381: Lorraine Hariton—How Can You Build A Better Workplace For Women?

Learn how to nurture your unique gifts for a career you really love.

I bring to you today Lorraine Hariton, a brilliant women with a brilliant career who shows us that success doesn’t have to come in a straight line, it can have many twists and turns. As one of the 102 women featured in our new book, Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success, co-authored by Edie Fraser, Robyn Freedman Spizman and myself, Lorraine is President and CEO of Catalyst, a powerhouse non-profit dedicated to helping women thrive, from the shop floor to the C-suite, so that everyone can be successful by their own definition. What I love is that Catalyst not only focuses on how women can be effective and improve their capabilities and skills, but on changing the work environment by creating workplaces that work for women. Want to learn about the future of work? Listen in.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Key takeaways from my conversation with Lorraine

  • Life is a journey. And that journey is to understand what your passions are, what gets you excited, what gets you up every day enjoying it.
  • In terms of your skills, what do you have with which you can contribute the most to this world? 
  • There are lots of chapters in life. Make sure that you have the resiliency and the learning mindset to go from one chapter to the next.
  • Life can take you in different directions, but you’ve got to be a lifelong learner. You’ve got to lean into your strengths. 
  • Periods of transition can be real opportunities.
  • Align your strengths and what you really love to do behind your passions.

To connect with Lorraine, you can find her on LinkedIn.

Want to know more about women breaking barriers in the workforce? Start with these:

Additional resources for you

Read the transcript of our podcast here

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. I’m Andi Simon, I’m your host and your guide. And as you know, because so many of you come to listen to our podcast, my job is to get you off the brink. I want you to see, feel and think in new ways so you can change, and the times are changing quickly now. I look for guests who are going to help you understand things from a fresh perspective.

Today I have Lorraine Hariton here with me. She is a marvelous person who is in our new book, Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success. And when you hear what she’s going to tell you today, you’ll know why Women Mean Business has been such an absolutely amazing experience. Every time I open the book, it sheds new light on what women are doing in business. Lorraine’s bio: She’s president and CEO of Catalyst. Now, if you’re not familiar with Catalyst, it’s a global nonprofit working with the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to build workplaces that work for women.

Catalyst’s vision and mission are to accelerate progress for women through workplace inclusion. This lifelong passion for Lorraine has helped her build a career with senior level positions in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur and executive, and beginning at IBM, Lorraine then served in the administration in the Department of State and developed the global STEM Alliance at the New York Academy of Sciences. She has also served on the UN Women Global Innovation Coalition For Change, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University, and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives, but it is as president of Catalyst that I met Lorraine. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today: about what organizations can do to really build workplaces that work for women. Lorraine, thank you so much for coming today.

Lorraine Hariton: Andrea, thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Andi Simon: It’s so much fun. Tell the audience more about your journey because I can read the bio. But you’ve had a wonderful career with a passion and purpose, and I’d like you to share that if you could.

Lorraine Hariton: So first of all, I want to say that the career that you just talked about is very different from the career I might have imagined when I was young. It’s gone in a lot of different directions. And I look forward to sort of talking about that. So when I was a child, my biggest influence was really my mother, specifically when she came into the workplace, which was in the 50s. She was originally a teacher. And like many of her generation, she went back. She left the workplace when she had her three children. But then she went back and got a master’s degree and eventually a PhD in psychology, actually around women’s sexual fantasies during intercourse. It was very controversial. She ended up on the front cover of Psychology Today, and then she had the next phase, a career as a psychologist and a lecturer out on Long Island. So she really gave me a sense that you can have different phases in your life, you can accomplish different things, and women should have independent, strong careers.

So she was a big influence. Then the other big influence on me was, I had dyslexia, I still have dyslexia. And because of that, I had certain real strengths and certain things that were limitations. I wasn’t very popular. I wasn’t a great athlete, but I was good in math. I ended up using that math ability to have a career in technology very early on. In fact, when I was in college — I originally went to college in upstate New York, at Hamilton College — my calculus professor suggested that I take an independent study computer science course at Hamilton College before there were even computers on campus. We just had a teletype terminal into the Air Force base in Rome, New York. But I wrote my own computer program. I fell in love with it, and it caused me to transfer to Stanford, where even at Stanford, they didn’t actually have a computer science degree. Undergraduate is math sciences, math, computer science, statistics, and operations research. But it really gave me this great foundation into something that my first passion was really around: computers and the application of computers into solving problems.

