The Diversity Mess

Generally, I tend to break down the diversity landscape into two camps: the liberal camp that wants diversity but doesn’t want to spend the time either to understand the problem or truly correct it; and the conservative group that is threatened by anything that breaks convention.

Because I tend to believe that if you don’t want to do something well you should leave it alone, I tend to favor the conservative camp, but I would like a third choice: diversifying properly by focusing on the causes of the problem, not the optics.

For instance, soon after the development of a technology that would help students pick careers they would be most successful in, it was killed due to discrimination. The reasoning was that too many of the targeted students were attended colleges, and colleges didn’t have enough diversity. Thus, pulling from a pool of employees that wasn’t diverse would result in solutions that weren’t diverse either.

Rather than focusing on fixing education to create a more diverse pool of potential employees to pull from, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) was created to enforce diversity, which inadvertently damaged the quality of the workforce.

The damage occurred because diversity trumped competency, even though that was not the intent. The result was that it not only failed to fix the problems, but also led to impressions that employees who were hired to increase diversity underperformed. The effort ended up fighting itself.

This is what I mean by focusing on the optics of a problem — making the workforce look more diverse — without focusing on the problem itself. There was, and continues to be, a shortage of candidates from diverse backgrounds with the appropriate training for many job openings.

Fixing the Problem

Four companies stand out: Dell, Cisco, HP and IBM. These four large firms each have very different approaches to focusing on this problem. Dell puts a massive amount of effort on women in technology, and the most powerful woman at Dell, Karen Quintos, has been spearheading this effort along with the company’s female Entrepreneur in Residence.

Cisco has taken a broad spectrum approach with its training programs and internal grass roots efforts to increase diversity broadly and to redefine its efforts broadly on a variety of differences.

HP, which still employees one of the strongest HR managers in the industry, Harvard-trained Tracy Keogh, has run broad inclusive marketing campaigns to attract and nurture diverse employees.

IBM has been incredibly aggressive, not only in recruiting women and veterans, in particular, but in training them and even in locating and placing women who dropped out of the tech market to have children and want their careers back.

It is interesting to note that there isn’t a lot of overlap between these different company efforts, suggesting that any one company likely could undertake all of them. I’d argue that most are necessary to address the diversity problem fully.

Redefining Diversity

Part of what really caught my eye on the Cisco slide was how broad it is. It steps outside of race and gender to include military service, religion, sexual orientation, background, and a variety of other differences. Really, diversity is all about differences, and we are all different from each other.

These differences allow us to see things from a variety of perspectives; make us better able to talk to, influence (and sell to) a diverse customer base; and help us gain understanding of views we don’t share.

Given that we tend to avoid people who are not like us, increasing diversity should reduce that pool, and our interaction skill and acceptance of those different from us should improve. In short, “us” simply becomes a more inclusive term, reducing the need and motivation to act out against people different from “us.”

Wrapping Up

While diversity remains a problem in industry, and particularly in the technology market, companies like Cisco, Dell, HP and IBM appear to be fighting it hard. Even these firms could learn from each other and fight harder.

We need diversity to make better matches between our companies and the people who buy their products and services, so we all can become far more tolerant and accepting of diversity than we currently are.

Diversity represents the future of the human race. We all should become involved more actively, or look for another planet to migrate to, because if we don’t become more diverse, we are even more likely to destroy this one.

My current favorite laptops are the HP Spectre Folio and the Lenovo Yoga 630 always connected PC. These both stand out on lightness with the HP far more comfortable to carry (it is covered with leather) and the Lenovo with much longer battery life (it is based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon platform).

Both products have been great for most things I use a laptop for, but not for watching movies without an Internet connection, like on a plane.

Most of the movies I own were purchased from Amazon, but Amazon doesn’t allow you to download them to watch on your PC later. Instead, it focuses on iOS and Android. Now what many folks don’t know is that Microsoft often gets early access to movies, but playing those movies on the TV is problematic unless you have an Xbox.

For instance, I picked up the just released Justice League vs. The Fatal Fivevideo on the Microsoft store before Amazon or Netflix had it, but getting it onto my TV was problematic.

Well Movies Anywhere fixed this. You can buy movies from this service, but its real claim to fame is that it links services together. If you bought movies from Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, Xfinity, Microsoft, Fandango or iTunes, you can bridge all of these services and get your movies from any of them.

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