Cisco’s Latest Diversity Stats Show Little Progress For Women or Minorities

November 18, 2015, 3:14 PM UTC
Robbins listens a question from media during a news conference in New Delhi
Chuck Robbins, incoming CEO of Cisco, listens a question from media during a news conference in New Delhi, India, June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RTX1H2S1
Photograph by Adnan Abidi — Reuters

It turns out that hiring more women and minorities is much trickier than churning out network switches.

On Wednesday, Cisco Systems released an updated “corporate social responsibility” report, which includes the company’s most recent employee diversity numbers. Unlike most tech companies, which only recently started sharing such statistics, Cisco began releasing its demographic breakdown a decade ago. But its admirable tradition of transparency hasn’t necessarily resulted in a noticeable increase in diversity. This year’s results, in fact, are largely unchanged from the year before. And the year before that.

Take the percentage of women at Cisco—which has a worldwide employee base of 71,822—for example. In fiscal year 2013, this number was at 23%. The ratio was the same in fiscal 2014, and in this most recent year. (The percentage of female employees in the United States is a little higher—it has stayed at a consistent 26% for the last three years.)

When it comes to ethnic diversity, some of the numbers actually declined slightly. For example, the percentage of non-white employees in the U.S. went from 46% in fiscal 2013 and 2014 to 45% this past year. To be fair, 45% is pretty high. But a closer look at the numbers shows that there are still vastly underrepresented minority groups within this number. While the percentage of Asian employees, 36%, is actually over the percentage in the U.S. population, the number of Hispanic and black employees is far below the national demographic breakdown (5% and 3%, respectively).

There were some bright spots. The number of global female VPs in particular went up three percentage points in as many years, from 16% in 2013 to 19% in 2015. And for the first time, Cisco also highlighted the demographic breakdown of its board and executive leadership team, which is comprised of 38% female execs—higher than the percentage of women in its broader employee base.

Since last July, Cisco has been led by new CEO Chuck Robbins. Like his predecessor John Chambers, who once asked his executive team to read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Robbins has also vouched his commitment to increasing diversity at the company.

“Our industry is experiencing so much change, and in an environment this dynamic, no one person can have all the answers—there is incredible power in diverse perspectives, now more than ever,” Robbins is quoted as saying in Cisco’s CSR report.

To try to bring more underrepresented minorities and women to Cisco, the tech giant has partnered with different organizations like the Hispanic IT Executive Council (at about 17%, Hispanics represent the largest minority in the United States). Last year, under Chambers, the company also appointed Shari Slate its VP of “inclusion and collaboration,” making it clear that this was a priority. But unlike the constant reiteration of technology products, change on the diversity front seems to be incremental at best—and downright glacial at worst. In a phone interview, Slate admits the pace of progress is slow: “The reality is, it takes a while to move the numbers.”

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