The Catalyst CEO Champions For Change pledge has recently demonstrated measurable success in its mission to advance more women into senior leadership positions and on to boards. Serena Fong, Catalyst's Vice President, Strategic Engagement, explains how far the organisation has come and how far it still needs to go to fulfil its goals.

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Catalyst is on a global mission to build workplaces that work for women, how do you cover the world?

Catalyst is a not-for-profit organisation headquartered in New York, but we have a presence in other regions around the world. In Europe, we are based in the UK, Switzerland and Germany. We have a large presence in Canada, Japan and Australia and we are starting to do more work in Latin America as well.

We consider ourselves a global organisation, because a lot of what we do in terms of our work around creating workplaces that work for women and getting the corporate world to be more gender inclusive is globally and universally applicable. We come from the perspective that it is not women that need to be changed, it’s the workplace barriers that are preventing women’s advancement into the senior most positions in the corporate world that need to be broken down by the corporations.

Because of that approach, our supportership is corporation-based. Our supporters are the multinational corporations and their employees can tap into all of the resources and tools that we have on our website.

What do you see as the main barriers to women’s advancement in the corporate world?

Gender stereotypes and unconscious bias are clear barriers. And often it’s not the barrier itself, but the perception or manifestation of these barriers.

For example, you may have put in a flexible work policy, but that’s not necessarily the barrier itself, it’s just the manifestation of that barrier. There is still the idea that it’s women who have to be the ones to take care of the home and family. Therefore, the workplace flexibility option is often seen as an accommodation for a few, namely women, versus what it should be, which is a benefit for all, because everybody wants to be able to work flexibly and it shouldn’t really matter why,

That leads into some other variants, such as the closed networks. There is still that ‘all boys club’ that exists. It can be very hard in terms of being able to network, because in workplaces it really is about who you know and, unfortunately, we are still very much in a space where networking is done in ways that shut out others.

If you say “let’s go to the pub after work,” for example, that can be very exclusionary and that’s not only to women, but also to those who might not want a drink or who don’t fit into that environment.

Another barrier that we have identified is access to what we call the ‘hot jobs.’ The jobs that are seen as the ones that are in the profit and loss lines, versus staff lines. Say you have a manager who has such a position and they have two employees, a man and a women, both who are equally qualified and capable. A lot of times what might happen is that the manager, and it can be a man or a women, because we all have unconscious biases, will say, “well the woman, she’s really good, but she either has a family or is going to want a family. I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on her. I will just wait and see if there is another opportunity that I can provide to her.” The manager will then automatically trust the man and offer it to him, regardless of whether or not he has a family or a desire for a family.

In this way, access to many opportunities aren’t given to women, because of the gender stereotypes and the unconscious biases.

How do you address that unconscious bias?

It’s all about intentionality and also recognising that everybody has unconscious bias and that there are steps that you can take to mitigate those biases so that they won’t negatively impact someone’s career.

To have diverse slates for positions, you need to have those talent management and talent developments conversations to find out exactly what the employee is looking to do. Diversify the talent slate for a particular role and evaluate who should advance and it will give you more access to everybody and the opportunity to learn more about your employees.

We have tools on the Catalyst website called ‘Flip the script,’ which talk very much about some of the things that you say and how it can impact a person’s career.

Catalyst is a member service, how do you attract members?

Any organisation can become a Catalyst supporter and get all the benefits of membership and support.

There are also quite a lot of tools and resources on our website that are available to non-members. We are a non-profit, so we like to make a lot of our tools available for anybody.

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