So I transferred to Stanford. I got a sense of that environment. I ended up taking a job, actually, back in New York for American Airlines, doing a big linear programming model for ferrying fuel around the American Airline system. But, I decided I didn’t really like just programming. I wanted to do something that was more people oriented within the computer industry. So at that time, IBM was a big place to work. It was like the Google or the Apple of the time.

So I got a job actually in sales working for IBM, and I worked in the apparel industry in New York, knocking on doors, selling mid-sized computers to the apparel industry, which was really fun. I really enjoyed it and I excelled at it. So I decided I wanted to be on the business side of the technology industry. I went back to Harvard Business School, got my MBA, and decided to go back to California working for IBM, the next level in the sales track at IBM. And there was the other reason I went back to IBM: to look into all the jobs at Harvard Business School that IBM had for women in leadership roles. It had the ability to balance career and family and a proven track record of enabling women to do that. I was really looking for a workplace where I could be successful balancing career and family, which is still the number one challenge for women in business.

And, through my work at Catalyst, I see that every day. So I went back to IBM, but eventually I went into Silicon Valley. IBM actually acquired a company in Silicon Valley. I went to work for them. And then I ended up having a career at IBM. So I started in Silicon Valley, started at IBM, and then I left them to go to become an executive at a mid-sized company. And eventually I actually did two startups in Silicon Valley. So I had a career at all these different levels.

But in my early 50s, I wanted to really do something that was more impactful. I had had a successful career there and I became involved in women’s leadership issues because really that was a defining thing around my success and my lived experience. I initially got involved in the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and Executives that became WaterMark. That was a women’s leadership network in Silicon Valley. I really benefited from my relationships that I had with women in Silicon Valley. We all bonded together. We even did great trips, like we went to India and Vietnam together. I went to the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. I then decided to, after I left my second startup, to get involved in helping Hillary Clinton run for President of the United States in the 2008 cycle.

So I took all my sales skills and my business skills that I had learned, and I focused on fundraising for her. And as a result of that, I became one of her top fundraisers in the Bay area and really expanded my network. I got to know a lot of people and that enabled me to go to work for her, even though she didn’t win the the nomination, of course, we all know, but to work for her at the State Department as a special representative for commercial and business affairs. And, by the way, through all of this, I had my two children. I raised my two children in Palo Alto, California. And of course, that was the other part of my life that was, is, and continues to be very important. I now have three grandchildren as well as part of that.

So that balance of career and family has always been important to me. I also will mention that being in Silicon Valley in tech in those days had a lot of challenges. And I think that is why that’s been so important to me as the second major passion that has driven my life. This focus on women in the workplace, and understanding that I was part of the first generation of women who really came of age after the very substantial change in the women’s movement that happened in the late 60s and early 70s, that opened up the doors for women to have real careers. 

Like my mother, in her generation, you didn’t have young children and work. You couldn’t go into the workplace and have a career. We read about Sandra Day O’Connor recently. We know that she wasn’t able to do that. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wasn’t able to do that. I was part of that generation that went into the workplace that was able to look ahead and develop a career, and was thinking about balancing career and family. But we had a very, very rigid environment.

You know, when I had my first child in 1985, we had to order business maternity suits from a catalog. I could only take six weeks off because they didn’t have maternity leaves. They just had disability, and when I’ve met with some of my friends and we talked about this, we all had the same circumstances, didn’t have the type of environment that you have right now. So I have that perspective of wanting to change that workplace. And we still have work to do on that.

So my reason for wanting to help Hillary at the time when I had the luxury to be able to do that, was because I really wanted to see the world change in the first woman president. But not only did I pursue that passion and use the skills that I had learned through my business and for my sales career to help her, it opened up a whole new avenue for me that became the next chapter in my life for ten years, really focused on that.

