Lorraine Hariton of Catalyst: 5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society

We’re at a pivotal moment. Change does not happen linearly where it just goes up one percent per year, for example. People have said that based on the numbers, we won’t have pay equity for centuries. But progressive change happens when there are crises like this. This is when we need to seize the moment and make real change. I like this quote by Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to make it.” That’s what we’re trying to do–we’re making the future we want to see. We all have a part in it–whether we’re at home thinking about issues around childcare, working as first-line managers trying to create the right environment, or leading large organizations or countries, leadership matters.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Lorraine Hariton.

Catalyst’s vision and mission have been a passion for Lorraine Hariton since college. Lorraine’s career has benefited tremendously from Catalyst’s work, and she is honored to lead the organization at this crucial time, to pay it forward to future generations, and to help write the next chapter in its 58-year legacy of accelerating positive change for women.

Lorraine brings a strong and diverse background in technology, innovation, and partnering to her role as President & CEO. Her extensive career includes senior-level positions in Silicon Valley, as well as leadership roles across the private, nonprofit, and government sectors. She served as CEO of two Silicon Valley start-ups and held senior executive roles at IBM and other public companies. In 2009, she was appointed by President Obama to be Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the US Department of State. Most recently, Lorraine was Senior Vice President for Global Partnerships at the New York Academy of Sciences.

Lorraine has been involved in women’s advancement leadership initiatives throughout her career. At the New York Academy of Sciences, she was instrumental in creating the Global STEM Alliance and its 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures program, a global mentoring initiative to help girls pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

At the US Department of State, Lorraine established the Global Entrepreneurship Program, the WECREATE program for women entrepreneurs, and the Secretary’s Council on Women’s Leadership. She has served on several boards of organizations committed to the advancement of women in the workplace, including the UN Women Global Innovation Coalition for Change, the Stanford Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and Watermark.

Lorraine is the proud mother of Glen and Laura and enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, Moses and Alma, as often as possible. She is an accomplished triathlete who enjoys cycling, tennis, and all things outdoors. Lorraine holds a BS in Mathematical Sciences from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Lorraine! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up on Long Island with a very strong mother. My mom was originally a teacher, and when we were school age, she went back to get a PhD in Psychology and ended up becoming a clinical psychologist. She actually did her PhD in women’s sexual fantasies and was published on the cover of Psychology Today in 1972. My mother set a really good example for women having careers, especially in those days when there weren’t a lot of role models for girls and young women in certain fields. I also have dyslexia, and because my mother was a psychologist, she was able to identify this very early on, which was hugely beneficial to me. While I wasn’t great at reading and verbal communication, I excelled in organization and mathematics. I ended up going into computer science in the mid-70s, early in the evolution of the tech world, which shaped my whole career. I think my experience with dyslexia and entry point in the tech world was helpful to build grit and resilience, which are things that have been important to my success.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

One book I really enjoyed was Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book is about Abraham Lincoln and his leadership styles. I responded strongly at first read, and it’s proven even more important in my role leading Catalyst. Lincoln was known for bringing his rivals into his cabinet, surrounding himself with people who thought differently than him, and for embracing those diverse points of view. That’s real inclusive leadership, which is what we strive for at Catalyst. Lincoln had the humility to listen to what other people had to say and the courage to move forward on things that were very controversial. This book really highlights how he was an inclusive leader in his day.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Major on your majors. What I mean by that is to figure out what your great strengths are and lean into those for your success. Especially when you’re managing a larger organization, surround yourself with people who compliment your strengths. A marathon runner has very different basic strengths than a sprinter, for example. To be successful in any sport, you need to figure out where you’re going to be most effective. For me, I understood I was good at organizational skills and had a knack for sales. Coming into Catalyst, I focused on using these strengths and my fundraising experience to build our major gifts arsenal. Of course, it’s always important to work on your weaknesses, too. But you really need to major on your strengths.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is a combination of vision, motivation, and alignment. Leadership means being able to have a vision and a clear direction that will allow you to inspire people to align behind what you’re trying to accomplish. That’s what we do at Catalyst–I set a vision for the organization to accelerate women into leadership roles. Every day, we aim to build a culture that makes it easy for people to feel passionate about our mission. We put into place a strategic plan to drive change through research and to develop practical tools and resources that companies can use to create equitable workplaces. And then we work to align people so that they can feel connected and be productive around that mission. Leadership is a combination of having this vision and the ability to bring people along for the ride.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I do some meditation, and before major events, I try to do short one-minute meditations or breathing exercises. I try to depersonalize things and not be too emotional. Regarding the pandemic, I try to reduce the uncertainty in these uncertain times by making decisions with the information we have and with dispassionate clarity and by giving clear direction. I exercise every day to help relieve stress, and I always make time for my family and grandchildren.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

