Nikki Walker FCMA director of inclusion and diversity, Europe, Cisco Systems.

Author:Walker, Nikki
Position:ONE2ONE - Interview

Inclusion and diversity? Does your job involve any management accounting?

It's not a finance role. It's all about engaging people and how to build an organisation that's inclusive, meaning that everyone feels they can contribute fully, which fosters innovation.

But you started off in finance. What drew you to this job?

I was attracted to it because the role focused on transformational change, where I could develop my skills in a completely new area. Cisco's European president approached me after reading reports about how the talent landscape in Europe is changing and also about how diverse teams tend to be the most innovative. He recognises that, as the demographics change and our business model evolves, we'll need to attract people from both existing and new talent pools. But we need to make Cisco really attractive to them in order to do that.

Which particular demographic changes was he concerned about?

Europe has an ageing population, 60 percent of graduates are women and the proportion of ethnic minorities is increasing. We have to look to these groups as both customers and potential employees. We had to ask ourselves whether we were benefiting from all the talent available if we looked only in the tried and tested places to hire people. If we continued the way we'd worked in the past, we'd be perpetuating the traditional IT industry practice of hiring mainly white males.

We also looked at whether we were connecting in the best way with our customers. For example, one client in New York told us that the account teams we sent out always comprised the same type of people. They wanted to see a team that more closely reflected, and connected with, different people across their organisation.

Doesn't this make you a bit of a threat to some existing employees?

As the talent market becomes increasingly competitive we need to be able to attract people from all the pools available. Once we attract them, we want them to be themselves and contribute fully. Inclusion and diversity traditionally focuses on how to help different minorities succeed. One thing we wanted early on was to create an environment where everyone has the same chance to succeed, regardless of what they look like, their education or whether they have a partner at home running their domestic life.

It sounds complex. Did you have any experience in this kind of change role?

I was previously director of strategic planning for Cisco's emerging markets. That was also a non-finance job...

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