So I went to the State Department, and in the State Department, it was great. I was able to travel all around the world representing the United States, help businesses overseas, do diplomatic agenda around economic and business issues. And I also launched a big program called the Global Entrepreneurship Program, which is still at the State Department, where we worked on capacity-building in countries to take our innovation agenda and bring it overseas as part of our diplomatic agenda. So that was a very fulfilling experience.

I left in 2014 because it was a political appointment. It ended and then I thought, well, I think there’s a very good chance she would run again. So I did a portfolio career of doing consulting. I worked at the New York Academy of Science, as you mentioned, doing business development for them, and launched this Global STEM Alliance program. I launched a great program called 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures, which was a virtual mentoring program for girls in STEM.

I helped Hillary but of course, we know the end of that story and that didn’t happen. And by then I was lucky enough to be recruited to Catalyst, which has been just a wonderful opportunity for me. So I joined them in 2018. I am going to be retiring from Catalyst when we find a replacement. So it’s been about a five and a half years’ journey at this point that’s been really fulfilling for me because it really has aligned this great passion I have with all the things I’ve learned over my career to really make change for that organization and to really impact women in the workplace.

Andi Simon: You know, as I listen to you, and I want to stay focused on your career, but for the listener or the viewer, there wasn’t a straight line. This was a journey with detours and serendipity and moments and all kinds of things that you capitalized on. Were you particularly risk averse or were you particularly adventuresome? I mean, when I take my archetype, I’m an explorer or a philosopher, and I’ve been to 37 countries and I worked abroad many times. I, like you, don’t need a structure, I need opportunity. I need an adventure. Sounds like you have had adventure through life without care about whether or not it was the end, it was onto something new. Tell the listener a little bit about how you do that? Do you do that with that particular mindset that simply says, go for it, what the heck? Or do you have to plan it out?

Lorraine Hariton: Well, you know, I’ve evolved over time. I am very planful. And in the beginning of my career, I was focused. When I joined IBM, they had a clear path for you. You didn’t have to think about it. “This is what you needed to do.” And I bought into that path. Over time, sometimes when I had my biggest bumps in my life because I’ve been fired, I’ve been put someplace else, maybe not fired, but it was a detour. Those things have happened. But, you know, out of those things, in those moments of reflection, is when I think I was able to grow the most, to really learn and reflect on my strengths and weaknesses and what motivates me and to reorient myself. These periods of transition can be real opportunities.

And in my late 40s and early 50s is when I really started to understand that what I needed to do is to align my strengths and what I really love to do behind my passions, and to let the universe help me understand what those passions are. And in fact, that’s what I’m doing right now, as I look to my next chapter after Catalyst. I’m trying to open up the aperture and give myself time to evolve and think and let the universe take me in the direction, but with an understanding of what I really enjoy, where I have passion, what I’m really good at, where I give, and even in this moment, I try this out, I’m not that excited. Try this out, yes, I’m really excited about it.

And yes, I find that I can do the things that I really am in the zone on, that I naturally do well and then I focus on those things. So that evolution, it’s not really a risk thing. I’m a pragmatist. I’m very practical, focused, like a doer, but this understanding that life can take you in different directions, but you’ve got to be a lifelong learner. You’ve got to lean into your strengths. You got to evolve those is the way I found the most meaning and purpose and fulfillment.

Andi Simon: And to your point, when people say to me, how did you get to be a corporate anthropologist? I say, I made it up. And they say, you know, the imposter syndrome. I say, I’ve lived my whole life doing imposter stuff. I’ve never been fully skilled at whatever I’ve been. I spent 20 years in industry as an executive, in banks and in health care. I was a tenured professor, and I’ve been in business for 21 years now, making it up as we go along because each client’s different, each opportunity is different. But the joy is the joy of creating.

And I think that what you’ve done at Catalyst, and I want to go back to Catalyst for a moment, because I do think it’s been joyful for you, but it’s been a creative process. My hunch is, you’ve brought it along in a way that has been quite meaningful for you in the organization. Can you share with us a little bit about your own thoughts about Catalyst, about what’s happened in women in the workplace? Because this is not inconsequential. When I was an executive, I went to board meetings. There were 49 men and no other women than me. We didn’t say much. We sat there hoping we could finish the meeting without getting in trouble. It’s a different world today. What do you see happening and how is Catalyst doing stuff?

