Celebrating Innovation: The Catalyst Awards

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

One of the most exciting parts of the Catalyst, Inc. collection held by the Hagley Library is the body of material related to the organization’s annual Catalyst Awards. Given each spring, the Catalyst Award is “the premier recognition of organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that drive representation and inclusion for women.”[1]

The awards trace their beginnings to 1976, with a dinner held at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City to honor four women for making significant contributions as directors on corporate boards. According to a report of the event written by Catalyst founder and president Felice N. Schwartz, 560 attendees represented 106 corporations. “The message,” Schwarz continues, “style, and intellectual force of each of the participants had impact, their messages were interesting and stimulating, the variety was welcome, the degree of corporate involvement was sensed, and the atmosphere was convivial.”[2]

A sampling of materials related to the Catalyst Awards from the Catalyst, Inc. collection—including an actual award.


Reports from and photographs of Catalyst dinners, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, 1981-1984.

Annual recognition and awards dinners continued in this format until 1987, when the program shifted from showcasing individuals to honoring corporate initiatives that succeed in driving change within organizations, advancing women’s position and opportunities in the business world, and embedding and integrating diversity and inclusion practices into corporate culture. Today, the Catalyst Awards, and their accompanying conference, are global in scope; to date, the organization has recognized 103 initiatives at 91 organizations, with the Italian food company Barilla and the Royal Bank of Canada being the winners for 2021.

The Catalyst Awards materials are anticipated to be a valuable resource for researchers interested in examining shifts in corporate approaches to these issues over time. We’ll feature more stories from the Catalyst collection as work continues. The collection is anticipated to be opened for researchers in 2022.


[1] Catalyst, Inc. “Catalyst Award: Honoring Organizations Committed to Inclusion.” Accessed July 13, 2021. https://www.catalyst.org/solution/catalyst-award/

[2] Schwartz, Felice N. “Report: The First Annual Catalyst Awards Dinner.” Circa 1976.

Diane E. Bockrath is an archivist at Hagley Museum and Library.