Yvette Kanouff - Sponsoring Women and Diverse Employees


By: Latino Leaders Staff


In March 2016, Yvette Kanouff was named the Senior Vice President/General Manager of the Service Provider Business. Kanouff leads the development strategy for Cisco’s Systems, Inc. Service Provider segment, including core routing, switching and optical networking, network and service virtualization, service provider access networks for mobility, cable, wireless, cloud, and video software and solutions. She leads a global team of engineers, architects, product line managers, technical marketing engineers, and business development managers delivering innovation for the service provider customer segment.  

Previously, Kanouff was the Senior Vice President/General Manager of Cloud Solutions, where she led teams focused on cloud virtualization, cloud infrastructure services, and service provider video. She joined Cisco in 2014 as the Senior Vice President/General Manager of Cisco’s Service Provider Video Software and Solutions Group.

When and why did you start collaborating with Cisco? What has the experience been like? 

I was a Cisco customer when I was at Time Warner and at Cablevision. Cisco has always been a technology partner, involved in many innovation projects and technology shifts.


What was given to you in terms of advice or mentorship that pushed you to where you are today?

I have been fortunate enough to have many mentors and champions. It is something I am very grateful for. I remember my first mentor – he introduced me to his entire network within our industry. He gave me that open door and it was my responsibility to walk through it. It was very special for him to take the time to give me that level of exposure. This is the type of help we need to give to people we mentor and champion.

There are many lessons I have learned from people I admire – too many to mention. But the key to mentorship is sponsorship – not just giving advice, but helping someone along their career journey. I strongly recommend we all help sponsor more diverse employees and women instead of just mentoring or speaking at events – it will change the numbers and make an impact so quickly.

More on Mentoring: In the past, we have all been focused on being a mentor –meaning, we touch base and provide advice to one or more individuals. We need to change to becoming champions. This is a very different level of interaction. Imagine the person you are championing as being your daughter, your sister, your close friend – it’s a different engagement level in that you really help their career and help them succeed. You watch, teach, help, reach out, and ensure they have a real career path. This is what we need to focus on. We need to become champions. Can you imagine how quickly we could change the numbers if everyone championed a diverse employee? It would be amazing and make a difference in a few short years. We are kicking off such a project, together with the Office of Inclusion & Collaboration at Cisco, for the Hispanic community through Cisco’s Conexión Employee Resource Organization (ERO). I am an executive sponsor for this ERO. We are very excited about it.


What are your most important work and professional values?

Honesty, transparency, and having fun. After all, results are all about the people that make them happen.


What is it like being a woman in the tech field?

Technology has been a great career path for me, and I can’t imagine having chosen anything else. We still have much to do to make the field more welcoming to women, one of which is the sponsorship that I mentioned, and creating female-friendly work environments. At Cisco, it is a very important topic for us, that we are very focused on, for both Cisco and the entire technology industry.


Which philosophy do you use to lead your teams?

Work hard, get results, be transparent, have fun.


Now that you have achieved much success, what advice can you give to the upcoming generation? 

It’s all about you! I look forward to seeing what you can do with the foundation previous generations have built. We have complete faith in you and all of the great things you’ll create. You can do it. Don’t be limited by what we created – make your own mark and your own culture.


What is the most important lesson you have learned in your current position?

Nothing matters as much as results. Getting results – it’s not just about keeping your job. Getting results is about pride, reputation, trust. Results can also mean failing fast, which ends up getting a person to the end results faster, even if it’s through a different path. I have built my career based on ‘getting results.’ Sometimes it can be just that simple – there is a date and we must meet it. Sometimes it’s about helping define the direction of the company. Understanding the goal of a task, not just the task itself, really helps in driving toward results. I would highly recommend we all understand the WHY, which really helps create drive.


What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face, and did you tackle it?

It has not been easy being the only female in a man’s world throughout my career. Instead of seeing this as an obstacle, I embraced it and made it a differentiator. We can all learn to accept and embrace our situations, even if they are discouraging.


What steps would you suggest to address the Hispanic Technology pipeline shortage?

Sponsorship. If everyone could sponsor (not just mentor, but sponsor) a diverse employee, and help their career path, help them get promoted, help them address the hurdles in the way of that next step, we would make a difference very quickly. This can help existing employees as well as the pipeline shortage, as people may choose to help someone in college or high school and help sponsor their job and career path. I think the many education programs are good, but slow. If we could all step up and take action, we would make a big difference quickly.


What aspects of your profession do you enjoy most?

Unquestionably, the people. I love working on new technology projects with our customers. I enjoy working with the Cisco team – it’s people that make working and solving tough problems fun.