Lorraine Hariton: Well, when I came to Catalyst in 2018, Catalyst had been around almost 60 years, and it’s an iconic organization. For those of you who are not familiar, we have around 500 major corporations. We have a board of directors made up of CEOs of major organizations. I mean, it’s really a who’s who and has a tremendous brand, but the organization itself had lost some momentum. So I was brought as a change agent. I sometimes say, it was this beautiful brownstone in Brooklyn Heights that the old lady had not been renovating as much as they should have.

So I had to do a lot of infrastructure and internal changes as well as set the strategy and the plan. It’s really been a transformation. And we’re still transforming. The rate of change, the rate of technological change, is so great that every organization needs to move forward. And what Catalyst needed to do as an organization has changed over time. We celebrated our 60th anniversary a couple of years ago, so I really had a lot of opportunities to reflect on what Catalyst was.

Catalyst started with a woman who had been a Smith College graduate who wanted to go into business, and after her children got into school, she saw the doors were closed for her because in many cases, classified as gendered. You know, you could be a secretary, but you couldn’t be a salesperson. You couldn’t be an executive. Very limited choice. So her objective was to provide part time work for educated women after their kids were in school. That’s what she was trying to do.

Today we’re trying to help women thrive, from the shop floor to the C-suite, so that everyone can be successful by their own definition. Now, along the way, there’s been a lot of changes in what Catalyst focused on. And of course, what happened for women in the workplace. One of the key things that changes Catalyst is a focus not only on how women can be effective and improve their capabilities and skills, but how we change the work environment. That’s why we now talk about our mission of creating workplaces that work for women.

So a lot of Catalyst’s work is helping these companies create the environment where women can be successful. Catalyst does research and it provides a whole range of tools and capabilities to help these companies be successful, and then a lot of community and convenings to bring them together to share best practices, the need for tools and capabilities, in addition to research, has accelerated over the last ten years or so as companies really dig in to make those changes to create that environment that works for women.

So we think about things like: now we call them paternity leaves, not just maternity leaves. And in many cases in the large companies, they’re as much as four months and they’re trying to get men to do them as well as women. That’s a sea change, more flexibility. The whole pandemic accelerated this move to more flexible working, but that’s something Catalyst has been talking about for a long time. Measuring change is really important and that’s evolved.

Our most recent report that we’re going to be putting out shows that 93% of companies, large companies in the Catalyst portfolio, do pay equity studies. Now, even five years ago, they were not doing that. So that’s changed. The environment has changed radically and Catalyst has evolved with it. Also the infrastructure to support the types of skills we need, the type of technology we need, has evolved with it. But you know, just to think about this, today there are over 10% women CEOs in the Fortune 500. In my early career in the 80s and the 90s, every year that they would come out with the Fortune 500, I would look and the only person who was the CEO was Katharine Graham, who took over The Washington Post when her husband committed suicide. Now she did a great job, but she was not doing it all on her own merit.

What we see is the women who came into the workplace, like I did in the early 70s, early to mid-70s, all but in the 1950s, all entered the workplace in the 70s. Those are the ones who became CEOs around the turn of the 21st century, starting with Jill Barad at Mattel, Andrea Jung at Avon, Anne Mulcahy at Xerox, followed by Ursula Burns, Ginni Rometty at IBM, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo…a diverse group of really talented, amazing women were the first group who really were able to do that.

Over the last five years, we’ve doubled. We now have over 30% women on boards. And in the Catalyst community, we have over 30%  in senior leadership, in our membership. So what that means is there’s a new norm that’s a critical mass, 30% is critical mass. So we are critical mass on a lot of these measures. That is why Catalyst now is not focusing on women on boards. We’re focusing on how all women can thrive from the shopfloor to the sweep and every level.

So that’s an evolution of who Catalyst is. I’ve been driving that broader definition of success as we’ve evolved to what really needs to be done, and also in response to companies who understand that women have 60% of the undergraduate degrees now. They’re graduating more law degrees and more medical degrees. We have a much more diverse population. We’re focused on diversity. And that is why there’s a lot of things, a lot of political issues around DEI as a word. But the fact of the matter is, companies are very committed, so they know they have to have a diverse workforce. They’ve all got to work together. They’ve all got to feel like they belong. And in the United States and around the world, we have to be able to work together to have a really impactful, innovative workforce. So that’s what we’re working on.

