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YSC & Ciena: Engaging men and women to break STEM industry standards

Background

Ciena is a global supplier of telecommunications networking equipment, software and services that support the delivery and transport of voice, video and data. Founded in 1992, Ciena set out to radically change the possibilities and economics of networking and have since been creating solutions for the largest and most reliable communication networks around the world. Currently employing over 5000 people in 27 countries, the organisation services a wide range of industries including health, research and education, media, government and finance.

Challenge

As many corporate companies work closer towards achieving the gender 50:50 vision, there is a well-known gender technology gap where companies, like Ciena, within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industry often experience slower progress in achieving a gender diverse workforce. The STEM industry (and preceding university pipeline) is largely male dominated, and continually faces difficulties in attracting women, and retaining them in leadership positions.

Albeit industry challenges, Ciena is strongly committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive environment. Ciena values the diversity of its workforce, rooted in their respect for their employees as individuals, regardless of their race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender or age. Their Women@Ciena initiative is an internal networking and diversity arm that aims to motivate and inspire women at all levels of the organisation. The group is committed to taking concrete steps towards gender parity, and developing a more inclusive culture and gender-balanced leadership. Women@Ciena’s Global Women’s Council comprises women and men from all levels, regions and disciplines across Ciena to ensure a genuine cross-section of talent and insights. 

Solution

Ciena engaged YSC to gain a robust, data-driven understanding of the drivers and barriers to success for women and men in Ciena. More specifically, YSC was asked to provide unique insights on their male and female talent in order to create an understanding of the value of each individual, to break down existing barriers and to empower the voice and talents of women in their workforce.

YSC partnered with Alana Palmer and Micaela Cook from Ciena’s Global Women’s Council to run our Career Navigation Diagnostic (CND), across six regions and all levels of seniority in Ciena, to identify differing or overlapping experiences of men and women as they navigate their careers. The team sought relevant, practical, robust and systemic recommendations to address the successes, opportunities and risks to improve the gender balance.

The first step involved running an online survey, inviting over 2500 employees to partake, which explored their definitions of success, why they stay or leave organisations and the most important enablers or blockers to their career progression. We compared the organisational results to data from YSC’s norm groups, both on a global scale and at the telecoms and IT industry level.

Using the survey findings and key input from Ciena’s Global Women’s Council, we designed focus groups and one-on-one interviews with their senior management team to tap into attitudes, experiences and feelings of the interviewees to supplement the quantitative data – the ‘why’ of respondents’ views.

We collected relevant and accessible organisational data, including gender split and promotions across the organisation, enabling a view on the reality of what’s happening - the actual vs. perception - and insight into potential unconscious biases present in the organisation which impede or enable success.

Results

The survey responses and deep dive discussions indicated that Ciena is on the right path in their diversity journey. Respondents acknowledged that difficulties in attracting, retaining and developing women are engrained issues within the STEM industry. Our findings suggested that women in Ciena were thirsty for more mentoring and development opportunities, especially mothers, who were ready for their path to leadership to be reframed and re-enthused. Although slightly behind the norm for gender diversity, Ciena’s continual efforts towards gender parity were perceived as positive and valuable.

More importantly however, our diagnostic bought light to issues that pertained not only to women, but also to men. The CND highlighted flexible working as an important retaining factor for both genders; although utilised and accepted as a way of working globally, it was suggested that it could be even more effective to maintain work-life balance whilst striving for success in Ciena. Although widely spoken about and role-modelled by their executive management team, there were few ‘accepted’ ways of flexible working. Our deep dive sessions highlighted some key challenges to address: inconsistencies in how and where flexibility was used and supported, unconscious biases toward flexibility and its many forms (i.e. working from home) and technological limitations that impacted the ease with which people were working flexibly. 

Ciena’s strong performance within the tech industry entailed rapid business growth, where promotion rates were found to be slightly above their industry norm. However respondents sensed a lack of progression and development opportunities, and not just for women.  Management, company factors and unconscious biases were all found to contribute to this. The opportunity for Ciena, then, is to provide transparent and consistent communication for promotion processes and employee development. Given that promotion rates were relatively high, they will also benefit from reframing and broadening the meaning of “opportunities for progression”.

Our insights from the CND provided Ciena with hard data to validate their initiatives in place as well as providing new ideas to address other critical aspects.

Supporting Women: Women@Ciena are using our findings to continually address and drive activities that support women in their respective regions. These include a project to establish hiring process guidelines at senior levels, as well as a grass roots approach, encouraging mentoring through a website that allows women to share their ‘stories’ and build relationships with other women across the organisation.

Flexible Working: In response to the inconsistent experiences of flexibility, Ciena is revisiting ways to further improve the individual-manager relationship to build trust in this relationship, while also indirectly addressing unconscious biases in a non-threatening manner. One of the specific ways is to bolster the mentoring and role modelling initiatives already in place. They are also currently reviewing a series of options for improved technology that can support better interactions globally.

Managing Careers: Regarding the perceived lack of promotions and opportunities, Ciena is working to improve communication and transparency in their processes. Their main focus however lies on leaving behind the concept of ‘Career Path’ to talk about ‘Career Maps’, encouraging individuals to think beyond the linear approach to their personal development and to look in all directions for development experiences. This approach will be initially tested with the R&D community (who are most vocal about their career aspirations), revisiting job descriptions, identifying critical skills and mapping out development experiences.

This partnership between Ciena and YSC has been mutually enthusing and energising. We are excited to see the impact of their promising initiatives in propelling the success of their employees, and helping women thrive within the STEM industry.

"We truly valued YSC’s global scope, their willingness to become a partner, not just a vendor, and the volume of data crunching that provided insights and not just playing back information we already knew. On a human level, we found the team to be very personable, responsible, flexible and professional." Micaela Cook, Senior Director

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