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Alum Andrew Grissom: Librarian at Nonprofit That Helps Advance Women in the Workplace

When Andrew Grissom (’15) entered the MSIS program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, he had imagined himself working in an academic library setting. He loved the idea of helping others with research, as well as getting a chance to conduct his own research. But his career took a surprise turn when an interest in working remotely landed him a job as a librarian at Catalyst, a nonprofit that “builds workplaces that work for women.”

Grissom has been there since 2016, and is now a senior associate librarian who does reference work for Catalyst stakeholders; he also takes research and creates knowledge products for stakeholders and the public. Catalyst has more than 800 “Supporters,” organizations that use the nonprofit for information, support, and research about identifying workplace barriers for women and underrepresented groups. Catalyst can assist with diversity plans and initiatives, and works worldwide to achieve its mission.

“The companies I work with submit reference requests to us electronically, and those questions really range from, ‘We need specifics on women in a certain industry,’ to ‘How can we start building a diversity strategy?’” Grissom said. “We are really specifically focused on diversity issues in workplaces, so it’s very much a specialized information center in that sense.”

The knowledge products Grissom creates are compilations of information from research conducted by Catalyst and external sources. These are packaged in various ways, such as “QuickTake” statistical fact sheets, or white papers.

Grissom said it is currently a challenging time for women and diversity in the workplace, and much of the knowledge products he’s producing center around the pandemic and how it is affecting working women. As many companies are slashing workforces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, working women and people of color, who are disproportionately concentrated in lower-earning jobs, are at heightened risk for job loss. Those who retain their jobs and work from home may also be simultaneously caring for children, which can create more stress.

“We’re putting out information about flexible work best practices and how to be inclusive, how to work remotely, and of course combating unconscious bias and racial discrimination of Asian-Americans,” he said.

This unexpected mass transition to remote work could have an added benefit, Grissom said: companies that previously refused flexible or remote working schedules may now see their employees are productive in a work-at-home environment. This could make a big difference for new parents, and others who may benefit from such accommodations.

“That’s something we’ve been championing for years – if organizations have cultures where you have to be face-to-face in the office, why do you have to do that? Is it more important to be face-to-face or to meet business goals? If you’re goals are being met, why do your employees have to be in the office? This is a good opportunity now to demonstrate to the business case for flexible working,” he said.

Being able to work remotely is one of the reasons why Grissom applied to the Catalyst position in the first place. He was getting ready to graduate, but his partner was still finishing his doctorate – Grissom didn’t want to start a job and then potentially have to move again when his partner earned his degree. So he saw a listing of remote jobs on www.ineedalibraryjob.com, and applied for the one he has now.

“I worked at Catalyst for a little over a year, and my partner graduated with his PhD and got a job at Amazon in Seattle, and I was able to move and take my job with me. That was an amazing opportunity. There are a lot of things about Catalyst that are amazing to me,” he said.

Grissom said working at Catalyst and seeing the barriers that women and minorities in the workplace regularly face has been illuminating.

“I worked in libraries, which is a female-dominated industry, and its ethos is being inclusive, providing equal access. After being in this job for four years, I’ve become more aware of what’s going on in the world in terms of the barriers to inclusion in the workplace. It’s nice to be part of an organization that’s helping to rectify these challenges,” he said.

In fact, it was working as a circulation supervisor at the library of his alma mater, Rhodes College, that inspired him to become a librarian.

“I realized I really enjoyed libraries and connecting people with information and what really appealed to me is that I think all librarians are generalists, fascinated by all types of information,” he said.

He chose the program at the University of Tennessee because he could continue to live in Memphis and work full-time. One of his first contact points with the program was Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies Rachel Fleming-May. She was the first person to talk to him, and she eventually was also his advisor, and a mentor. Grissom credits her with instilling him with the ability to conduct research, and an appreciation for how important research is.

He is also currently entering his third and final year as a member of the SIS Advisory Board, and he said it’s been exciting to see the program evolve under SIS Professor and Director Diane Kelly.

“It’s an out-of-body experience to return to the school as an information professional, and I get to sit and hear faculty members that I had discuss their work, and hear from the other side of that. I’m glad that I can attend a meeting every six months and be excited about what’s going on at the school,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for students and I feel really good about the state of the profession and the state of the school.”