60 Years of Progress for Women in the Workplace

11th January 2022

Posted In: International Focus

This year, as Catalyst celebrates 60 years of progress for women in the workplace, we see unprecedented opportunities to finally create workplaces that work for all.

A confluence of factors – rapid technological change, talent shortage, employees’ demand for flexible work, changing stakeholder priorities, and renewed focus on racial equity – has set the stage for 2022 as the year of The Great Reimagining: Equity for Women, Equity for All.

Words: Lorraine Hariton, President & CEO, Catalyst

Six decades ago, Felice Schwartz dared to ask what the workplace could be and founded Catalyst in 1962. She focused on bringing more women into the workforce and enabling them to thrive.

Catalyst advocated for flexible work, part-time work, and job-sharing – unheard-of concepts at the time. Thanks in part to her vision and our continuing work, we’ve witnessed a dramatic shift in workplace dynamics and values. But there’s more work to do.

The last two years have been so challenging. Women, particularly women of color, suffered devastating job losses due to the pandemic; increased caregiving responsibilities added to women’s burden.

Yet, as I reflect on what the Catalyst community has already done to meet these challenges, I am proud and excited about the possibilities ahead. You are leading the way by approaching these challenges with purpose and intentionality.

For example, our Catalyst CEO Champions For Change

more than 70 CEOs overseeing more than 11 million employees – outperformed their peers in women’s representation and promoted more women into executive ranks than men during this turbulent time.

And many CEOs I’ve talked to have shared their commitment to providing more flexible work for their employees permanently as well as augmenting their childcare and mental health support.

Catalyst is committed to continuing to lead the way by galvanizing our community and providing timely thought leadership, actionable solutions, and impactful conversations that help organizations address the evolving challenges of today and tomorrow and build a more equitable future for women and for all.

Over the coming year, Catalyst’s Great Reimagining will focus on four areas:

Reimagining the Workplace

Seventy-six percent of US employees say they want their employers to make work permanently flexible, according to a recent Catalyst-CNBC survey, conducted online by the Harris Poll. A desire for more flexibility was also one of the key reasons cited for leaving their current jobs.

We believe it is imperative that leaders meet this transformative moment in the future of work – when so many workers are reevaluating their work-life priorities­ – by letting go of the old workplace models and reimagining a more humane workplace.

The “Great Resignation” we are experiencing may continue to create a talent shortage, but companies offering flexible work options will find it easier to attract and retain the best employees, especially women.

We know there is no one-size-fits-all approach – even within the same organization or office. Some employees who work in manufacturing or hospitality, for instance, may not be able to perform their jobs from home, but they can be offered time and geographic flexibility. Others who primarily work at their computers may be able to choose how they work most productively.

And Catalyst research finds that empathic leadership and access to remote work improves employee well-being, productivity, innovation, and inclusion. We will continue to share best practices and learn from each other in this rapidly evolving time.

Reimagining Leadership

As CEOs and leaders at all levels make flexible and remote workplaces inclusive, and work to effectively manage distributed teams, empathy and inclusive leadership are key.

In fact, empathy has proven to be a critical leadership skill during the pandemic as so many employees have grappled with caregiving, illness, mental health challenges, or financial worries. As we look to the future, empathy will continue to be important in effectively creating a more flexible and humane workplace.

Will this require a shift in thinking and approach? Yes. Now is the time for organizations to expand and deepen training, reskilling, and upskilling initiatives. Employee resource groups also can be helpful for leadership development, especially for employees from marginalized groups.

To increase management effectiveness, companies need to invest in building and supporting inclusive leaders at all levels who engage their colleagues with curiosity, humility, courage, allyship, ownership, and accountability.

Leaders who can be flexible and responsive to their employees will have a competitive edge.

Reimagining Equity

Advancing gender equity means recognizing and addressing the unique barriers that women across different identities and geographies face in the workplace. We need to examine and overhaul talent management systems to ensure that women have equal access to the advancement and career opportunities they seek.

This means using a global intersectional lens when collecting data on hiring, promotion, and retention rates. Today’s leaders must be more curious and listen to employees to understand their experiences at work and understand how work policies and practices impact them.

Building connections with people across job levels, age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other dimensions has never been more important, as is implementing sponsorship programs that help women, particularly women of color, get the critical jobs for advancement into leadership.

Building a culture of gender partnership – where people of all genders work together to advance gender equity – is also critical.

Catalyst’s MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) has produced transformational programming for many companies including Chevron, Dow Chemical, and Procter & Gamble.

Reimagining Accountability

We all know that we need to “measure what matters.”

Being intentional in measuring DEI data – and transparent about what the data tells us – is critical to organizations and their leaders understanding what to prioritize and holding themselves accountable for doing so.

As a cofounder of the Gender and Diversity KPI Alliance (GDKA), Catalyst promotes the use of three key performance indicators (KPIs) to help companies measure their progress towards gender equitable workplaces. These KPIs are:

•the percentage of representation on the organization’s board

•the percentage of representation by employee category

•the ratio of compensation by employee category (e.g., equal pay for equal work).

We welcome to this effort the commitment of each and every member of the Catalyst community. And in 2022, we will be expanding this community to help us learn from each other about measuring change.

The Power of the Catalyst Community

The power of our community of over 500 global organizations with tens of millions of employees working with purpose and intentionality can drive real change and lead the way in this critical moment.

Building upon the momentum Felice Schwartz created 60 years ago, companies continue to look to Catalyst to help them chart the course. And we are ramping up our efforts more than ever before to meet the opportunities and challenges that face us all.

I look forward to working together with you in our sixtieth anniversary year to add tangible value to your efforts and to shaping a Great Reimagining that works for women, and for us all.

Join us in this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a quantum leap forward for working women and make equity in the workplace a reality.

About the Author: Lorraine Hariton brings a strong and diverse background in technology, innovation, and partnering to her role as President & CEO at Catalyst. Her extensive career includes senior-level positions in Silicon Valley, as well as leadership roles across the private, non-profit, and government sectors. Lorraine has been involved in women’s advancement leadership initiatives throughout her career and she is honoured to lead Catalyst – to pay it forward to future generations, and help write the next chapter in its 60-year legacy of accelerating positive change for women.