Diversity Woman Magazine

FALL 2016

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

Issue link: https://diversitywoman.epubxp.com/i/730428

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Page 37 of 59

36 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N Fa l l 2 0 1 6 d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m ' ' S orry, do you hear the lawn mower in the background?" Deborah Gillis, the president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Catalyst, is sitting in her summer home on Cape Bret- on Island, Nova Scotia, conduct- ing a phone interview. For her, this is no big deal. In fact, if she didn't work from home some- times, that might even be con- sidered suspect, as Catalyst, the leading national organization for research on woman's leadership and equity, is committed to "walking the walk." Given Catalyst's long-standing support of workplace flexibility, it logically follows that the CEO would set an example by, well, spending a week or so each summer work- ing in flip-flops and shorts. "To put it bluntly, we work really hard to practice what we preach," she says. "And, it's really important for Catalyst to set an example for corporations and organizations across the United States and Canada, demonstrating that workplace flex- ibility not only isn't detrimental to an organization's success, but is integral, as this sort of flexibility brings a benefit not only to employees but to the organization, in terms of engagement, effectiveness, and productivity." Gillis took the helm of Catalyst, which also has operations in Japan, Australia, India, and Europe, in 2014, as just its fourth leader in its 54-year history. At the time, it was in the process of shifting its focus from an organization that concentrated largely on research to one that also offered solution-based program- ming, grounded in that research, directly to other organizations and companies. e transformation has accelerated under Gillis. In part generated by its research, Catalyst has expanded its reach to be responsive to the evolution in thinking about gender equality in the workplace and society. Gillis divides the evolving landscape into three phases. e first phase of the fight for equality for women was sim- ply for fundamental rights, such as voting. en the emphasis shifted to numbers—equity for women in the workplace and on the paycheck. During this phase (in many instances still ongo- ing), corporations have focused on increasing representation— oftentimes relying on the data from Catalyst that demonstrat- ed the woeful lack of women leaders in the upper echelons of Corporate America. Gillis calls this the "why" phase: Why do we need to pay attention? Why is gender equity in the workplace important, and what is the business case for it? In the last few years, Catalyst has moved into a third phase. Diversity and inclusion leaders have recognized that increasing the representation of women in the workforce alone is insuffi- cient. ere are still significant barriers to advancement. ere- fore, if workplace diversity is not married to a true commitment to inclusion, it rings hollow and, more importantly, leads to dis- illusionment and can ultimately stifle a company's bottom line. Catalyst has been at the forefront of this shift from diversity to inclusion—what Gillis calls the "how" agenda (see sidebar on page 39). Now that Catalyst and other organizations have am- ply documented the barriers to women's advancement in the workplace, Catalyst is putting its resources into driving change. Under Gillis's stewardship, it has increasingly provided more consulting, training programs, and other direct services, along with organizing conferences and events, all in the name of guid- ing companies along the path to true inclusion. "In this third phase of the agenda, companies are saying, okay, I have bought in, and we are committed to becoming more in- clusive. But show me how," Gillis says. "is has led Catalyst to think more about and develop programmatic solutions that are grounded in our research and what we've learned over the years. We believe that we can play a pivotal role in providing tested solutions that actually work to drive change." Accordingly, Catalyst has conducted extensive research and developed programs around inclusive leadership. Its research findings have demonstrated the key qualities and characteris- tics of inclusive leaders and, in turn, how to best train qualified, aspiring woman leaders to advance. Just as importantly, it has developed programs to train organizations how to identify and nurture those candidates. When successful, the result is a win- win for the individuals and the company. G illis is the perfect leader for Catalyst today, as her life and work embody all three phases. She was born in Toronto and raised in rural Nova Sco- tia, where her family goes back generations. Her father held a series of blue-collar jobs, including truck driver, mine worker, and construction worker. Her mother was a stay- at-home mom when Gillis was young, then became a house- keeper in town. Gillis was raised with strong female role models, including her great-grandmother, and was imbued with the value of giv- ing back to one's family and community. Education was empha- sized, but nobody in her family or town encouraged Gillis to aspire high and dream big.

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