The Revolution is Coming

New Catalyst CEO Lorraine Hariton believes we are at a juncture in the workplace as seismic as the Industrial Revolution, and Catalyst is ready to lead the way

by Jackie Krentzman

As the new CEO of Catalyst, the premier nonprofit working to “build workplaces that work for women,” Lorraine Hariton grapples daily with what the future of work will bring and what it means for women. What skills will be necessary to succeed? How can women best be prepared to take advantage and lead? What can Catalyst do to smooth the path and lead the way for women?

For Hariton, one of the ways in which she answers these questions about the future is by looking to the past—her past.

Hariton’s mother, Barbara, taught second grade for a few years in the New York City public school system, then stayed home to raise her children. When her youngest child entered kindergarten, she earned a master’s and then a PhD in psychology in 1972. Her dissertation focused on women’s sexual fantasies during intercourse—an audacious, groundbreaking topic for the times. Hariton’s mother went on to a distinguished career as a psychologist and public speaker.

“I had a great role model for building careers,” says Hariton. “My mother is very strong and taught us to be independent and look for full potential.”

Hariton also taught her children the importance of work-life balance. On a recent phone call with Diversity Woman, she was in her New York apartment waiting for her son’s wife to give birth to their first child—her water had broken that very morning. “My son is a very career-oriented person, as is his wife,” says Hariton. “But he plans on taking the full paternity leave. I passed on to him that you need to have real equity not only in work but also in your household.”

For 57 years, Catalyst has been at the leading edge of research on women in the workplace. Today, perhaps as much or more so than at any time in its history, it is venturing into the great unknown—the future of work and what it means for women.

“With the way technology has changed the nature of work, we are going through a tectonic shift right now similar to the Industrial Revolution,” says Hariton. “For one, everybody has to be reskilled. Then, we are seeing changes in values led by millennials and gen X, as they are looking for equity in both home and work, such as the flexibility to be able to work remotely. As a result, the whole nature of work is different—for starters, it’s not necessarily a physical place anymore.”

Add to the mix the recent impact of the #MeToo movement, which is dramatically raising consciousness about sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and equality in the workplace and beyond.

As both the future of work and women’s role in the workplace are undergoing these seismic shifts, Catalyst is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in defining how it will all shake out. And by choosing Hariton to succeed Deborah Gillis as CEO in 2018, the Catalyst board agreed that Hariton is the perfect leader at this inflection point.

“Lorraine is a leader in the advancement of women and girls and is setting an aggressive agenda to create change,” says Cathy Engelbert, Catalyst board chair and former CEO of Deloitte US. “She is a visionary leader whose dynamic background in technology, innovation, and public service make her a key player in solving diversity and inclusion challenges in the workplace.”

Hariton is taking the reins at Catalyst at the culmination of a far-ranging and distinguished career. She considers it her dream job. “My lifelong passion has been about the advancement of women in the workplace.”

In hindsight, it isn’t just her passion that has positioned Hariton to be the perfect leader for the organization. It is also her path to Catalyst from childhood through her career.

As a child growing up on Long Island, Hariton struggled with dyslexia, which led her to focus on math and science, strengths she has leveraged throughout her career. It also taught her how to overcome adversity. Then, at Hamilton College in upstate New York, she expanded her horizons and found mentors—both in the nascent field of computer science and in the burgeoning women’s movement.

Hariton transferred to Stanford, where she earned a BS in mathematical sciences. She earned an MBA from Harvard, served as CEO of two Silicon Valley start-ups, and held senior executive roles at IBM and other public companies. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama to be special representative for commercial and business affairs at the Department of State. Most recently, she was senior vice president for global partnerships at the New York Academy of Sciences. The diversity of that experience, encompassing private sector, technology, nonprofits, and government (where she developed a strong relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), gives her a broad perspective on two of her abiding passions: advancing women in the workplace and the future of work.

Hariton references the future of work frequently because it is baked into everything Catalyst is doing today. She sees it as Catalyst’s responsibility to lead the way in creating a future of work that works for everyone, especially, of course, for women and women of color.

“I would like to see a future where everyone has a more equitable opportunity to pursue a work environment where they can meet their full potential,” she says. “Catalyst is a good place to do that. We have over 400 corporations and 800-plus entities as part of our community. That translates to a lot of impact, influencing millions around the world.”

Others recognize that Hariton has transformed Catalyst into a thought leader on the topic. “Hariton is not afraid to address the future of work and has begun to initiate programs and ideas that will transform not only Catalyst but the workplace of the future and how women will fit in,” says Mary Cranston, retired CEO and chair emeritus, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.

Catalyst is challenging corporate leaders to step up and not just pay lip service to gender equality. Hariton wrote in a blog post: “Preparing for the future needs to be an immediate focus of every organization and leader. Corporate social responsibility has gone from being a nice thing to do to a necessary part of every business’s strategy, as consumers, employees, and shareholders demand that CEOs and their companies walk the walk.”

It is a given that preparing for the future of work means incorporating technology into one’s skill set and the workplace. By embracing new technologies, women can play a leadership role in transforming how work is conceived and implemented and, in the process, boost their careers, she says.

