Catalyst Takes Research-Based Approach to Developing Inclusive Workplaces

Originally founded in 1992 with the goal of helping women enter the workforce, Canadian-based nonprofit organization Catalyst is now focused on the workplace itself.

“We realized that it’s strange to have women in the workforce if the workplace is not ready for them, and that caused us to shift our focus from individual women to organizations themselves,” says Deepali Bagati, executive director for Catalyst’s U.S. region.

Deepali Bagati
Deepali Bagati

“Our mission is around expanding opportunities for women and businesses, and we’re very careful about that ‘and’ because we believe — and there’s research that supports this — that it’s not just about women,” she adds. “When you have an inclusive workplace where women and men have equal opportunity to succeed, advance, and lead, it has a ripple effect on the economy and on the community.”

In order to achieve its mission of creating inclusive workplaces in which diverse employees are able to thrive, Catalyst takes a research-based approach. Much of this work has focused on determining the barriers women face and the cultural differences that exist at companies around the world in order to develop best practices.

Through this research, Catalyst is then able to provide its more than 800 members, the majority of which are global corporations and organizations, with tools and services aimed at creating awareness of diversity’s benefits and driving organizational change.

One of Catalyst’s major initiatives is its Inclusive Leadership Learning Experiences, a research-based curriculum aimed at developing inclusive leaders at all levels of an organization. The initiative has three key components: online learning experiences in partnership with edX, blended learning experiences, and experiential learning for employee resource group leaders.

Thus far, Catalyst has launched two online learning experiences focused on inclusive leadership training. The first one, “Becoming a Successful Leader,” reached more than 60,000 people in 200 countries.

Although Catalyst has offices in a handful of countries, Bagati says the Internet allows for much farther reach. “Technology allows us to have a global presence,” she says. “It also allows us to look at nuances in each culture.”

The second component of these learning experiences is a leadership development suite called Leading with Inclusion, a combination of virtual and on-site education created in partnership with global consulting firm BlessingWhite. A complementary service offered only to Catalyst member organizations, this experience consists of a series of six modules that explore strategies for developing leaders who can effectively tap into the benefits of a diverse workforce.

In order to deeply engage with employees, Catalyst launched its Employee Resource Leadership Initiative (ERLI) — the third learning experience. It enables the organization to connect with employee resource group leaders across companies, industries, functions, and regions to share ideas and best practices on how to drive inclusion.

Additional Catalyst research has examined the experiences of women of color in the workplace. The Women of Color Research Initiative seeks to discover not only the barriers these women face, but also what has worked for them in the past and where gaps still exist. With this information, Catalyst is able to offer its members solutions and strategies for improvement.

“[Discovering] situations in which women of color actually feel included and are comfortable sharing their diverse ideas …  is so important nowadays,” says Bagati. “Women of color are increasing in numbers and increasingly getting professional degrees, and that’s a big talent pool; that’s an opportunity.”

Bagati says that Catalyst’s emphasis on research helps lend the organization credibility, but more important, it provides legitimate, fact-based methods for creating inclusive environments.

“At the end of the day, we want inclusive workplaces,” she says. “There are diverse groups of people in the workplace, but unless you have an environment where you can leverage that diversity, [it] doesn’t work very well.”●

Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. For more information on Catalyst, visit