Catalyst Celebrates Milestones at 50th Anniversary Conference

catalystawardBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

Yesterday’s 2012 Catalyst Awards Conference was a celebration of landmark achievements. As Catalyst celebrated its 50th anniversary, the organization awarded its annual prize for diversity initiatives to two organizations: the food and facilities management services company Sodexo and Commonwealth Bank, Australia’s leading financial services company.

The two programs represented breakthroughs in diversity. Sodexo’s ROI driven diversity program has increased its number of women in leadership by 74%. Commonwealth has set the tone for diversity in Australia by being the first bank in the country to set targets for attracting, retaining, and promoting senior women.

The program also celebrated another kind of milestone. For the first time ever, two sisters have become Fortune 500 CEOs: Maggie Wilderotter, Chairman and CEO of Frontier Communications, and Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Together, they shared their work and family wisdom during the conference’s lunch panel.

What became clear throughout the event was the importance of leadership – how a dedicated and vocal commitment to diversity from the top can truly shape a company’s culture of inclusion.

Winning Programs: Leadership and Culture

Both winning programs were awarded after a rigorous review by Catalyst. Julie S. Nugent, Catalyst’s Senior Director of Research and Chair of the Catalyst Award Evaluation Committee, remarked that the process “has been described as more intense than an IRS audit.” The organization works to ensure that diversity and inclusion is really lived in the culture of the company as well as in the impact data resulting from each initiative.

But beyond the metrics, the winning initiatives were shepherded through each company by dedicated leaders. Speaking at the event, Commonwealth Bank Managing Director and CEO Ian Narev explained that authenticity is critical for ensuring the success of a diversity initiative. “In large organizations, everyone can see through inauthenticity,” he said. “You are far more transparent than you think you might be.”

The son of Holocaust survivors, he explained that his belief in diversity was based on his own personal morality. He continued, “When you are running a business, morality is important, but you’ve also got to link it to the business value.”

He said that Commonwealth had been successful in its program because of its focus on the business value of diversity. Creating an inclusive environment has enabled the Bank to be sure it is hiring the best people for each job – rather than overlooking female, indigenous, or another underrepresented sources of talent.

George Chavel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sodexo North America, held a similar view on corporate diversity. He explained that, having grown up in a multicultural community in Detroit, he saw the importance of diversity from an early age, which shaped his passion for building an inclusive environment at Sodexo. But what enables that environment to thrive and generate buy-in with other stakeholders in the company is to also communicate the business case.

Additionally, he said Sodexo works to communicate with clients about diversity and inclusion, because it sets the company apart from competitors. “Now part of our brand promise is diverse leadership. In our commoditized business, a low margin business, you need that differentiation.”

Chavel also discussed how he sees the relationship between diversity and inclusion. “Inclusion creates the landscape for [building] diversity,” he said. By creating an inclusive, even playing field, diversity can truly thrive within the company.

CEO Wisdom on Work and Family

Last summer it was announced that Denise Morrison would succeed Doug Conant as CEO of Campbell Soup Company. Compounding the excitement that another woman would be added to the small circle of female Fortune 500 CEOs was the even more remarkable fact that she would be joining her sister Maggie Wilderotter, who has been CEO of Frontier Communications since 2004.

Both women have excelled in their high-powered careers while raising families, noted Ilene Lang, President and CEO of Catalyst. Referencing the changes that have occurred over the past few decades regarding women’s perceived roles at work and home, she continued, “Now that today the working mom is more the norm, we wanted to talk to two working moms… CEOs.”

Lang asked the two women their views on “having it all.” Wilderotter answered, “I think the definition of having it all is different for every person.”

She added, “I think you can have it all in terms of your priorities, but there are trade-offs.”

Morrison continued, “I think one of my particular trade-offs was personal time,” like making time for a manicure, she remarked. “If I were to do something over again, I would have scheduled more personal time.”

It also means making trade-offs at home – and that may take you out of your comfort zone, Wilderotter continued. “As a leader in business, we have a tendency to make a lot of decisions, we have a tendency to take charge.”

But when her husband took on role of primary caregiver at home, she continued, she had to take a step back – and it was challenging at first. “You have to say ‘no, it’s okay for someone else to do that,’ and not take charge.”

She added, “It taught me a lot about business.”

Morrison also felt she had become a better leader after becoming a mother. “I learned prioritization in terms of delegating the tasks, not the responsibility.”

One member of the audience asked the women about their own parents – how had they produced such high achieving women? Morrison answered that their parents had really instilled the importance of performing to the best of their abilities. She added, “Our mother also taught us it’s important to be women. And ambition is part of femininity.”

2 Responses

  1. Thanx for opening my eyes. I coach successful female financial advisors who want to get from where they are to where they want to be in their professional and personal lives…and we have fun doing it. In a commissioned or fee-based business, there is no financial discrimination…I regress, forgive me. In 1983 when I first called the financial services company where I wanted to work I was told by sales management “We don’t do well with women” and I said “I don’t do well with women either…I just want to come in for an interview” So yes, I was faced with discrimination too. If I hadn’t talked my way into the job I would never have had the opportunities it afforded me. However, while I worked shoulder to shoulder with the big boys, I also earned the same as they did, sometimes more. Your raise is effective when you are!
    So how can this work for corporate careers? I’m not a purist so forgive me if you don’t like this suggestion and rejoice if you do. If you have a corporate expertise, plan to build on it…outside of the corporation. Work with a coach and figure out what you enjoy, what you are good at, what your niche is, and how you can monetize. If you have a small, marketable niche, that is terrific. You have the potential of starting your own internet business that can make you a 6 or 7 figure income…all the while in your yoga pants. This is such an exciting time. Check it out…be in control of your work world. And don’t worry, you can start up gradually, while you are still working. There’s a word for that…it’s an Employedpreneur.