As Vice President of Marketing at Catalyst, I strive to promote an organizational vision that includes lofty goals like “changing lives.” Last year I had the privilege of attending the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. With my mind set on “sponge” mode, I worked to take in genius ideas backed up with real-world evidence and meet the individuals who are putting those ideas into practice. During the festival, I listened intently and engaged with many of the forward thinkers in attendance. I realized that many of the ideas we shared might very well represent a turning point for women and men struggling to achieve gender parity in the workplace. My experience at this inspiring event taught me a few lessons:

  • Regardless of how wide-ranging various disciplines and organizations are, there are replicable lessons that can help us implement change in our own backyards—whether they are workplaces, societies, households, or individual lives.
  • Throughout the Festival, “disruption” was heralded as the catalyst of great innovation and creative thinking, and a fundamental ingredient for success.
  • The notion of “disruption”—which is the dynamic reimagining of any one thing—got me thinking: Catalyst has been actively researching, consulting about, and stimulating dialogue around working women for over 50 years. We’ve seen positive change, but we are still nowhere near parity. Is “best-of-the-worst” really our goal? Or must the whole system be disrupted in order to see real, meaningful change?

Breaking down and disrupting any system is a high-risk endeavor. Certainly disruption cannot always lead to good outcomes. But it does get us farther—and learning from setbacks seems better than maintaining the status quo for our workplaces, employees, and societies. And it’s crucial to “Disrupt yourself—or someone else will!”

With these thoughts in mind, in October last year Catalyst launched #DisruptTheDefault, an initiative that empowers both individuals and organizations to make bold moves that forge meaningful change for women and men.

Here are five ways you can start disrupting the default, as recommended by Catalyst President and CEO Deborah Gillis who shares:

  1. Don’t wait to act. As Gandhi said, “We need not wait to see what others do.”
  2. Ask new questions. The evidence is in: having more women in leadership is good for business. Stop pleading the case and start asking new questions. Instead of, “What can women do to get ahead at work?” ask, “What is my company doing to make that possible?” Instead of, “Why aren’t more women applying for this job?” ask, “How can we get more well-qualified women to apply?”
  3. Assume you can do it. When I first heard about an open position at Catalyst, I told my husband, “There’s no way they’ll hire me.” Left to my own devices, I would never have applied for my original position—and I certainly wouldn’t have gone on to become Catalyst’s fourth president. But my husband and others encouraged me to go for it. Days later, I had my dream job!
  4. Say “no” to the status quo. Leaders take initiative, act with intention, and design bold programs with measurable results.
  5. Hold your organization, community, and country accountable. I recently came across the notes from my 12th grade civics debate: “Be it resolved that women earn the same as men.” It was 1983, and Canadian women were close to achieving legal equality under our Constitution. Imagine my dismay when I learned that in Canada, university-educated women were earning 69.6 cents for every dollar earned by a university-educated man. My job as head of Catalyst is to align the equality I grew up expecting with the reality most women face when they enter the workforce. Ideals don’t mean anything unless you live up to them.

Join the 1 Million for Work Flexibility movement to disrupt the default of standard workplace norms. And let us know all the ways you plan to make meaningful change for women and men in the workplace and beyond by taking our pledge: DisruptTheDefault.org/take-the-pledge.html.

Watch to see how you can #DisruptTheDefault:

photo credit: Catalyst—Disrupt the Default Visualization. Download the full data visualization here