Director, Global Supplier
Diversity Business Development
Cisco Systems Inc.
San Jose, Calif

One of the honors Denise Coley received for her work as director of global supplier diversity business development at Cisco Systems is the company’s “The First Lady of Supplier Diversity” award. It’s an appropriate moniker for her commitment to the company’s supplier diversity initiatives for its operations at home and abroad. “I enjoy meeting people as both suppliers and customers, it enables me to be a better listener, to empathize and to grow,” she says.

Community involvement was very much the norm in her childhood home in Washington, D.C. “I was surrounded by strong women in my family who believed very much in working and giving to those in need,” Coley explains. A gifted speaker from childhood, she pursued a degree in speech pathology and audiology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and subsequently obtained a master’s in speech pathology from University of Pacific, in Stockton, Calif., and a master’s in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

Coley planned to work as a clinician or a teacher, but in 1983 a technology company in the San Francisco Bay area recruited her as a contract administrator and product manager, signaling an entry into the technology field. She landed her first management position in diversity at another technology firm in 1997, where she remained until she joined Cisco in 2000.

Coley devotes some of her free time to participating in fundraising marathons and walkathons for various cancer foundations to honor her mother’s memory; she relaxes with her grandchild, family and pets. She taught her children the importance of community work. “We lived in a church and helped build a school and provided community service,” she recalls of a humanitarian trip to Mexico she took with her daughter several years ago. “I don’t think it’s never too early to teach your children the importance of community outreach.”

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