The word “superhero” conjures up images of capes, masks, lots of Lycra, and extraordinary powers. And based on decades of pop culture imagery, it’s usually a male hero saving the day. However, thanks to the incredible success of the recent Wonder Woman movie, we are currently experiencing a much-needed burst of superhero equality! But I digress. There’s actually another kind of heroism I want to talk about today. And it’s just as powerful.
It doesn’t happen in comic books or on movie screens. It happens at work, when everyday heroes in ordinary blouses, pants, skirts, and suits—women and men—speak up and take a stand for whom and what they believe in.
For instance, early in my career a senior woman I worked for recommended me for a “hot job.” I didn’t even know the role existed, but she did and thought it would be a great fit for me. She advocated for me, and because of her sponsorship, I got the job. That role positioned me as a leader and opened the door for future opportunities.
Similarly, years later, a partner in a consulting firm told me that if I ever considered transitioning from the public to the private sector, to talk to him first. He said he’d be happy to give me advice and help me make the switch. I eventually did reach out and with his support and endorsement my career took a completely different turn as a management consultant.
And then a former colleague recommended me to the recruiter who ultimately brought me to Catalyst and changed the course of my life and career. A simple introduction from someone in my extended network made a huge difference.
The consistent theme was people “vouching” for me. Because I changed industries—from government to private sector to nonprofit—I was moving into roles, organizations, and industries where I didn’t have established networks or a proven track record. These “introductions” made all the difference. And in most cases, one call or message from one of these sponsors made it possible for me to get in the door, showcase my skills and experience, and land these new roles. Sponsorship is a small investment but it can achieve incredible things, kind of like the corporate version of a superpower.
We know from research that this type of advocacy and sponsorship is vital for women to advance. Women need someone in their corner. Someone putting their names forward, touting their capabilities. Someone willing to put his or her reputation on the line to vouch for them and overcome some of the entrenched biases that may be at play. The Catalyst CEO Champions For Change (Catalyst Champions) are those kind of people. They are standing up and advocating for the women in their organizations.
More than 50 CEOs have signed our pledge, committing to advance more women, including women of color, into leadership positions and onto their corporate boards. And they’re already moving the needle. Today, we’re releasing the first report on our Catalyst Champion companies’ performance in advancing women. It’s called Everyday Heroes: Catalyst CEO Champions For Change. The good news? As a group, these companies are outperforming their S&P 500 peers in advancing women into leadership. They have more women (as a percentage) in board seats, executive positions, senior leaders, and mid- and first-level managers than the S&P 500 average. And, as a group, they are doing somewhat better at advancing the representation of women of color, a group of women that is particularly disadvantaged in the workplace. However, we all agree there is much more work to do.
Like so many of my former colleagues, these CEOs are everyday heroes. Ordinary—although powerful—people doing intentional, committed, incremental, and sometimes even extraordinary things day-in and day-out to advance a cause they believe in. They aren’t satisfied with the status quo and are doing their part to make change happen.
I’m honored to be working with this group of individuals and so proud of what we’re doing together. We absolutely need people at the top of business (and government) to make things happen, but we also need people on the ground—individuals like my former colleagues—working within their organizations, at all levels, to help women they believe in. Because that’s what it’s going to take to turn this ship: all of us doing our part as everyday heroes to champion change.
Monumental change rarely comes with one big bang. It’s the cumulative effect of many small changes. We still have a lot of work to do, but I know that together we can, and will, make change happen.
A heartfelt “thank you” to our Catalyst Champion CEOs for doing their part to build workplaces that work for women—because progress for women is progress for everyone. And it’s our collective responsibility to drive it. So how can you help champion change? Start today. Just start. Find a woman in your organization and become her champion. No superhero cape required