More Women in Leadership: How, Why, and When
Why has it taken so long to diversify senior leadership? Why is this an opportune moment to make change in the world of business? Recently, Catalyst President and CEO Lorraine Hariton sat down with “Women in Leadership” podcaster Angie Mezzetti in Dublin to discuss these questions and more. Below is an excerpt.
Listen to the full podcast here.
Angie Mezzetti: Can you tell us about your new role with Catalyst?
Lorraine Hariton: Sure. I’m CEO of Catalyst. And our focus has been around making workplaces that work for women. I think that this is a really extraordinary time because the consciousness has been raised coming off the #MeToo movement.
But also, they’re starting to understand that to be competitive, to be innovative, to attract the best talent, they’ve got to have inclusive culture set up so everyone can reach their full potential. I think that I’ve been really fortunate to take on this role at Catalyst at a time of real change.
All the research has shown that diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative, that companies that have more inclusive cultures are more competitive. They get better results, and they attract talent. Also, stakeholders—whether it’s investors, employees, or consumers—are looking for that. And it’s part of the company’s brand.
What stops women from getting ahead in companies?
Despite all the changes that happen, we are still dealing with the culture that was developed in the Industrial Revolution, that still has a male privilege. So, we have a lot of unconscious bias; everyone’s biased in different ways. But people don’t always recognize those biases. We have stereotypes. For example, people think women take care and men take charge. Their view of what a woman is, or what a leader is, is really a male stereotype.
And these unconscious biases work their way into the promotion system. People tend to promote people who are like themselves. So, we need to be very intentional on how we approach this, and it’s cultural change. This isn’t just about changing the women; it’s about changing the culture. I want to lead corporations to really be the leader behind that because we have a great coalition at Catalyst to make that happen.
Can you tell me a little bit about your own career? You majored in mathematics, is that right?
I did. And when I was a child, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I’m very good at organization and about mathematical thinking, but not so good at reading. And my mother—who became a psychologist after she went back to school in the 60s—had me diagnosed and helped me with that.
But when I was in college, I was taking calculus. My math teacher said I should look at computers. So, I did an independent study. I learned how to program, and I decided I loved it. And I transferred to Stanford. I got a degree in math, computer science, statistics, and operations research, which allowed me to then work my first job in the operations research department at American Airlines.
And then I decided that I wanted something that was more networking and people-oriented. And I went to work for IBM, which was the place to be in those days.
I left there in 1993 and worked for a couple of mid-sized companies as a senior executive. Then I became an entrepreneur around the time of the internet bubble and ran two tech companies and raised about $50 million in venture capital.
I got involved with Hillary Clinton and her campaign in 2006 to become president of the United States. I became a big fundraiser for her. And I went to work for her at the State Department as a special representative for commercial business affairs.
How do we engage younger men?
Michael Dell is on our board. Michael has been a real advocate of the MARC (Men Advocating Real Change) program. And he’s a great role model. And when the top leadership makes this a priority, then it goes through the whole organization.
And in Silicon Valley, in particular, [there are] excellent role models, like Marc Benioff at Salesforce. He actually implemented pay equity across the whole company. At Uber, they have a new CEO who’s going to be coming on the Catalyst board; he was just elected. And he’s really trying to change the culture there.
The job requirements in the future have to be more 21st century skills in the STEM area, including things like creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking. These are things that are beyond whether you’re a great Python coder. If you can’t be agile, communicate, evolve, you’re not going to have a job 20 years from now. And just hiring the best gamer is not going to cut it.
Do we need to start a lot younger with younger women getting to do the STEM subjects?
I think we definitely do. If you saw the movie Hidden Figures, or the Enigma, there were a lot of women in data processing. But in the early 90s, it went off a cliff. That had to do with when the computer went into the home, went into the boys’ room, and they started doing games. And then the girls decided this was not a girl thing to do. And we’ve been fighting that cultural issue for the last 30 years or so.
So, I think that we need to go into the schools and educate the girls around that. We need to be partnered with corporations that can lead the way because the people in the education system are not trained in these things. Things are moving so fast; the education systems can’t keep up.
And we need to do reskilling, even within corporations. AT&T has a reskilling program that they’re retraining 50% of the 200,000-person workforce in these skills. The world is changing so fast that the jobs that we talk about today are not the jobs of tomorrow.
What would your top three tips be to other women who are thinking about going into leadership roles?
- Go to organizations where there are is an inclusive culture, where there are role models, where they can get sponsorship and support and proactively manage their career.
- You can do it all but not all the same time.
- Major on your majors. Understand what you’re really good at, and what you can bring to the table. Coming into Catalyst, I really focused on seeing if I could make a real impact in terms of bringing new Supporters on and bringing some major gifts in. I can make an impact on that, because that is my strength.
Listen to the full podcast here.