This goes beyond simply learning new tech skills. Hariton believes that woman must play a significant role in making sure that the teams they build are diverse and that they can create technologies that mitigate the built-in bias that currently afflicts much of new technology, such as artificial intelligence. “We need to make sure that AI eliminates biases in job descriptions and hiring,” she says.
However, Hariton emphasizes, embracing the technologies that will shape the future cannot come at the cost of “softer skills.” When Hariton was senior vice president for global partnerships at the New York Academy of Sciences, she was involved in the development of a framework that identified and incorporated 21st-century skills such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. “These skills don’t mean just being good with numbers or machines,” she says. “You need the human side. It’s not just about being a good gamer.”

One of Hariton’s primary objectives at Catalyst is to grow the organization from one that focuses on conducting research and reporting on challenges and inequities in the workplace to one that also proposes solutions. “We began shifting about five years ago from an organization that was mostly about research to one that is focused on the ‘how,’ that enables the research to be used to make change,” she says. “Our goal is to provide end-to-end solutions on the diversity and inclusion journey.”

Two new initiatives that demonstrate this new direction are the inclusion accelerator and the MARC Leaders program.

The inclusion accelerator, announced at Catalyst’s annual conference this past March, is a diagnostic measurement tool that helps organizations evaluate and monitor how teams of employees are experiencing inclusion, all the way down to the departmental level. This tool can pinpoint data on an organization’s strengths and opportunities in the workplace, and looks at whether employees feel valued, authentic, trusted, and psychologically safe. It then provides insight and actionable tools and recommendations on how organizations can be more accountable and can implement and optimize inclusive programming.

“For a long time, Catalyst was focusing on building awareness,” she explains. “But now the awareness is largely there. And people want to know how to get to the how, and how to make changes.”

The MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) Leaders program was developed a few years ago to empower men to play leadership roles in their company’s inclusion efforts. In early 2019, Chevron gave Catalyst a $5 million grant, the largest in Catalyst’s history, to support the MARC program and allow Catalyst to scale it, not only in United States but globally. “We have been conducting the research that underscores the MARC program for some time because we came to realize that if we wanted to impact real change, we couldn’t leave men out of the discussion,” says Hariton. “After all, they represent 95 percent of the CEOs in this country, and they have to be on board. If you just leave it to women to try to impact change, it’s not going to happen as quickly or as deeply.”

Hariton is optimistic that women will be poised to adapt to the future of work and continue to make advancements in the workplace. She frequently cites the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index. This survey of 230 companies demonstrates that investors favor companies that have shown genuine commitment to gender equality and that outperform those that do not.

Still, she is no Pollyanna and knows that there are still tremendous obstacles. She cites two persistent issues: the pyramid effect and the challenges for women of color.

The pyramid effect describes how at entry-level positions, the proportion of women and men is close to parity. However, at the middle-management level, women are just 25 percent of the workforce, and at the CEO level less than 5 percent. “This demonstrates that there are still a lot of obstacles for women aspiring to reach the top of an organization,” Hariton says. “This has a lot to do with culture and with stereotypes of what a leader is. One good example is the Goldilocks syndrome—where women are considered either too soft or too hard, but never just right.”

Women of color face an even greater uphill battle to the top of the pyramid, says Hariton. For example, overall, 22 percent of corporate board members at Fortune 500 companies are women—but only 4.6 percent are women of color. Recently, Catalyst presented research on the emotional tax on women of color. This research shows that they feel differently from their colleagues in the workplace, and that the sense of being an outsider affects retention, effectiveness, absenteeism, and much more. Catalyst received a grant from Alitera for its Woman on Board program, which is focused on preparing women of color for corporate boards in part by matching them with mentors or sponsors on those boards.

The other persistent obstacle for women’s advancement is the pay equity chasm. According to Catalyst research, the overall pay equity gap in the United States is 19 percent (women earn 81 percent of what men earn). The gap is even wider for women of color; for example, black women earn 74 percent of what workers overall earn. And for all women in management, business, and financial operations occupations, the gap is 76 percent.

Hariton says there are many ways to address this gap. She cites government initiatives in Australia and Canada that require companies to measure gender pay equity issues. Simply by measuring and reporting the data, the gap began to close.
The gender inclusion and pay gap is much greater in some STEM fields, in particular IT. Hariton believes that data analy-tics may be an avenue for women to advance in tech. It is a rising field with great career opportunity.

“I believe data analytics is becoming even more important than coding, and it is a future career opportunity that doesn’t yet have some of the baggage that professions like other IT fields carry,” she says “Many organizations are working on teaching this skill, even the Girl Scouts.”

It’s obvious that Hariton likes to think big, which makes sense. After all, if we are entering a phase of work that is as seismic as the Industrial Revolution, big thinkers are the ones who will create change. “The last 20 years have been flat and frustrating for women,” she acknowledges. “But things are changing in terms of millennial values, globalization, technology, the #MeToo movement—we are at a critical moment in time, and I am so excited about being at Catalyst now. We have a chance to make major changes, just as in the Industrial Revolution. If in 20 years we want to have a more equitable workplace environment for all, where everyone has a chance to meet their full potential, we need to seize the moment.” DW

Jackie Krentzman is editor in chief at Diversity Woman.

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