Andi Simon: I am having such fun listening to you. And I don’t know if you and I have had enough time for me to hear, or my audience to hear, how the world has changed. Remember, I’m a corporate anthropologist who helps companies change. What I love to do is change, and what you are articulating is your own career evolved. Catalyst’s whole mission and purpose have evolved, and the workplace that you are focused on is evolving into a whole new and much better, inclusive, exciting place for women to thrive. And isn’t this exciting to watch and see?

I’m not quite sure it’s going to go backwards, because I think that the pressure from talented women for new ways of doing things is going to transform the workplace. You know, how do you have a blended life, if not a balanced life. I met one person who was building childcare at the office because he knew that was the only way he was going to keep his workforce. What’s so hard? Why are we not paying attention to our children? You know, bring them to work and make them part of the whole culture that we have here.

And I don’t think the pandemic has been all that bad. My clients that I coached during that time, we’re actually having a wonderful experience of being home and working and doing it with a different use of time and space. But it’s a really interesting opportunity for you to see that and now to think through what’s next, a radical next. Because I have a hunch you’d love to radically change the next phase in some fashion. It’s technology, it’s transformation, it’s new openness to it. What do you see coming next?

Lorraine Hariton: Well, you mentioned technology and I mentioned I am a technologist by training. Technology drives change now. The changes that allowed women to become part of the workforce were driven by the birth control field, the vacuum cleaner, electrification, the reduction of the need for women to stay home and do all these tasks. The knowledge worker being the key person in the workplace. And that’s only accelerating. So we should understand we are the result of the worlds we live in.

My mother was a result of that. RBG was a result of that. My daughter is going to be a result of the environment that she’s a part of, as well as my grandchildren. So technology is the biggest driver of those changes. We are going to be living in a world where I hope we have more flexibility to integrate career and family, and to really be able to have women really have equal ability to make their own decisions on how they want to balance their life. I mean, that’s what we’re trying to do so that every woman thrives by their own definition of success. So that’s what we’re working towards.

Andi Simon: You know, I’m sitting and listening and I’m hopeful. I have a woman I know who’s president of a large insurance company. And we were sitting and talking not too long ago. She said, Well, let me tell you, I was a coat girl. She said, I’d walk into Lloyd’s of London with a deal, and they’d hand me their coats as the men walked in, one after another, they thought I was a coat girl. And finally after they all had sat down, and I turned around and sat at the head of the table and saidy, Now let me tell you about the deal I brought you. And the guys all went, Oh! And she said, Do you think that will ever stop? And I said, Yes. I’m not sure when but I guess you could have stopped it if you wanted to at that moment. But somehow the woman has to be able to comfortably say, I’m sorry, but the coat rack is over there, or No, I’m not taking notes today. Who shall we have as our note-taker today? How do we assert ourselves in a way that establishes a more balanced role? Now you’re smiling at me. You’re thinking about something. What are you thinking of? 

Lorraine Hariton: I think there’s a two way street here. Catalyst has done a lot of work on this. Not only do the women need to do that, but the men need to become advocates and allies for women in the workplace. In fact, Catalyst has a whole initiative called MARC: Men Advocating Real Change. We’re helping the men understand how they can be part of that change because I think the clearest example is, they say that women don’t negotiate for salary increases as well as men. There’s a big pay gap, and it’s a result of this. It’s not just the women not negotiating. It’s the culture that doesn’t enable them to negotiate.

So a woman in general is much better off with someone else asking. Because it’s like this poster that I have in the back here from an unconscious bias campaign we did which says: She’s not aggressive, she’s assertive. Well, if a man goes and asks for a raise, he’s assertive and he should get a raise. A woman goes in, she’s aggressive, you know. So, we’ve got to do both of those things.

