July 30, 2015 — After three years of working at Catalyst, I’ve learned a lot about women in the workplace.
My peers, especially other young women I know who are just starting out in their careers, are often surprised at the barriers they face or have seen other women face at work. These obstacles are especially troubling in light of the equality we experienced in our childhoods and academic careers, where our paths felt relatively even with those of our male peers.
Catalyst puts out a lot of important research, but friends were always asking, “Can’t you just give me a few pointers on how to get ahead?”
As I leave Catalyst for business school, I’ve been thinking about the top three lessons I’ve shared with them during my time at Catalyst, all of which I plan to apply to my own life and career going forward:
Look for other women: My work at Catalyst has focused on increasing boardroom diversity, and I’ve written about why young women should care about the diversity of corporate boardrooms. When they’re considering taking a new job, I advise my friends to look at the diversity of the new company’s board and C-suite. Should they turn down an offer from a company with no women in leadership? Not necessarily. It’s important to follow your gut—but also be mindful of the fact that women at the top make a difference in ways big and small, so at least look at the numbers before you accept an offer.
Once you accept an offer, get to know the other women at your organization! Women sometimes fear getting involved in women’s groups, worrying that it will signal weakness or isolate them from men. Instead of worrying about whether your male colleagues will judge you, think about all of the awesome people you will get to meet and network with. Especially if senior leaders, male or female, are involved with and support your company’s women’s group, it can be a fantastic way to increase your visibility and take on more responsibility. Don’t leave that opportunity on the table!
Find sponsors, not just mentors: The distinction between a mentor (someone you can talk to) and a sponsor (someone who will talk about you) is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned at Catalyst, and one I always try to share with other twentysomethings. Most of the really exciting opportunities I’ve had at Catalyst were not assignments I raised my hand for; they were assignments for which others recommended me. To attract sponsors, it’s important to prove your worth and make clear to those who are in a position to vouch for you that you’re up for anything.
Once you land a big scary assignment (and it should be scary—that’s how you’ll know you’re being challenged) you can always call your mentor to talk you through it.
Engage men: Something I love that I never cared about before I came to work at Catalyst? Paternity leave. It’s good for moms, it helps dads to be better parents, and it’s a pretty simple way for companies and men to get involved in making change. Yet only 14% of employers in the United States offer it. Before you take a job, find out if your company has a paternity leave policy—and better yet, if any men use it.
Taking paternity leave is only one of many ways men can help level the playing field at work. Invite men to participate in “women’s” events, engage them in discussions about diversity, and encourage them to get involved in gender equity efforts. Feminists are made, not born.