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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

How to Create an Inclusive Workforce, From a Woman Who's Dedicated Her Career to It

Jessica Gilbert, the Head of Inclusion and Collaboration at Cisco Meraki courtesy Cisco Meraki

Chances are good Sesame Street was part of your childhood—but it’s not every day you find someone who credits the iconic TV show with inspiring their career path. Unless you’re talking about Jessica Gilbert, the Head of Inclusion and Collaboration at Cisco Meraki, which provides businesses with cloud-managed networking solutions.

The show is where she was first introduced to Spanish, which led her to want to bridge differences between people. “I’m incredibly fortunate to have found my calling,” she says.

In her current role, Gilbert’s goal is to make inclusion a habit for everyone at Cisco Meraki. “We know diverse perspectives and experiences drive better results,” she says. “We’ll only achieve our business goals if we create a culture where collaboration, inclusion, and belonging exist, allowing all our people to thrive.”

Here, Gilbert shares why she loves Cisco Meraki, how the company’s values drive her work, and the hardest part of her job.


Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at Cisco Meraki.

For 25 years, as both an external consultant and as part of internal centers of excellence, I’ve been on a journey to build teams and organizations where all employees can thrive together and collaborate to drive innovative solutions to complex challenges. After 11 years of doing that at Johnson & Johnson, I wanted a new challenge, and the idea of being able to make an impact in the technology industry with an organization of a very different size was exciting.

What attracted you to work at Cisco Meraki?

There were two critical factors. First, Cisco Meraki is a values-driven organization. Everyone In, Care Deeply, Be Brave and Simplify Everything aren’t just words on a wall—they’re drivers of behavior and values that can be catalysts for inclusion and collaboration. Second was our Senior Vice President and General Manager Todd Nightingale and the clear commitment he has to a company where fairness, equality, inclusion, and collaboration is experienced by everyone.

What are you responsible for as the Head of Inclusion and Collaboration at Cisco Meraki?

I’m responsible for setting inclusion and collaboration strategies that enable leaders to accelerate the talent and culture we need to reach our business goals. I’m a firm believer that to achieve progress in diversity and inclusion, it needs to be everyone’s responsibility. I may set strategies, but ultimately diversity, inclusion, collaboration, and fairness are done for everyone, by everyone.

What does a normal day in your job look like?

There is no such thing as a normal day! I can go from participating in talent conversations with senior leadership to working with my HR partners on sponsorship programs to listening to employees to hear what’s on their mind. My days can go from doing analytics to developing strategies to coaching leaders. That’s why I love this work.

What do you love most about your job?

Making a difference for people. I love being able to engage and connect with the entire organization around the world—not just at Cisco Meraki, but across the entire Cisco family.

What is the hardest part about your job?

Prioritizing! It’s important to focus on a critical few rather than try and do lots of “stuff.” Taking a data-driven approach to identify where our opportunities are and which strategies will drive outcomes is not always easy.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

How do we make inclusion a habit for everyone, especially in moments that matter? This will be all about how we can tip the balance toward inclusion just by nudging people right at the moment when they have a choice about what to do.

What do you like best about the company culture?

Relationships are an important part of our culture. People engage and connect informally, and our office design facilitates that with plenty of areas to sit and share ideas.

How is Cisco Meraki committed to fostering an inclusive environment?

First off, advancing inclusion and collaboration is one of our key organization-wide objectives. As with any organization objective, we measure our progress towards key results, in terms of creating both a diverse talent pipeline and an inclusive environment, which we measure through our Inclusion Composite Score in our employee engagement survey. We continuously work to ensure we mitigate bias through building a conscious culture.

Rolling out a foundational curriculum for our people leaders and embedding bias mitigation tools into our talent processes are just some of the steps we’ve taken to build an inclusive environment from the moment you first interact with Meraki. We know that culture isn’t about a program. It lives and breathes in the interactions we have every day. This is why we’ve established an employee experience framework that ensures that, regardless of where you sit—be it Sydney, Shanghai, Tokyo, Chicago, San Francisco, or remotely in the field—you have a similar experience aligned with our values. Our Inclusion & Collaboration Communities, especially our Employee Resource Organizations, play an important role in that effort and the Meraki senior leadership team invests their time with them as executive sponsors.

What are the company’s core values, and how do they apply to the work you are doing?

Simplify Everything: How are you making it easy to connect with you?

Everybody In: How are you inviting different voices to be heard? Ask yourself who isn’t being heard or engaged and open the door for them.

Care Deeply: Are you broadening your network and developing meaningful relationships with those who are different from you?

Be Brave: Address behavior or language that excludes, and lean into your own discomfort by challenging your own and others’ assumptions.

The work that our Meraki Gives network has driven in Chicago is a great example of how we live our values of Everybody In and Care Deeply, to drive opportunities in tech for communities that may not have the same access to opportunities as others. You can read about it here.

What employee benefits help set Cisco Meraki apart?

We have access to amazing benefits that allow us to take care of our physical and mental well-being; balance our family and work responsibilities; continue our personal growth; and give back to our communities.

As part of Cisco, we benefit from the way the company is always looking at how they can better support the needs of employees. For example, when you have a baby, not only does the main caregiver receive 13 consecutive weeks of paid bonding leave, the supporting caregiver (mom or dad supporting their spouse or partner) is given four weeks of paid time off. Additionally, the company provides financial support to employees for fertility services, adoption or surrogacy. One of the ones I’m excited to take advantage of is our Time to Give program, which allows each employee to take 40 hours of paid time off each year to volunteer.

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