Ask Deborah: What’s Catalyst Doing for Women Around the World?

October 5, 2015Recently I traveled to Australia, Japan, and India on behalf of Catalyst. Every time I visit a new country, my understanding of the challenges working women face grows—and so does my optimism about the level of attention paid to these issues and the opportunities for progress. 

My travels began in Australia, where we released our new Australia research linking inclusive leadership to a sense of security that fosters innovation.

Each meeting I attended there reinforced the impact of our work. The importance of engaging men in creating more inclusive workplaces was brought home when I attended an event where a group called Male Champions of Change released its latest progress report. There were about 800 people in the room, 60% of them men. Male CEOs took to the stage to share stories of their actions in support of gender equity and the impact they were having. The CEO of Telstra described the success of the company’s “all roles flex” policy in transforming the organization’s culture through empowerment and accountability.

Another conversation I had was with the leader of a professional services company who described the value of creating a “safe space,” where partners and staff feel they can be open about their own challenges at work. Role modeling courage and humility in this way has led to critical conversations that would never have happened in the past. Clearly, the EACH principles of leadership we’ve uncovered in our research—Empowerment, Accountability, Courage, and Humility—are starting to take hold in Australia!

Japan was a whirlwind—I attended the World Assembly of Women hosted by Prime Minister Abe, a member event featuring Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, and a conference with the Governor of Tokyo. I was particularly struck by Prime Minster Abe’s message: “What matters is not why we need to promote women’s participation in society, but how we achieve it.” By acting as a role model, he is inspiring other men to step forward as well. The day the conference began, the Japanese Parliament passed a new law requiring companies to disclose women’s representation in their organization along with goals and plans for women’s advancement.

I also witnessed many inspiring individual examples of change. The chairman of Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, told conference attendees that his wife continued to succeed in her career after they had children because they viewed raising a family as a shared responsibility. A CEO from the financial services sector talked about setting a deadline for employees to leave the office in an effort to curtail the culture of long hours and face time so common to Japanese companies. And the mayor of one of Tokyo’s boroughs described what it was like to be the first municipal government leader in the country to take paternity leave. 

In a culture where women are expected to leave the workforce and assume primary responsibility for raising children as soon as they become mothers, these stories were truly remarkable. I left Japan very excited about opportunities for Catalyst to contribute to and support the momentum for change that clearly exists there already.

Finally, I am thrilled to report that Catalyst’s first-ever D&I Logues conference in India was a tremendous success!

My “Ah-ha!” moment came as I struggled to understand one of the findings from our newest report on India Inc.: executive-level women leave their companies at a rate double that of their representation (a higher rate of attrition than at any other level). The women I met explained that it’s not only challenging for working mothers to care for young children, but there is also enormous pressure on mothers in India to leave the workforce to supervise their children’s studies in grades 10 and 12; performance on the exams taken in those years determines admission to the top universities—and ensuring children’s success on these exams is viewed as their mothers’ responsibility.

What connects my experiences in each of these countries is the knowledge that although women in business still face significant challenges, more and more leaders are not only aware of these issues, but committed to solving them. It’s wonderful to know that Catalyst is supporting these efforts around the world! That’s good news for women and men, their families and employers, and for economies. 

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.