Engaging the workforce in corporate DEI

Micaela Cook at Ciena explains why diversity, equity and inclusion are more than slogans and require engagement from the whole workforce

Engaging a global workforce is never easy. Finding messaging that connects with people in different countries, languages and cultures is hard at the best of times. Doing so on a topic like inclusivity, diversity and belonging which is both complex and nuanced as well as vital and emotive, is even harder. And then doing it while the most significant civil rights movement in a generation erupts across the US added a further challenge.

Yet, it was what many of us leading corporate diversity, inclusion and belonging needed to do in mid-2020. The Black Lives Matter movement got the attention of the Board, focusing minds and budgets on the urgent need to do more.

This was no virtue signalling. The challenge here was to drive real change – build on what we already started and to create a genuine sense of belonging. It was, in short, one of the most demanding communications briefs many of us will ever face.

This is how we’ve tried to do it at Ciena, a networking systems and software firm with employees in 33 countries, speaking 40 languages, and spanning every religion and race. We don’t pretend we’ve found all the answers; but we hope our experiences will provide some ideas to others also on this journey.

Accelerating progress

Before 2020 we’d already taken significant steps in this area. As we’d become more global, and our products had evolved, so our workforce had become progressively more diverse. We needed to ensure that Ciena is a place where people feel they belong, where they can bring their authentic selves, and focus on doing their best work.

We had set out a new people promise with the outcomes of “happiness, vibrancy, belonging” and developed the visual tool of a tree as the representation of the different elements of the organisation: the roots creating the conditions for successful outcomes, and the branches, growing and evolving, all belonging to one whole.

This story was rolling out across the organisation, so we weren’t starting from cold, but like many organisations we recognised that we needed to accelerate our progress. We needed to find a simple and effective way to help every member of our workforce feel they belong, regardless of their identity.

Simplicity and curiosity

We worked with our global brand and communications partner, fst, the agency behind the Ciena people promise tree, to create a clear and compelling narrative. We distilled our strategy into one simple line: “Work where you belong”, and then four core principles underpinning it: “Reject uniformity. Act against injustice. Diversity creates innovation. Work where you can be the real you.”

From there we asked fst to create a visual vehicle to deliver this narrative. They came up with the idea of a stylized conversation, designed to look and feel like a messaging app using emojis in Ciena colours. It raised questions and highlighted how it’s OK not to have all the answers.

That thought really was central to our work here. This wasn’t us pretending to have all the answers, dictating to our employees how they should behave. It was us encouraging people to start a conversation.

People are often reluctant to have a conversation. They hold back for fear of getting it wrong. But if you open a dialogue with someone out of genuine curiosity, a desire to discover more of their lived experience, then nine times out of ten they’ll be willing to share with you. That’s what we wanted to show and hopefully inspire.

Early signs of progress

So, 18 months later can we look back and say we’ve been successful? It depends how you measure it. Have we solved all of the world’s injustice? Of course not. With this greater attention and budget came raised expectations, but the challenges of increased representation and solidifying a sense of belonging take a long time.

But what I believe we have done is raise awareness, started conversations, and driven participation. To give just one example, in 2020 we started conscious inclusion training, and by the end of 2021 all senior leaders have taken part in it, and we’re rolling it out across the organisation.

Those take-up rates would never have happened without a simple, clear and compelling message delivered in a way that gets attention. So, I believe our campaign was successful and is playing a part in making Ciena a place where people can bring their full, authentic selves.

That matters, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because in a technology firm innovation is competitive edge, and diversity drives innovation.

As more organisations recognise this, I believe the issue of engaging the workforce and embedding DEI in everything we do will rise higher and higher on the boardroom agenda.


Micaela Cook is Senior Director, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Ciena

Main Image courtesy of iStockPhoto.com

© Business Reporter 2021

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