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Having rung the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange as part of its celebrations on Monday, Catalyst, a non-profit membership organisation that promotes opportunities for women and business, celebrates its 50th anniversary today.

Established in 1962, at a time when the US Equal Pay Act was still working its way through Congress, the organisation was founded by Felice Schwartz to try to find more work for women in the US. In particular, she wanted to help housewives and mothers, like herself who wanted to put their skills to use in part-time employment. In 1967, she wrote a book titled How To Get To Work When Your Husband Is Against It, Your Children Aren’t Old Enough, And There’s Nothing You Can Do Anyhow.

Catalyst has since evolved to include women in Canada, Europe and India at every stage in their career, with more than 500 companies and business schools offering their support as members. Catalyst Awards are also given annually to company initiatives that promote women’s advancement.

“Over the past 50 years we’ve seen the full entry of women into the workforce, transforming the global economy and workplace. Now in 2012, with women close to 50 per cent of the workforce (in many countries) and our expansion into other parts of the world, the global momentum for accelerating the movement of women into corporate leadership in serious decision-making roles is clear,” says Ilene Lang, president and chief executive of Catalyst since 2003.

Business schools members of Catalyst include Insead in France, IMD in Switzerland and Babson College in the US. Catalyst started to focus on the business education sector in 2000 when it launched a study called Women and the MBA: the Gateway to Opportunity. The study found that more than one half of women questioned could not relate to individuals in case studies and nearly 40 per cent did not have adequate opportunities to work with women professors.

In 2009, this topic was revisited through a series of longitudinal reports on high potential women and men MBAs in the executive pipeline; the first of which was titled: Opportunity or Setback? High Potential Men and Women During the Economic Crisis.

Catalyst now plans to expand into emerging economies. “Although cultures and societies differ, the global economy binds us together,” says Ms Lang. “Many of the lessons learned and best practices today have applicability around the world, but one size does not fit all. So we seek to extend our research and tailor our programmes to meet specific needs of different cultures. When women participate fully in the agenda-setting, decision-making roles in the largest companies that drive the global economy, men, families, businesses and societies will benefit.”

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