Off The Cuff: Emily Troiano, senior director in the Information Center at Catalyst

Kate Gill , News editor

Emily Troiano is a senior director at the Catalyst Information Center, a nonprofit organization based in New York. Her research explores the role of women in the workforce, and she authored an online tool, “First Step: Women in the World”. On Tuesday, she gave a talk titled “Women at Work: A Conversation with Emily Troiano”. Troiano sat down with the Review and discussed her career path, unwritten rules and Sheryl Sandberg.

How did you first become involved with the Catalyst Information Center?

It’s a long story, [and] a long road [to] my career path. It’s funny to share it [and] to realize how many different turns I’ve had; it’s not unusual. [Certain] students have a very straight path — grad school, this and this — but for a lot of people it’s going to really change throughout their lives. I actually started out in journalism. In high school, I fell in love with it; it was what I wanted to do, my passion. I went to college and I majored in it, and my first big internship was reporting, and I liked the stress of it. [At first] it was really exciting, but then I had to [cover] a lightning story in Florida. I was sent out to interview the son of a woman who had been hit by lightning. And all I wanted was to drive this poor kid to the hospital — he didn’t know what was going on. For me, this was the first [time I knew] it wasn’t really working. That night, I went out with some of the more serious reporters, and I [admitted that] I was having some discomfort with this, and one said, “Oh, once I had to interview a woman who [had] run over her own child; don’t worry, you get used to it.” And I said to myself, “I don’t want to get used to this.” After journalism, I was 23 and I had been pursuing this career my whole life, and suddenly it wasn’t ‘it.’ [I experienced] a ‘now what?’ I looked into teaching; I worked at Brown University in career services and while there, I got my master’s in library science. I sat at this consulting firm for two years, and I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to be there. I wanted something that was mission-driven. I wanted to be at an organization that was making a difference, which led me to Catalyst.

And what do you do there? What is your primary set of responsibilities?

The biggest part of my job, time- wise and attention-wise, is answering questions. Catalyst is a member organization, so we have member companies — various organizations around the world — and we work with them most closely. They can contact the Information Center for just about anything. Say they want data about people who work in ad- vertising — what are the numbers and trends for women in advertising? Or maybe a person who is thinking about going to Japan — what are women like in Japan? Otherwise I write reports of products; I run a department now [of] four people or so.

Your talk was advertised as a discussion of unwritten rules for women. What are some of those unwritten rules?

Within any organization, there are explicit rules, and there are rules that are implicit. So in a classroom there’s a syllabus, but there are other things to note beyond the syllabus. In a workplace, it might be what behaviors are valued that are needed to advance. This is really important for women, and for anyone who isn’t part of the dominant culture of an organization, which is [typically] white men. There are networks that form in these organizations, [and women] are less likely to be a part of those networks. Catalyst has done a lot of research into that. One of the rules is [that] it’s not just hard work. You have to go beyond that. You have to distinguish yourself.

On a more personal level, how do you tolerate sexism and stay on task, or maintain your motivation?

I think the most important thing is [that] it’s not about fixing the women. It’s about fixing the organizations. I’ve interviewed the CEO of a phone company recently, and she was asked that question. And she said, “You know, I would give a very different answer in 2005 than

I would today.” [In 2005] I would form a support group and do certain things to make change. But if I experienced [sexism in the workplace] now, I would get out and get a better job; Because that organization isn’t getting it. Find a place that fits with your values better. So I found a place where I didn’t have to deal with that.

What are you thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg and the whole “lean in” phenomenon?

Catalyst is actually partnered with Sheryl Sandberg, so there’s something going on there. And what I like is this idea of development. Although she’s addressing women, everyone can benefit from that. Men

aren’t actually better negotiators than women. Some are better than others, but women are the ones get- ting penalized while men [aren’t].

To a certain extent, Sandberg ad- dresses an audience that is more privileged — as in, women who can afford to lean in, more so than lower-class women. How might you respond to that criticism in support of her? Her story is very much based in her perspective — MBA-type peo- ple, tech people. And that’s not the full spectrum. And again, I think it can’t just be this, “You do better and you change.” It has to be done in tandem with an organization work- ing with hourly wage women, espe- cially those women who don’t have a voice. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is one piece of this puzzle.

By the same token, let’s say you can identify sexism in your workplace, but you can’t leave because you don’t have an alternative. How do you then improve your situation without leaving?

That is a much harder question. For Catalyst, when we look at the organizations we’re working with, we have such an interest in manufacturing plants, hourly wage workers who feel like they don’t have a choice, [and] it totally sucks. Catalyst itself has a lot of resources, and a big one is trying to find a mentor and a champion and a sponsor. If an organization has an ethos that isn’t very supportive of women or minorities or LGBTQ people, find allies in the organization. A lot of research groups started as grassroots organizations without support from the top down. You can start from the bottom up.