March 17, 2016 — The champagne from celebrating this year’s Catalyst Award winner has barely lost its bubbles, and it’s already time to apply for the 2017 Catalyst Award (deadline June 3, 2016). This also marks 30 years since the Catalyst Award began to recognize organizational approaches to gender inclusion.
Since 1987, the Catalyst Award has been honoring organizational initiatives that have been successful in addressing barriers to women’s advancement and creating more inclusive work environments for all employees. Multiple generations of Catalyst staff have been part of the effort of exploring, evaluating, identifying, and then celebrating the 85 initiatives that have won the Award to date. The year-long evaluation process requires extraordinary teamwork and dedication and engages everyone at Catalyst, across regions, departments, and functions. Companies and firms that have participated in the Catalyst Award evaluation process know what I mean when I say there is a lot of work involved, and that we continue to raise the bar in our assessments.
The Catalyst Award evaluation process is unique in that it is not about fulfilling requirements in a straightforward checklist or meeting a benchmark of diversity programs and activities. We evaluate each component of an Award nomination in depth and over the course of several months through workforce metrics analysis, phone and in-person interviews and focus groups, and on-site visits to understand how the programs are lived within the organization.
The Catalyst Award process and winners have evolved in many ways in the past 30 years, mirroring the change that has been happening in the workplace. The 1987 Catalyst Award was a first step in recognizing the important role that companies play in advancing women in the workplace. At the time, the focus was on targeted efforts to help bring women into the workplace, such as childcare, eldercare, referral services, and employee networks for women.
Throughout the years, winning initiatives have become more sophisticated and broader in scope. We started to see more complex and integrated efforts, where individual programs and activities are embedded into organizational structures and cultures. The Award criteria evolved to reflect these changes. While we continue to highlight gender inclusion, we also started pay attention to the ways in which initiatives benefit employees across other intersecting dimensions of diversity and across regions.
I see the Catalyst Award as a great opportunity to highlight a variety of approaches to inclusion and share information about programs, activities, and practices that drive change. Award-winning initiatives are successful models for change; they can provide others with knowledge and tools to effect meaningful progress when it comes to inclusion.
The Catalyst Award is also inspirational. Listening to individuals’ and organizations’ stories about overcoming challenges and creating better workplaces can energize others to do the same. I consistently hear from organizations about how they were inspired by hearing about and celebrating Award-winning initiatives at our Conference and Dinner.
If your company is doing great work in the area of diversity and inclusion and you’d like to share your story, inspire change, and celebrate your accomplishments, consider nominating your strategies and initiatives for the Catalyst Award. It is a great opportunity for a company to engage with Catalyst and get an external perspective into their organization’s culture.
If your initiative is eligible and meets the criteria to move forward with the application, consider these tips from previous winners:
Gather a diverse working team upfront. “Don’t forget this requires strong communications support—in submitting the application, engaging the organization, creating PR material, making a video, etc.”
Working with a team can help to determine the scope of your nomination—and ensure that key players understand the process and are engaged from the outset.
Allocate time and resources to the process. “It truly is a ‘rigorous year-long examination’… it was more work than we had anticipated but of course worth the effort.”
Consider the implications of moving through the eight months of the evaluation process, so that you are prepared and can make the best out the knowledge and experience that ensues.
Numbers don’t lie! “It’s critical to conduct a thorough data assessment and show results and progress to support the period covering your nomination.”
In order to properly assess a nomination, data are critical. We need to see enough impact metrics to highlight links between programs, activities, and progress. Throughout the process, we ask for data to support your initiative and its progress. Therefore, it is helpful to consider up front, while you are preparing the nomination, what data you have access to and can track internally.
Learn from others. “Take advantage of the experience of past winners – connect with them and review existing materials.”
Previous winners suggest looking at our website and reviewing Award winners’ descriptions—seeing the kinds of initiatives that have won in the past. We also have a number of resources on the “apply” page on our website to help potential nominees think about the process.
Finally, consider this: what is your organization’s diversity and inclusion story? What are you most proud of in terms of the change you have been able to make? What can others learn from your story?
And remember, the Catalyst Award is not about perfection, it is about progress.