UNGC Network USA Commemorates Juneteenth Part 2
A Conversation with Brian Tippens, SVP and Chief Social Impact Officer at Cisco, on Leading Social Justice Actions
Juneteenth serves as a reminder to companies to foster an environment where everyone can thrive, regardless of race or background.
In this second-part of our Juneteenth commemoration, Network USA spoke with Senior Vice President and Chief Social Impact Officer at Cisco, Brian Tippens, to learn how his company is prioritizing social justice and equality by weaving them into many aspects of Cisco's business strategies and operations.
Brian joined the UNGC Network USA Board of Directors in February 2023 and works alongside other members of the Board in overseeing Network USA's strategy and growth.
Juneteenth is a real opportunity to amplify understanding of the unique experience of Black Americans and serve as a catalyst for conversations about intersectionality. How do you recommend companies approach this holiday to make it a DEI-enhancing experience?
I believe that companies who want Juneteenth to amplify understanding and catalyze new conversations should ask themselves where they are – right now – within their DEI journey.
Does our culture welcome and embrace open dialogue as an accelerant to diversity, equity, and inclusion? Do we have systems to support leaders at all levels in seeking a better understanding of differences? Are we actively working to create proximity between people through honest, courageous conversations? Are we open enough to fully see the realities that have shaped the lived experiences of African Americans? Are we brave enough to take bold action to eradicate the obstacles still in the way?
In 2020, Cisco made Juneteenth a paid holiday as one of our initial steps in transforming our longstanding advocacy for social justice into a global, enterprise-wide commitment to bolder action and greater impact.
Our new commitment was the direct result of our willingness to engage in a new level of dialogue in the summer of 2020 in the face of growing awareness of systemic racial injustice, oppression, and inequality. We also wanted to send a message to the world that corporations can be a driving force for societal change.
I think that any organization – wherever they are in their DEI journey – can leverage the legacy and the lessons of Juneteenth to deepen the dialogue and gain proximity to the issues that face us today.
How does Cisco foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace?
At Cisco, Inclusion isn't just something we do—it's part of who we are. Fulfilling our purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All means reimagining how we come together and respect each other's identities and the roles we play inside and outside of work. It means tearing down barriers to equity, collaboration, and connection—both in the many places we work and in the wider world.
We continue to explore how we apply technology and data to solve our most critical challenges. We're accelerating how we attract, develop, and promote diverse talent; taking bold action on social justice; supporting our global employee resource groups, known as Cisco Global Inclusive Communities; and expanding our impact across our ecosystem of partners, suppliers, and customers.
There is still a racial disparity in corporate America. Currently, only 5.9% of all chief executives in the country are Black, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What advice can you give businesses trying to close that gap and promote more Black employees to leadership positions?
Cisco continues to accelerate the diversity of our global workforce, creating the most diverse Cisco ever across all the categories we measure (gender, race, and ethnicity)—for the eighth year running.
We attribute these shifts to our holistic strategies for expanding, hiring, developing, and promoting emerging leaders. In 2020, we included a focus on increasing the representation of African American/Black employees with our 12 Actions for Social Justice.
At the director and executive levels, our talent acquisition strategy gives us a competitive advantage in attracting top, diverse talent. We look at areas of emerging business growth and approach recruiting differently by identifying what innovative leadership looks like from a talent perspective. We are creating a recruiting culture that recognizes strong talent and expertise, and we engage talent proactively.
To increase full spectrum diversity in our hiring framework and on our Board of Directors, we cultivate talent pools, expand our executive prospect community, and generate diverse, active talent benches. Specifically, we have focused our efforts on:
- Leveraging diverse candidate slates and developing a pipeline of diverse talent to increase all facets of diversity throughout the hiring and promotion process
- Cultivating a company culture of sponsorship across dimensions of difference
- Increasing opportunities for Cisco executives and senior leaders to get proximate to diverse talent
- Providing developmental offerings that support the growth of women and underrepresented minority executives
Our efforts are working. We continue to exceed our African American/Black (AA/B) hiring aspirations year over year. Our goal when we set out in 2020 was to increase AA/B talent by 25% by fiscal year 2023. I am proud to say that we have increased AA/B talent at Cisco 70% in non-executive roles, 96% in director-level positions, and 182% among vice presidents and above. We also welcomed John D. Harris II and Marianna Tessel to our Board of Directors.
What advice do you have for senior leadership on moving public commitments on racial justice to action?
Moving commitments into action is what senior leaders do. Our commitment to racial justice should be an integral part of the business. That's what's good for businesses and the world.
Social Justice is woven into the fabric of many aspects of Cisco's business. Our strategies are built on our core belief that our social justice actions will drive business value – and that's what makes them so powerful. Many companies have ESG goals, but few push to embed those goals within the business. Cisco has a Social Justice Action Office equal in size to many of our key business functions to lead the strategy and execution of our Social Justice Actions. Our Action Office brings together people and expertise across every function and region to drive consistent execution, rigor, and accountability.
Our approach operationalizes our purpose – and it's becoming a key differentiator for our business. A talent magnet. And a reason to stay and grow with Cisco. Analysts are clamoring to learn more – and they're factoring it into their predictions of future value.
Information on the breakdown of the financial commitments and the timeline of companies' business commitments to fight racial injustice are limited. How can companies track progress to ensure their efforts have a lasting impact?
As with any commitment that is integral to the business – tracking and communicating progress and impact starts with clear goals, objectives, and key performance indicators.
At Cisco, we track over 90 key performance indicators across our 12 Social Justice Actions. Each of our action teams is sponsored and championed by a member of Cisco's executive leadership team. Our action teams report on our progress against KPIs regularly to their executive sponsors and across the executive leadership team. We also communicate our progress externally within our annual Purpose report and on our Social Justice web pages.
Understanding and communicating the impact of our 12 Social Justice Actions is evolving and expanding now that we are approaching the midway point of our five-year journey. The scale and scope of our actions are driving exponential impact – across our company, our ecosystem of partners and suppliers, and our communities. We share stories about impact within our Purpose Report, our ESG hub, our web pages, and through numerous Cisco blogs, articles, and presentations by leaders across Cisco.
Lastly, what does Juneteenth mean to you personally?
For me, Juneteenth represents a celebration of hope and the promise of a bright future.
In reflecting on the significance of the Juneteenth holiday in the United States, I am reminded of the time I was honored to hold one of the last few remaining copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln while visiting the Union League House in Philadelphia.
In 1864 President Lincoln traveled to Philadelphia and hand-signed 40 copies of the Proclamation as part of a fund-raising effort. The copies were sold for $20 each, a hefty sum in 1864, to raise money for the Sanitary Commission - an organization that helped provide support services for soldiers returning from the Civil War. A small number of the signed copies are known to have survived.
Holding the document that Lincoln referred to as "…the great event of the 19th century" was a moving, transformative experience for me.
As Dr. Martin Luther King described during his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech, "...this momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope for millions of negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
Brian's career spans over 25 years of leadership in the IT industry. Brian is a purpose-driven leader who is committed to social justice and broad advocacy on the most pressing issues facing communities. At Cisco, Brian oversees the leadership of its future inclusive work, including social justice, advocacy, accessibility, and community impact to advance Cisco's purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All.