This crisis is now three crises coming together: We have the health crisis that’s created an economic crisis that also, in the United States in particular, created a social justice crisis around race. But they’re all interconnected because of ingrained inequities in our society. Financial inequality is at the highest time since the Gilded Age, and the racial inequities that are exposed here have been around for centuries. The economic and health issues are laying bare these inequities, exposing our vulnerabilities. What is clear is that we’re all in this together. This virus does not care where you live or what your status is–it’s exposed our common humanity and elevated a need for the common good.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

As an organization, Catalyst supports advancing women in the workplace and creating diverse and equitable initiatives to support that mission. We know that companies that have a more diverse culture and practices are critical to advancing women and underrepresented minorities. Because of all our supporters and the power of our board, Catalyst is in a unique place to help influence that. We work with our supporters to help them talk the talk and walk the walk–or walk the talk–and make a real impact. In my role as CEO, I am in an influential position to do that. We see CEOs leaning into this right now because of this focus on equity. They started to look at this before the pandemic. We saw a move from shareholder to stakeholder capital, more of a focus on ESG, and an understanding that corporations are really trying to address a broad set of their constituency. And now with a focus on the inequities that are laid bare, there’s even more of that.

Catalyst is in a very important position to help drive that and really seize the moment — a moment that has really been turbocharged.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Research has repeatedly shown that diverse teams are more competitive and have better results. Equity is critical to attracting and retaining top talent. Diverse teams make better decisions for organizations and are more innovative. All this leads to better financial performance. In this stakeholder vs. shareholder economy, there’s also more pressure than ever before from investors for corporations to lean into diversity.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Catalyst is highly focused on large corporations and broader societal issues as they relate to our mission. In order to have a truly inclusive, representative, and equitable society, we need real change from corporate and political leaders.

  1. Stand up and walk the talk. That’s the first step leaders need to take.
  2. Hold people accountable to this, which means leaders need to measure, make those numbers available, and understand what they mean.
  3. Create an inclusive environment that allows for equity. This means cultural changes around inclusive leadership, hiring and promotion practices, and providing the right benefits, like paid family leave, flexible work schedules, and reskilling employees.
  4. Lean into leading with empathy. Help people understand what that means, so they understand where people are coming from and relate to them.
  5. Build trust within your team. They need to trust you as the leader to make the right decisions for the organization, and you need to empower them to contribute to the mission and continue to build on the foundation you created.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders have recognized that work has changed in profound ways, and it’s never going back to the way it was. We have a huge opportunity for corporate leaders to assess what they value, how they lead, and how their teams work together. We can design a more equitable, inclusive, and fulfilling workplace in which people can belong, contribute, and thrive. Catalyst has mapped out five strategies that will turbocharge the journey to a more inclusive future of work.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

We’re at a pivotal moment. Change does not happen linearly where it just goes up one percent per year, for example. People have said that based on the numbers, we won’t have pay equity for centuries. But progressive change happens when there are crises like this. This is when we need to seize the moment and make real change. I like this quote by Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict the future is to make it.” That’s what we’re trying to do–we’re making the future we want to see. We all have a part in it–whether we’re at home thinking about issues around childcare, working as first-line managers trying to create the right environment, or leading large organizations or countries, leadership matters. We all have a part to play in creating a more equitable society. That and climate change are the top two issues we have to deal with.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Andrew Cuomo. I think that he’s shown extraordinary leadership during the pandemic that’s given me confidence in New York at this time. I admire him, and he’s also someone who might read this. I also have a great deal of admiration for Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, and would love to sit down with him. And I definitely wouldn’t turn down the chance for a lunch with Michelle Obama. She remains one of the people I most admire.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.facebook.com/catalystinc

https://www.instagram.com/catalystinc/

https://www.youtube.com/user/CatalystClips

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lorrainehariton/

https://www.linkedin.com/company/catalystinc/

https://www.catalyst.org/media-release/workplace-gender-equity-covid-19/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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