By Sandy Hoffman
Chief Diversity Officer, Cisco

As chief diversity officer at Cisco, my focus is on ensuring the engagement of our entire global diverse workforce. Evolving beyond required compliance efforts, our I&D approach focuses on promoting a creative, innovative, and collaborative work environment supporting employee engagement.

“White male power” is a tired concept, leaving feelings of exclusion, anger, confusion, or indifference to their company’s diversity initiatives (Nikravin 2012). Successfully harnessing this majority power is critical for change but how to do this in a systematic way is constantly debated.

In a recent Cisco co-sponsored white paper, Jennifer Brown, founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting states: “An ally in the workplace is any member of a ‘majority’ group who uses that position to further equality for ‘non-majority’ populations. Brown indicates that allies are not only identifying themselves as such but also… wanting structured avenues for contributing their support.” By engaging the majority and providing structures to become allies, advocates, and sponsors for underrepresented populations, we can build a bridge towards greater equality.

An ally for the women’s network at Cisco, vice president of Corporate Quality Rich Goldberg, is an executive Caucasian male who sees himself as “advocating for people who may not have a voice of their own, or may not have an audience… Advocacy means you are willing to fight alongside someone.” Goldberg is able to tap into the structure of a solid network of over 40 women’s chapters worldwide, with HR guidance and programs behind him to help amplify his advocacy work.

Banding male advocates together can also be powerful. Cisco’s Connected Women Advisory Group (CWAG), comprised of male and female executives, works with various functions to incorporate gender talent management strategies into recruitment, development, and retention. This advocacy group is further supported through mentoring programs, career development initiatives, sponsorship and advocacy of female senior leaders, and an “all-inclusive” gender development program.

The 21st century requires new leadership traits—innovation, agility, speed, and emotional intelligence—to strengthen global marketplace competitiveness. In fact, a Credit Suisse study found that companies with gender diverse boards out-performed male-only boards by 26 percent, especially during bad economic times. While we hope executive white males will become early adopters of realizing a vision of a gender-parity work environment, we must work together to fully embrace the strengths of our entire workforce.