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Welcoming Caroline Simard

Sep 12 2014

Caroline Simard’s enthusiasm and commitment are contagious. As she talks about her recent appointment as research director at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research and manager of the Corporate Partner Program under its Center for Women’s Leadership, her eyes sparkle with anticipation. The role is a perfect fit, bringing together her deep experience in developing research-based solutions to create more effective and inclusive organizations, and her impressive background in helping build better workplaces for women.

"Caroline is the perfect person to direct our research efforts as we seek to move more women into leadership roles and to ensure that women's voices are being fully included in the important decisions that affect our universities, our companies and our society," explains Shelley Correll, Clayman Institute Director, "Caroline is an expert in gender and organizational change, and she has a demonstrated track record of driving change in both corporate and university settings. This is just the kind of expertise we need as we launch our new leadership efforts. I feel lucky to have her joining the Clayman team."  

A native of Montreal, Canada, Simard became interested in organizations and social networks as a PhD student at Stanford, where she simultaneously researched high-technology communities and models of social change developed by nonprofit organizations. 

“Despite the progress we’ve made, opportunities for women in business and technology are still limited,” she says. “The lack of women in top leadership positions, as well the underrepresentation of women in specific professions such as technical and engineering fields are of particular concern to many corporations today. Companies and organizations often look to the Clayman Institute to learn what they can do to change the situation.”

However, real change, she believes, goes deeper. Simard explains, “You need to ask more than just what we can do to change the situation,” she explains. “You have to ask, how do we make change stick?”  Programs that rely on both evidence-based solutions and corporate participation, she believes, are essential to making change permanent." 

Simard’s background gives her a solid basis in both these areas. After she received her PhD, Simard continued at Stanford as a researcher at the Graduate School of Business Center for Social Innovation, where she was also associate director of executive programs. From Stanford, she moved to the Anita Borg Institute (ABI) for Women and Technology, as vice president of research and executive programs. While at ABI, Simard saw the opportunity to use research to drive social change in the tech industry. She drove the first collaborative research project with the Clayman Institute, Climbing the Technical Ladder, a seminal study that explores the reasons women in computing are represented at substantially lower levels than men and leave technical positions at twice the rate. She also founded and designed the first industry benchmarking initiative for women in technical roles across levels, and created executive programs designed to accelerate change in companies. 

Prior to joining the Clayman Institute, Simard returned to Stanford as associate director of diversity and leadership at the Stanford School of Medicine, where she implemented innovative models for increasing work-life integration to increase faculty satisfaction and retention. 

“Working at the School of Medicine was a great opportunity for me to experience first-hand, the complexities of putting evidence-based change programs into practice,” she notes. “I believe that will be a valuable asset in my new role working with the Clayman Institute’s corporate partners.” 

Making it stick

Companies have different cultures, and different DNA, based on their history, their founders, their workforce, and environment. In order for new initiatives to be implemented successfully, to “stick,” change measures need to be adapted to fit specific cultures. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. 

Simard believes that to accomplish successful change, two elements are essential, the first component is appropriate research. Only a deep collaboration between companies and research will result in culturally-adapted practices that have the potential to remain permanent.

The second is a community of similarly intentioned companies who can come together in a collaborative and secure group to learn from each other across industries and thereby accelerate change.

“To create change, we need the courage to iterate and revise quickly while at the same time, think deeply about the long-term impact of our work. I can think of no better leader to take us on this journey than Caroline Simard,” remarks Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, Executive Director of the Clayman Institute and Center.

Importance of the Corporate Partner Program

“Our corporate partners are cutting edge, dedicated thought-leaders,” says Simard. “Through research and collaboration, we want to help them determine which issues to tackle and implement change models that work.” Reciprocally, she believes that the corporate partner program will also improve the focus of Clayman Institute’s research. “We need to be able to identify the right questions to answer and the right issues to study,” she explains. “Our corporate partners can help us with this.”

According to Simard, “In my career, I learned that measurement, benchmarking, and a common scorecard are critical to change. I also realized the importance of competitive comparison. Companies thrive on co-opetition! We hope that one of the benefits of the Corporate Partner Program will be a healthy competition that moves change forward even more quickly.”

“We are delighted to be an inaugural corporate partner with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research,” says Michelle Angier, Director, Women’s Initiative Network (WIN), eBay Inc. “The Clayman Institute's model of providing research-based insights, partnering with companies to put them into practice, and measuring the impact is very much aligned with eBay’s own CEO-sponsored initiative, WIN, which seeks to enable women to build lasting, successful careers at eBay Inc. We are proud to be a member of such an esteemed community committed to accelerating change. We look forward to working closely with Caroline and her team.”

Looking forward

As recent statistics on the disparity between women and men in leadership positions in business, academics and government show, there is much to be done to move the needle forward. Simard has set clear goals she hopes to achieve through her new position.

  1. Leveraging her background in research, Simard hopes to help both the Clayman Institute and its corporate partners test change initiatives and change models that can be shared with the group. And based on the knowledge gained, determine which change models are most likely to enable companies to get it right from the start.  
  2. Broaden the scope of member companies to create a cross-industry and cross-discipline initiative to include different companies from different industries with a global reach that are representative of today’s business environment. 
  3. Connect with other companies who are further out on the journey to learn from, share and build on their experiences.
  4. Build replicable and scalable tools that can be disseminated and implemented beyond our corporate partners program.

From its inception, the Corporate Partner Program was designed to be a highly participative and interactive learning community. The program engages companies with three foundational approaches: empowering women, engaging men as change agents, and building effective and inclusive organizations. The Center for Women’s leadership at the Clayman Institute is founded on the belief that all three of these strategies are critical to achieving sustainable and long-term change on behalf of women’s leadership. 


A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.