Andi Simon: I often preach that the words we use create the worlds we live in. And you just made an important point there, because the word that you use takes the same behavior and makes it good or bad. And it is very interesting because the definers of those meanings…humans are meaning makers. And if the guys are the definers of the meaning, one thing happens. But somehow we’ve got to get a balance in how we think about the behavior as being. Is it assertive or is it aggressive? Well, it’s the same behavior. Who’s defining it? And how do we then create a mirror back so the women know that that’s the right behavior and the guys understand that that’s not acceptable from them.

I work with some companies where I watch the guys’ backlash and I say, Why don’t we collaborate on the transformation instead of becoming adversarial or resisters to it? Change is humanly painful. The brain hates it. So let’s create a new story because we’re story-makers. And if I can create a new story, then we can live that new story. But if we’re going to fight the story out, it’s going to be quite interesting.

I know too many women who have left corporate because they were tired of the story that put them in the wrong role, and they went out to launch their own business or find some other place. And so it’s an interesting time for women to see what can be done and for men to help create a new environment. Are there some illustrative cases that you can share, or are they all proprietary and it’s not possible to share them? Any kind of story that might illustrate how it’s actually happening?

Lorraine Hariton: Well, I will say there are many, many stories of success. If you go to the Catalyst website, we have tons of success stories, the stories of companies that transformed themselves. We have The Catalyst Award that we give out every year at our big annual conference in Denver. People nominate themselves. They go through an application process. It was very rigorous last year. The Hartford is one of the winners of it. They have transformed the company at every level with all the things we’re talking about, measurements. They were able to get affecting bias sponsorship programs, really changing the fundamental culture of the organization. You can listen to what they do, but there’s hundreds of examples of companies that have done great jobs around it.

And of course, we have lots of examples. I mentioned some of the trailblazers, the Fortune 500, you read interviews, and books. And so there are many, many examples of successes, people who’ve affected the odds. People, companies who’ve done a great job of changing the culture. It’s all over the place. So rather than name a specific one, I think that’s good.

Andi Simon: And if people are looking for companies to work for, they probably can find illustrations at Catalyst and your website to begin to go through. And that is a real resource to be available. You know, this has been such fun. I think that we’re probably ready to share with our listeners or our viewers 1 or 2 things you want them to remember and then how to reach you if they’d like more information about you or about Catalyst. What do you think? 

Lorraine Hariton: That sounds great. I think the overriding thing to say is that life is a journey. And that journey is to understand what your passions are, what gets you excited, what gets you up every day enjoying it, and then what do you really enjoy? In terms of your skills, what do you have the most to contribute to this world? And if you can align those, that’s what I try to do.

The other thing is to realize that there are lots of chapters in life, and you would need to make sure that you have the resiliency and the learning mindset to go from one chapter to the next and open the aperture around it. I’m happy to talk to anyone on this call. You can go to the Catalyst website at catalyst.org if you want to learn more about the work that we’re doing. You can get ahold of me that way as well. I’m going to be going on to my next chapter as well. So I’m opening the aperture up.

Andi Simon: Well, I can’t wait to hear about your next chapter. I have a hunch it’s going to be full of adventure and joy and beauty. And you leave behind you better places and with great purpose. Move forward. So it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for joining us today.

Lorraine Hariton: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it.

Andi Simon: I just think it’s a special moment to be able to go both into your life and all the work that you’re doing in the wonderful way it’s making a difference for my listeners and my viewers. Thank you for always coming. Remember, our job is to help you see, feel and think of new ways. And I think that a visit to Catalyst might help you see organizations that are already doing this and want to keep it going, and you can as well.

My books Rethink: Smashing The Myths of Women in Business and On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, and our new book, Women Mean Business: Over 500 Insights from Extraordinary Leaders to Spark Your Success with Edie Fraser and Robyn Freedman Spizman are all available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble for you. It gives you a perspective both of how anthropology sees the world and helps you change, and what we see happening, particularly for women. 102 women in Women Mean Business are all here to help you change your life.

We often say turn a page and change your life. Lorraine’s chapter is wonderful. I love her little thing. Here she talks about how she navigated with her dyslexia and her principal is major. Your major is to nurture your unique gifts. And that’s what we heard about today. Thanks again. Thanks, Lorraine. It’s been a pleasure. Bye bye.


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