VP of Legal, Ultimate Frisbee champion, and working parent Cathleen Hartge has been with Branch since 2018. As Branch’s first lawyer, Cathleen has worn many hats during her tenure. From privacy compliance to legal support for the HR team, she’s played an integral part in growing our business, ERG efforts, and culture for working parents. Read on to learn about Cathleen’s growing legal team, her experience as a parent at Branch, and how playing Ultimate Frisbee impacts her work as a Branch executive.
Tell us about your typical day.
My typical day has changed tremendously over the years. When I joined Branch in March 2018 as its first and only lawyer, I handled everything from negotiating SaaS deals, to building a privacy compliance program from the ground up, to quarterbacking major corporate transactions, to supporting our HR team — and everything in between. I remember a specific moment early in my Branch tenure when I had reflected on what an interesting day it had been. I had spent the morning on the phone with German privacy lawyers and the afternoon finding the right Japanese real estate counsel to advise on a particular issue.
Leadership saw how important a strong legal function is to the business’s success. With their support, I built and now lead a team of seven fantastic legal professionals (and we are looking to hire an eighth). While I still own a few of my own strategic projects and deals, I am hyper-focused day-to-day on how to support and scale our high-performing team. That way, I can enable them to focus on what they do best: doing good work to build value for the business.
How has hybrid work impacted your life as a parent and executive?
The ability to work from home has been an absolute game changer for me. Whether you’re a parent to human babies, fur babies, or are a caretaker for an elder, working from home gives you space to be flexible. Now, with a hybrid option, I get to balance that at-home flexibility with cross-functional conversations in the office and building connections with my coworkers.
Branch has tripled in size from when you first joined. What is one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in that time?
Putting aside the obvious ones (relating to sheer growth or the pandemic), the first thing that comes to mind is how much more comfortable and welcome I feel as a parent at Branch. When I first joined the company, I created a Slack channel for Branch employees who were also mothers.
There were — drumroll, please — five of us. Perfect for intimate lunch discussions. Less so for shedding the feeling of being the “exception.” I’d grab everything and rush out the door at 5:15 p.m., day in and day out, to ensure I could meet family obligations. While no one ever gave me grief, and I bet no one really noticed at the time, I felt exposed and even slightly embarrassed as I’d make my rushed exit through our open office space. No happy hours for me. And I’d take post-5 p.m. calls from the car.
We’ve hired hundreds more people over the past few years, naturally adding more parents to our ranks. And many of my colleagues who were not parents when they joined Branch now have children of their own. In part because of feedback from parents (including me) and other caregivers, Branch has been thoughtful and deliberate about making workplace changes, such as educating colleagues and managers throughout the company to be fully welcoming and supportive of caregivers.
We now have a robust Parents ERG with more than 70 members. These colleagues have provided invaluable support through difficulties ranging from pandemic parenting to processing the tragic events that unfolded in Uvalde. I no longer feel I am alone. I am a member of a large (and growing), supportive, wise community of parents and caregivers who also happen to be my colleagues.
You’ve just returned from playing in the World Masters Ultimate Club Championships in Limerick, Ireland. Tell us about that experience and about your Ultimate Frisbee career.
The World Masters Ultimate Club Championships bring together Ultimate Frisbee teams from around the world to compete once every four years. I was invited to play at Worlds this year with the team representing India in the mixed division (men and women competing together). I was especially excited to play with this particular team as they are from Bangalore, where Branch’s largest employee base is located outside the United States.
Playing mixed Ultimate is a unique experience. It’s one of the few sports in the world that, even at the championship level, has a mixed division. Without strong female talent, the team cannot succeed.
That simply does not happen in most other sports. In fact, one of the reasons the Bangalore team invited me to join their roster is because they were looking for a strong female leader. When team captains raised the topic of female leadership in my interview, I drew heavily on my experience as a woman executive at Branch. I simply can’t imagine this coming up in any other sports setting. But in Ultimate, it was the deciding factor for them in offering me one of their limited roster spots to represent them in international competition.
How does playing Ultimate impact your career and vice versa?
My playing mixed Ultimate has led to some interesting synergies in my professional and sports career. A few years ago — and coincidentally right around the time I joined Branch — I was asked to spearhead formal gender equity conversations for my mixed Ultimate Frisbee team. Multiple times over the course of the season, we would dedicate team offsite time to these conversations. Repeatedly, teammates shared challenges about being spoken over, opinions being undervalued, and simply not being heard.
It struck me that much of what my teammates voiced parallels similar concerns I’ve heard from women colleagues in workplaces throughout my career. Upon hearing this feedback in a sports setting, it made me that much more grateful that Branch was already one step ahead of the game, having already implemented mandatory company-wide training on inclusive communications and implicit bias, and having a dedicated Women’s ERG, among other initiatives.
Leading these discussions in the sports setting also inspired me to dive headfirst into Branch’s diversity initiatives as a then-relatively new employee. Building on our strong foundation, I provided feedback and suggested strategies for ways that the company could provide an even more supportive working environment for women and caregivers. I am grateful Branch gives me the space to do so, and I’m proud of the progress we’ve made on this front over the past few years.