Cisco Systems established a free training program to increase the number of women in its Mexico delivery centers.
In Mexico, less than half of working-age women participate in the labor market, reported the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2020. When factoring in the reality that globally, women have long been underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers, it's unsurprising that STEM companies in Mexico face gender disparities among their workforces. One employer seeking to make a difference is tech company Cisco Systems, which is narrowing the gap with a training initiative focused on women in Mexico that has earned the company ATD's TD for Good Award.
It all started when Cisco's recruiting team and Customer Experience Academy (CXA)—which onboards and provides development to more than half of the customer-serving employees in Cisco's Mexico delivery centers—recognized that women only accounted for 18 percent of CXA's early-career new hires in fiscal year 2020. The Mexico delivery centers primarily hire technical consulting engineers and project specialists, says Himer Hernandez, manager of the CXA.
To identify the reason behind the low number of women hires, the CXA reviewed seven years of hiring data. The research revealed that female candidates lacked an attitude of empowerment, technical proficiency, soft skills, and English proficiency when compared to their male counterparts.
With that information in hand, the CXA enablement team created the Cisco Talent Incubator Program for Women (CTIP-W). The initiative is modeled from an existing program the team uses in the US to recruit military veterans and nontraditional students for engineering careers. "Talent is not gender based, and we realized we had to invest in preparing young women in order to compete in equal circumstances," Hernandez explains.
CTIP-W is a free educational program designed to help fill the gaps in the identified competencies. To find candidates, the recruiting team approached 12 public and private universities across Mexico, seeking women with customer advocacy skills and an interest in technology. The six-week pilot program comprised 20 learners who gained interview skills, English proficiency, soft skills, and a basic overview of the Cisco Network Associate certification. The certification program provides individuals with fundamentals to begin careers in networking. At the end of the pilot, Cisco hired six of the participants.
The CX enablement team then took lessons from that first cohort to improve the program for the second iteration. The most significant change was expanding the curriculum and timeline from six weeks to six months. The journey now begins with an orientation week that provides a program overview and milestones. "We invite alumni, engineers, and manager panelists to motivate and engage our participants," Hernandez notes.
Next comes on-demand and live soft skills training on topics such as empowerment and communication. Participants also receive technical training that entails a boot camp on Cisco technologies.
CTIP-W features experiential learning, such as practice interviews with CX managers and technical role plays with engineers. The role plays enable learners to practice their technical and customer interaction skills. "The ability to practice, develop, and learn these skills in real scenarios but in a safe and supportive environment is critical to the learners' success," explains Roy Skillicorn, senior director of global enablement.
The CXA also invites guest speakers such as sports personalities, industry leaders, and Cisco employees to showcase to participants that "it is possible to achieve their dreams," Hernandez says.
Throughout the program, participants engage in team-building activities, learn about the company's culture, and have access to Cisco's online learning system.
After the second cohort completed the program, the company hired 13 of the 20 women, retaining an additional three in the pipeline for future opportunities. Of note is that more than half of the Technical Assistance Center engineers hired in late 2021 were women—a direct result of CTIP-W, the company reports. The difference in programming between the first and second cohort led to a 116 percent increase in women hired upon program completion. In addition, women now account for 40 percent of the CXA's early-career new hires, more than double the percentage prior to the program's launch.
An unintentional program outcome is the fact that 57 percent of the hired program participants have been recruits from public universities. Graduates of private universities typically prevailed in terms of becoming new hires, but CTIP-W is now making opportunities available to a broader audience.
"Without the program, the company would have missed out on the untapped resource of many talented young women who just need a small bit of additional training to be extremely successful and make great contributions to the company," says Skillicorn. "In today's global shortage of talent to fill tech-sector jobs, this gives Cisco a tremendous competitive advantage over companies that don't find ways to hire more female candidates."
Mapping the Way to a Reskilled Workforce
Cisco Systems, a tech company headquartered in San Jose, California, faced an enormous reskilling task when it transformed all its 30,000 customer-facing roles to support a new customer experience (CX) model. The CX enablement team completely reimagined the approach to the transformation, developing a prescriptive, artificial intelligence–driven, personalized methodology that is relevant to specific roles. Cisco reports that the initiative has helped propel the company forward—and ATD is recognizing those efforts with the 2022 Talent Development Innovation Award.
The transformation's first phase entailed defining seven new roles and redefining six existing ones for employees located worldwide. Each role has its own blueprint and learning pathway to enable role readiness.
In the second phase, the enablement team created learner journeys for specific roles to simplify, streamline, and consolidate the complex and evolving learning resources available for each user role. The team developed and launched learning maps to support Ramp Up, Skill Up, and Level Up for learners in the 13 customer-facing roles. Each learning level provides essential knowledge and skills required to effectively perform in the specified role. The enablement team also developed an advanced-level pilot program for the customer success executive role that achieved great results, the company reports.
"The CX transformation content was designed to scale across 35,000, and more recently up to 50,000, employees, hence the majority of content is on demand," explains Sarah Mouscardes, workforce transformation program lead. The ondemand materials use different modalities such as videos, podcasts, playbooks, and "what's new checklists." Knowledge checks throughout the content test and engage learners.
An impressive 99 percent of employees completed their Ramp Up training within 90 days, thus accelerating role readiness by 200 percent.
As Cisco continues its transformation, the CX enablement team is constantly re-evaluating and reimagining to upskill learners and prepare them for the future. Learner frameworks will continue to evolve, integrating self-assessments and manager assessments, data, and AI to develop "role-specific learning paths intended to meet the learner where they are in their role and career journey," Mouscardes says.