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Wednesday night, I joined 1600 suit-clad executives at the annual we’re-all-for-women-in-leadership schmoozefest, otherwise known as the Catalyst Awards Dinner. Held in the grand ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria, the event was packed so full one could barely squeeze between tables.
We were all there for a good reason: Supporting the efforts of research organization Catalyst, which helps to promote and study the number of women in leadership roles in corporations. A number of companies sponsoring tables at the dinner have an applaudable number of women in senior leadership positions, and provide flexible workplaces and mentorship programs that help women advance.
But still, there was something so self-congratulatory about the evening, it felt at times more like PR than substance. Eighty CEOs of major corporations and professional services firms were on the stage—more top executives in one room, I’d guess, than you’d find anywhere in the country this week. (Other than, I suppose, the clubhouse at Augusta National this weekend.) As dinner chair, American Express’s Ken Chenault (AmEx counts one women among its 13 executive officers, but has a diverse board), stepped up to the podium to start the evening. Bob Nardelli sat grinning in the front row (Chrysler has no women on its nine-member leadership team). And Carlos Ghosn was there to accept an award for Nissan’s women’s initiative in Japan (Nissan lists 2 women among the 40 executive bios on its site). My colleague and fellow blogger Diane Brady wrote last year about how Catalyst stopped listing the names of companies who don’t have women among their top ranks.
There was something entirely pep-rallyish about the night. One by one, each of the CEOs was introduced, stood and waved to be seen, as tables of loudly cheering employees out on the ballroom floor stood up and applauded. I’m all for cheering on a good cause, as long as there’s something to back up all the raves.
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