NEW YORK, N.Y. – A former Silicon Valley CEO is taking the helm of a prominent organization dedicated to the promotion of women in the workplace, saying the #MeToo era is a “fantastic time” to champion gender equality.
Lorraine Hariton becomes CEO of the group Catalyst at time when sexual misconduct scandals are ensnaring corporate executives, and the departure of PepsiCo’s CEO highlighted the tiny number of women leading Fortune 500 companies.
But Hariton, whose appointment was announced Monday, said the #MeToo movement has pushed the spotlight on gender equality like nothing she has seen since she began her business career at IBM in the 1970s.
“I felt the timing was really fantastic,” Hariton said. “Not only are women in the work place on the front page, there is a major shift in attitude that allows us chart the future of the next generation.”
Hariton previously served as the CEO of two tech startups, Beatnik and Apptera. She served in the State Department under President Barack Obama, and most recently as a senior vice-president at the New York Academy of Sciences.
Catalyst, a research and advocacy institution based in New York City, was founded in 1962 by the late Felice Schwartz, who became known for a controversial 1989 Harvard Business Review article that proposed flexible career paths for working mothers. Other feminists criticized the piece, which gave rise to the term “Mommy Track,” although Schwartz herself did not use those words.
Since then, support has risen for policies designed to encourage both parents to remain in the workforce through policies that allow flexible hours and extended family leave.
Hariton, a mother of two, said it was IBM’s culture of encouraging reasonable working hours that drew to her the company after earning her MBA from Harvard Business School in 1977. She noted that IBM and other companies have instituted more formal policies and programs designed to attract female talent.
Finding policies that work has been touch-and-go, however. IBM, for example, scaled back its popular remote-work program last year.
And only a sliver of leadership posts at Fortune 500 companies, about 5 per cent, are held by women, according to Catalyst.
Women are also being left behind in the proliferation of tech startups. Catalyst points to a 2017 study by Babson and Wellsley College that found that 97 per cent of venture capitalist funding goes to companies led by male CEOs.
That issue is of special interest to Hariton, who said she raised $50 million in venture capital during her time at Silicon Valley. She said promoting diversity in male-dominated venture capitalist firms needs to be priority.
“The culture in technology is moving so fast that you end up with a young culture that is more like a frat environment, which makes it more difficult for women,” she said.