Shari Slate

Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Strategist, The Americas
Cisco Systems, Inc.

Throughout my career, I’ve relied on one guiding principle to shape my outlook, my life goals, and my contributions to my family, my community, and my company. Dream big.

This is my mother’s mantra, and now it is mine as well. Two compelling words that remind me to push beyond the predictable and explore new ways of making a profound difference.

Within the realm of inclusion and diversity, I am in awe of the progress we have made. My mother is a testament to what it takes to break down barriers and create a new level of consciousness about what is possible. As a woman of color, born in an era in which her options could have seemed limited, she chose to dream big.

She graduated from medical school while married and with two babies in tow (one was me!) and became a surgeon. Together, with her family, her colleagues, and her community, she not only dreamed, she did. The difference that she has made in the world is profound not only to her patients but also to the countless individuals who have been inspired by her passion and courage. Like me.

My big dream as an inclusion leader is to evolve the conversation around diversity and inclusion beyond the notion that it is simply the right thing to do – beyond the traditional objectives of compliance – and towards a focus on the tangible value that inclusion creates. It’s a conversation that has both roots and wings, grounded in what we already have been taught about inclusion by courageous individuals like my mother and given flight by what we imagine will be possible when we can fully realize the potential of diverse mind sets, skills, experiences and perspectives.

What’s your big dream? My advice is to collaborate. Find other people who dream big and work on fulfilling your dreams together. Work across boundaries and engage others who have different strengths and skills than you do. Be a sponge. Absorb everything they have to teach you. And give back; your unique strengths and skills can make all the difference in the fulfillment of someone else’s dream. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Don’t go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

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