Based on Catalyst research and my personal experience, I believe that humility, courage, and a willingness to disrupt the default are the traits most... Deborah Gillis – Catalyst
Deborah photo for PDJ CEO in Action issue_web

Deborah Gillis

Deborah Gillis
President and CEO, Catalyst

“Based on Catalyst research and my personal experience, I believe that humility, courage, and a willingness to disrupt the default are the traits most essential to successful leadership. Small moments can have a big impact on innovation, performance, and productivity.”

  • Catalyst Headquarters: New York, NY
  • Education: Master of Arts, York University, Toronto, Canada
  • First Job: Policy Analyst, Government of Ontario 
  • What I’m Reading: Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann; and The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
  • Best Advice: Make time to nurture your relationships at work and at home, and give yourself permission to take risks.

At Catalyst, we believe that inclusive leadership is essential to driving innovation in the 21st century—which is why we equip our member organizations with the knowledge, insights, and tools they need to create workplaces where women and men of all backgrounds can thrive. Through our research, events, and services, we shine the spotlight on extraordinary initiatives that advance women and inclusion, and recognize achievements in this arena with our prestigious annual Catalyst Award.

Catalyst is a global nonprofit with operations across the United States and Canada, as well as in Europe, India, Australia, and Japan; and more than 800 supporting member organizations worldwide. In January 2014, I became the organization’s fourth president in its 52-year history—and, as a Canadian, the first from outside of the United States.

Based on Catalyst research and my personal experience, I believe that humility, courage, and a willingness to disrupt the default are the traits most essential to successful leadership. Small moments can have a big impact on innovation, performance, and productivity. That’s why good leaders are mindful of what makes employees feel included—and excluded.

I’m committed to fostering an inclusive and transparent workplace. When I became CEO, I met with every member of our staff. Like my predecessor, I chair our Diversity and Inclusion Action Council, which ensures that Catalyst “walks the inclusion walk.” I’m committed to expanding our research on women of color. And I am founder and chair of our Millennial employee resource group. Monthly meetings let me hear what’s on the minds of junior and mid-level staffers in a relaxed setting.

To keep our decision-making processes transparent and senior staff accountable, I share staff-wide updates on Executive Committee meetings, reflections on my work-related travels, and news from sessions with our Board of Directors. I also keep regular office hours and an open door.

Of the many things I’ve learned during my first year as CEO, one of the most important is how crucial inclusive leadership is to enabling employees to do their best work. I’ve also learned that while admitting mistakes can feel risky, it’s well worth the effort. The best leaders know that employees would rather work for people who recognize and value the talents of others—and are honest about their own shortcomings

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