Catherine Mathis, Hall of Femme 2020

Chief communications officer, McGraw-Hill

What word would you use to describe your childhood and why?
Minnesotan. I grew up in the heart of the heartland, in the land of 10,000 lakes where the women are strong, the men are good looking and the children are all above average (according to Garrison Keillor). There is such a thing as “Minnesota Nice.”

What fictional female character (in a book or movie) has always inspired you?
Jo March in Little Women was a strong, feisty woman who really was ahead of her time. Saoirse Ronan’s portrayal of her had me cheering in my seat.

Any real-life women or men you look up to?
From Cleopatra to Catherine the Great to Eleanor Roosevelt to Nancy Pelosi, I admire women who have answered their countries’ calls to improve the lives of others. All of them were or are smart, formidable and innovative leaders.

What’s something about you no one knows?
I was once in a movie called The American Ruling Class, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. When I went to see the premiere, I was wearing the same outfit that I wore when I was filmed. When I appeared onscreen, the guy seated next to me did a double-take and exclaimed, “That’s you up there!”

Favorite song and why?
I love “The Room Where It Happens,” from the play Hamilton. It tells the story of how Hamilton got his plan for the federal government to take on the states’ debt from the Revolutionary War in exchange for helping Madison move the U.S. capitol to Washington. But it also expresses the desire a lot of young women have: They want to be in the room where it happens. Amen, sisters!

Tell us about your hobby.
Travel. I love to see new places, learn their histories, experience their cuisines and talk to their people. It juices me. Before I go, I read about or see movies set in the place I’m going to visit. I’ve been in all 50 states, roughly 80 countries and am working my way through the continents.

Finish the sentence: To ensure career advancement and pay parity for women, I will...
Push for inclusion and diversity programs within my own organization that help talented women move ahead. We are about to launch a sponsorship initiative at McGraw-Hill that will help women develop the skills and experiences they need to move into and succeed in top-level roles, and I’m very excited to be part of it.

What is it about this industry that frustrates the hell out of you?
When people think of PR, they sometimes think of spin doctors who are pushing suspect narratives, when in fact most PR professionals that I have known truly care about fostering greater understanding about the organizations or causes that they represent, and they use true and clear communications to do so.

When have you seen this industry or your organization really shine?
My company is going through a merger. It’s a difficult time for employees but I feel our leadership has done a great job of keeping people abreast of what’s happening and helping us all stay focused on our jobs. Our leaders have been great at regularly talking to their teams, and we’ve provided training on resiliency and coping with stress.

What is your golden rule at work?
As much as I’ve tried to live by the golden rule — “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — I’ve found that it’s even more effective to follow the platinum rule: “Treat others the way they’d like to be treated.”

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