03/15/2013 12:53 pm ET Updated May 15, 2013

Change demands a vision from the top

John Chambers recently wrote a memo to his leadership team articulating his realization that he has not walked the talk on advancing women. I applaud John's decision to go public on this topic. The numbers at the top of most organizations of women's representation have remained stagnant for many years. For an organization to undergo change, it is incredibly important for an organization's leader to articulate a vision of women where 50% of the leadership are women, and then to back up his or her message with regular and careful review of the numbers. John Chambers has signed on to do both.

Cisco has several high profile women executives including Padmasree Warrior, their CTO, and Rebecca Jacoby, their CIO. Their technical executives include Ana Pinczuk, Senior Vice President of Services Transformation, who recently joined our board.

But if women to be pervasive in creating the technology that we use every day, you need women at all levels. How many women VPs are there in technical roles? How many women fellows, that top echelon of the technical careers, who are responsible for much of the technical innovation? What are the ways in which an organization develops its top talent, and is the selection criteria biased in a way that self selects people who look like those already in key positions? These are the questions and more that John Chambers and his leadership have decided to look at, whether they realize it or not.

Sheryl Sandberg's book is a message to all people, but particularly women, that they can achieve careers beyond their wildest dreams. But there is another side of the work - and that is changing the organizational systems and environments to ones in which women and men can thrive. John is looking at the other part of the equation - how do you not only recruit great women, but retain and advance them?

One of the ways that we help companies measure their progress is through the Top Company for Technical Women Award. Although this is an award, many companies participate to gather and see their data, and to measure how they are doing,

There is a lot of research on the ways in which organizations can successfully recruit, retain and advance women. The representation varies dramatically across organizations, and through direct experience, we know what to do.

We have available a research report on recruiting more technical women, and will release a report on retention next month.

I support John's decision to take ownership of change, and hope that many other CEO's follow suit.