Closing the Gender Gap:

Inclusive Advocacy Program (IAP): Increased exposure for diverse talent

gender parity
Company name:
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Information Technology
More than 50,000
North America
United States
Contact Position:
Global Inclusion & Diversity Communications Lead
Contact company representative

The Gap:

Type of Gap: senior management level

We recognized that diverse, under-represented populations, such as women, needed a targeted development program to give them increased opportunities for visibility and exposure to senior-level executives and opportunities to advance to higher levels.

The Practice:

Type of practice: Mentorship & training

The 'Inclusive Advocacy Program' (IAP) is designed to experientially engage, develop, retain, and advance our high-potential, underrepresented, and diverse talent. An invitation-only program, individual talents are paired cross-functionally with senior-level executives, known as Advocates, for a year to accelerate their exposure, visibility, growth, and opportunity for advancement.

IAP objectives are

  • development of global leadership qualities
  • expanded networks
  • increased exposure
  • long-term advancement.


We measured both quantitative and qualitative results :

  • Increased engagement, retention, rotation, and advancement of selected diverse talent
  • positive feedback from diverse talent, talent advocates and key stakeholders.

Implementation Date:

The program is in its second year and will continue to launch new programs each year.

The Success:

After the first year, we see a significant increase in the engagement of talent, measured through more stretch assignments, rotations, and promotions. An impressive 77 percent of IAP advocates in 2010 were women, 30 percent of whom were multicultural.

Cisco’s innovative and successful leadership development IAP continued in 2010 and 2011 with a focus on raising the visibility of Directors and Sr. Directors with VPs.  

More recently, the concepts of this benchmark program were extended to Managers and Sr. Managers  through the 'Manager Advocacy Program' (MAP), with a focus on increasing their visibility with Directors and above. An impressive 77 percent of IAP advocates in 2010 were women, 30 percent of whom were multicultural.  Both programs increase visibility and exposure of participating employees, helping to accelerate their growth, visibility, and career opportunities through cross-functional exposure. 

Success factors:

  1. Program is virtual (no cost) – leverage the firm's collaboration technology
  2. Executives were willing to commit/support
  3. Monthly assignments keep participants engaged


  1. Lack of awareness of difference between mentorship and advocacy
  2. Global program – managing up to 12 time zones
  3. Pairs committing time each month


Coaching / Mentoring|Feedback|Leadership Support|Monitoring|Sponsorship|Individual Support|Talent Management
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