Mo: Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to this week’s everyday inclusion and belonging where we talk about everything under the sun diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. I am so excited to have Michelle Witherspoon with me today.

Michelle, we’ve been trying to schedule this since the start of this series like a year and a half.

So welcome, introduce yourself and that could take the full half an hour you all.

Michelle: No, no, no. I want to keep it really simple. I’m Michelle Witherspoon, I’m our Chief of Operations, people and culture for Cisco Systems. That’s what I do today along a variety of other things but I’m going to keep it that simple. Go to my LinkedIn if you want to know more.

Mo: Michelle and I have collaborated on projects for probably four years now. It’s been a really hard week.

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah, it’s been really hard. You know Maureen I’ve had to take a different approach. It just feels like every day, every week, there’s something traumatic. And so, from a from a mental health standpoint, and as an inclusion and diversity leader in this space, you got to take it in because you got to realize how are you offering safety and trust and all that for the employee populations in which we work for.

But also, you have to protect your own mental energy. Yeah, mental health I think is just so key right now. So yeah, it’s been hard.

So, how are you? How are you doing with everything?

Mo: I told you yesterday I hit, I hit a wall and I had a conversation with Andre last week where he was talking about you know, sometimes it’s like not today, not now, and I just I hit that wall. And I’m white.

Michelle: What, you are? I never noticed that in all the years that we’ve been friends. It’s like I have a really good friend of mine here Steve, he’s one of our vice presidents here, and he’s a white gentleman who’s been started off as a midterm sponsor and our friend and I asked him to be our leader for Cisco Black Employee Network.  He said, you know I’m white and I was like oh yeah, that part.

Allyship In the Workplace

Don’t worry about that part. We’re going to come through it.

I do think it’s important, sorry to cut you off. I want to come back to it, but I think it’s in, I think you need to have allyship right now. I think it is a mandate that we need. For me speaking as a black employee like we have to have it.

Mo: Absolutely, and I think you and I have a history because we worked together for four plus years of checking in with each other.

I don’t ever have any expectation that if you and I have a meeting or you and I have something happening and there is yet another…

Michelle: You know something.

Mo: As an ally I have to check in and say, do you have the capacity for this?

Michelle: Yeah, you actually are so good with that. I mean you’re amazing with it.

I think right now, you and I were having this conversation that in today’s world as a business leader in the inclusion, diversity space, your silence is complicit. Like we, you cannot do that today like you just cannot do you can’t, you can’t operate in that lens.

People have to feel there’s a sense of safety and trust, they have to know that you’re paying attention, they have to know that you’re doing something about it.

Companies have to be brave and bold and deliberate with their actions.

Mo: Well, and I think, and I think you know, I think about some leaders that are in companies where maybe their executive leadership is not doing that. It’s still on you. It’s still on you as an individual leader with your team to be bold and brave, and to be an ally.

You know I was asked the question Michelle, I was on a panel and I was asked a question about what company is doing this really well.

Michelle: And you said Cisco.

Mo: Actually, what I said was, that’s like asking me who my favorite child is, and I said they’re in every organization.

There are pockets where this is being done really well. I don’t know truly of any organization that you can say blanket this organization is doing great because there are individual leaders who are not.

And then there are lots of individual leaders who are, so it’s really looking for the pockets.

Yeah, because when you think about culture, when we think about inclusion and belonging and culture, that’s almost down to the team level.

How many employees does Cisco have now? 100,000 or something, right?

Within that there’s a whole range right. Leaning toward because you all have such a deep commitment and you put resources you walk your talk.

Overall, Cisco is way better than most and within that incredible pockets of excellence.

And I think that’s something that people can miss. What am I doing as an individual in my leadership role?

What am I doing as an individual quite literally every day to show up and behave in an inclusive way and to understand my impact?

Michelle: Individuals make up the people, make up the culture, right? That’s what culture is. It’s made up of how people are acting when they show up at work every day, and I think that the companies that are doing it right allow that latitude of learning right?

And so, I’ll just speak from my perspective, is that you always have people. I say it like this. There’s a journey. Right, you always have people that are still like, some people aren’t even in the stadium like they don’t get it, they don’t. They’re like they’re not even in the stadium to begin that. They’re not even there, right? And sometimes I just don’t spend a lot of energy on that.

Mo: You can’t spend it on that 20%.