Next Generation Leadership: How Sponsorship Can Help Power an Inclusive Future for Black Cisconians
By Shaniqua Ingol
One of Cisco’s Leadership Expectations is that they Make the Future, which includes championing diversity and inclusion with sponsorship. Since The Multiplier Effect (TME) launched in 2017, Cisco has consistently advocated for sponsorship as a powerful tool that leaders can use to connect, advocate, and accelerate the careers of diverse talent. By taking the TME pledge, leaders can sponsor someone different from themselves and commit to helping support their career advancement.
The Power of Sponsorship.
Today, a large racial gap in corporate spaces does not afford many Black employees’ equitable access to leadership roles. We know having a diverse workforce leads to better innovation, performance, and work efficiency. However, Black employees comprise only 14% of all US employees, accounting for only 7% of managerial roles. While some may view this as just another statistic, Derek Idemoto, Senior Vice President – Corporate Strategy, and Jerome J. Sanders, Product Marketing Manager – Emerging Technologies & Incubation (ET&I), view this as an opportunity to make long-lasting change. We recently had the privilege of connecting with them to discover how they “Power an Inclusive Future” for one another through sponsorship.
Sponsoring Across Difference.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
Derek (He/Him/His): I’m a third-generation Japanese American, and I grew up in San Jose, California, so the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree in joining Cisco a little over 15 years ago. My heritage has taught me how vital resilience, stamina, and hard work are, both personally and professionally, in the face of extraordinary challenges that Japanese Americans faced during and after World War II. Currently, I lead our Corporate Development and Cisco Investments team, which helps drive innovation and growth for Cisco through investments and acquisitions.
Jerome (He/Him/His): I am a Product Marketing Manager in Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation team. I was born and raised in San Diego, California, by two United States Navy Veterans, and I currently reside near the Research Triangle Park in Cary, North Carolina. I am the first in my family to achieve a college degree (from Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business) and the first to pursue a career in tech. In my spare time, you can catch me serving as Chairperson for First Tech Fund, training for my upcoming 70.3 Chattanooga Ironman Triathlon, or roaming the world with my “do not disturb” button on.
Sponsorship requires leaders to use their social capital to propel their sponsee’s career. How has Derek done this for you?
Jerome: Derek’s sponsorship is one of the many reasons I see myself at Cisco for many years as a leader, shareholder, and champion for the future we are building together. Aside from our monthly 1:1 meeting, Derek has spoken directly to Executive Leadership Team members, his peers in my organization, and my manager about how I show up at Cisco. He is intentional in helping my leaders understand my career goals and how we can all work together to make them happen. Derek has also offered to shadow me in one of my team meetings to see how I lead and help me better learn how to “read the room” so I can build up my emotional intelligence and better serve my teams. This is what sponsorship means!
Some obstacles prevent Black employees from benefitting from sponsorship in the same way others might. What are some of the gaps you would like leaders to know about advocating for emerging Black leaders?
Jerome: Cisco leaders are not always proximate to emerging Black leaders on their teams. I challenge leaders to do a quick scan in the directory and see how far removed they are from an emerging Black leader in their group. An immediate action a leader can take to advocate for an emerging Black leader is to have regular skip-level meetings with them and become immersed in one another’s goals and aspirations. Proximity enables empathy and empathy enables sponsorship.
In performance reviews, sharing specific, actionable feedback on ways emerging Black leaders can improve is imperative. Avoid using language such as “aggressive,” “emotional,” “unapproachable,” or “lacking executive presence,” which generally elicits subjective feedback. Concrete feedback along with objective reviews can lead to higher performance reviews for emerging Black leaders, resulting in more sponsorship within this community.
Sponsorship is a mutually beneficial relationship for both the sponsor and sponsee. What have you learned from each other that you will carry forward?
Derek: I have learned that there are many paths to success, and it is important to find one that is authentically yours. With Jerome, I find that the reverse mentoring aspects of our relationship are more potent than the forward mentoring takeaways. How we show up for one another matters, so actions speak louder than words. Jerome once shared that when he met our CEO, Chuck Robbins, he was struck by something Chuck said about how it is always about the team. It is not just about us. Always give credit to others. Jerome said, “Nothing here at Cisco is done here alone.” Relationships, networking, and people, in general, are so meaningful.
Jerome: Given that both Derek and I are major sports fanatics, I love that Derek consistently shares, “Play the long game.” It is a reminder that our careers are not about the sprint ahead of us or short-term gains, but rather, seeing the bigger picture and appreciating how it all comes together with time. The best things in life take time. Many of us can carry this forward as we drive a business impact, while also living purpose-driven lives that create an inclusive future for all.
How we sponsor today directly impacts the type of leaders that will lead in the future. Derek, what qualities make a good leader, and what advice do you have for leaders looking to sponsor individuals whose identities differ from their own?
Derek: In my mind, there are five key qualities that leaders must have to apply to their sponsorship responsibilities:
- Good decision-making skills are paramount – I believe in prioritizing decisions that place Cisco first, the team second, and self third.
- Recognize the difference between hard work and results – Leaders must recognize the importance of the “what” (the execution of the task and results) and the “how” (the approach taken to complete the task).
- Managing people is a “one-size fits one”, not all – Leaders must understand and be sensitive to each team member as a unique individual.
- Hire for traits and train for skills – One of my career and life sponsors, Ko Nishimura, former CEO and Chair of Solectron and fellow Japanese American, passed this valuable piece of advice.
- Details matter – Details often provide the data needed to support your positions and perspectives that can ultimately influence outcomes.
Jerome, what advice would you give to early-in-career Black tech professionals?
Jerome: I heard Dr. Cornel West share, “You have to use your status and power to be in service to others.” This rings true on so many levels when it comes to the need for sponsorship for underrepresented communities, especially historically disadvantaged Black and brown communities. Anytime I mentor any professional, I am intentional about asking my mentees to pay it forward. It is not enough to have a seat at the table unless we are willing to pull up another chair and ensure that it is accessible for someone else to sit in and thrive. The more we pay it forward, the more we can be of service to others.
Be the Change. Make the Impact.
Did you know: Seventy percent of sponsors are more likely to select a sponsee that looks like them. This behavior creates a homogenous sponsorship experience that will continue to benefit those of privilege and negatively impact people from underrepresented communities. Unlike traditional sponsorship methods, TME seeks to change that experience by strongly encouraging sponsors to step outside of their comfort zone. Currently, 70% of Cisco sponsees have two or more dimensions of difference from their sponsor globally!
Cisco’s commitment to fostering intentional relationships between sponsors and sponsees begins with leaders. Take the pledge to sponsor diverse talent today! Not sure where to start but want to make an impact? Click here to contact the TME team.
View original content here