When I started my MBA at Harvard Business School (HBS) a year ago, I had clear image of what I wanted to do for my summer internship, and that was work at an organization that promotes gender equality in the workplace. Catalyst was at the top of my list, as I saw the potential to combine my background in consulting with my passion for diversity and inclusion (D&I) at an organization that has been accelerating progress for women in the workplace since the 1960s. I decided to apply, and after going through the recruiting process, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer to join Catalyst’s Consulting Services Team at their office in New York City!
When I walked into the office for the first time I couldn’t help but pause for a moment in the entrance to stare at the panel behind the reception desk. It read, “Catalyst: Workplaces That Work for Women.” At that moment I knew I was in the right place.
My summer as a Catalysta flew by! Since it has come to a close, I’ve had time to reflect on what was an extremely positive, eye-opening, and educational experience. Now I want to share the three key aspects of working at Catalyst that stood out to me. Not only do they make Catalyst a great place to work, but they also represent important lessons that I intend to bring with me to my future professional life in order to create positive change at the organization I work at next.
1. Bring your heart to work
As part of the Catalyst Consulting Team, I had the opportunity to help promote and encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace among various companies in different industries. I experienced firsthand how Catalyst’s work can be a true game-changer for both employees and organizations.
It was an honor to put my skills to work for a cause I truly believe in. As a former management consultant, I was already comfortable with the typical strategies consultants use to approach and solve business problems. Nevertheless, the content of the work was like nothing I’ve done before. The data we gathered was more than counting and calculating rates, and the interviews we conducted went beyond a simple check-in with the client. Everything was deeply personal and impacted employees’ lives in the office and beyond.
Our objective was never limited to increasing productivity and innovation at work; it was also—and most importantly—about creating an environment where people feel valued, a sense of trust, and that they can be their authentic selves, both at work and outside of work. I learned that promoting D&I can help change employees’ mindsets not just within the workplace, but also beyond. It can truly impact people’s lives in a long-lasting way. As I was touched at a human level by the type of work I was doing, I will not hide the fact that at challenging moments my heart was racing—but every heartbeat was an additional push for my brain to go faster and do better.
Working with companies to help them develop new D&I strategies was incredibly rewarding for me from both a personal and professional perspective.
2. Living and breathing D&I
D&I is truly embedded in the culture at Catalyst. On numerous occasions I participated in conversations that may not have occurred at more traditional companies with unwritten rules such as “Don’t bring home to work.” I’ve learned that often what affects you in your personal life is going to affect you in your professional one too. Concerns that employees may have as women, mothers, people of color, LGBTQ+, or any other element of diversity often span all aspects of their lives. D&I isn’t just about feeling good. It does good. Therefore, it is important for organizations to follow Catalyst’s example and create safe spaces where employees can share and acknowledge their thoughts, improve dialogue and mutual understanding, and ultimately promote a more inclusive culture. Having an inclusive culture means that employees may become more innovative, have greater mutual respect for one another, and as a result, teams can work together more effectively.
Diversity at Catalyst also positively impacted my day-to-day life. My previous work experiences had been alongside predominantly male teams. Working at Catalyst meant that I was surrounded by inspiring women role models, which was a refreshing change of pace.
3. Flexibility in the workplace works
Catalyst has a global presence, with offices in the United States, Canada, and Europe, as well as consultants working from India, Australia, and Japan.
Many employees at Catalyst use flexible work arrangements. There is absolutely no stigma if people choose to work from home. Additionally, many employees work virtually on a permanent basis, including my former supervisor, Betsy Bagley, Vice President of Consulting Services at Catalyst. Before I started at Catalyst I was curious as to how this would work, especially for a team that frequently interacts with clients. However, my doubts quickly dissipated as I saw how well technology and strong teamwork and communication can effectively support virtual work. From video calls to instant messaging to screen sharing, there are countless ways to collaborate from different locations. But the work culture must support and encourage working flexibly.
Flexible work is important for many reasons, from retaining the best talent, to increasing employees’ motivation, to building a sense of trust. Integrating work and personal life in an effective way is one of the biggest challenges workers face, and one of the factors that can lead women to downsize their career aspirations. But with all the available technologies that facilitate working virtually, in many cases a workplace culture that equates the number of hours employees spend at the office with how hard they’re working is one of the real obstacles to implementation. And it will become more and more of a business imperative to offer flexibility in the workplace; many high-potential employees may demand it, and if they do not have it, they may choose to take their skills elsewhere. Working at Catalyst showed me how well flexible work arrangements can work and that offering such options is beneficial to both the employees and the company. My experience as an intern on the Consulting Services Team at Catalyst has deeply touched me at a human level and has reinforced my passion for D&I in the workplace. I also feel humbled to have been awarded two fellowships to support my work at Catalyst, one from the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School and the second from Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Initiative.
I could not be more grateful for the trust that has been placed in me by my university and by Catalyst. I will treasure this experience and build on it, both in my last year at HBS—by promoting gender equity on campus as co-President of the Women’s Student Association—and after graduation, by fostering D&I in organizations.