Why Collaboration is the Holy Grail

It was the last morning of March and also the last of the 2016 International Women’s Day events marked in my calendar.

It was also another early morning breakfast, 7.30am at Clayton Utz 14th floor offices in downtown Sydney. The event was hosted by Good Return, an initiative of World Education Australia, that specialises in providing micro finance to women in third world countries and today Fabian Dattner, leadership diagnostician from Dattner Grant (and former owner of the Stephen Dattner Group) was speaking.

Her opening salvo was powerful for the audience of around 100 women and nine men in the room. “Why is it?” she asked, “that we are so serially incapable, disinterested or incompetent in accepting the voice of women today?”

(It’s a question that made me wince as I thought of all the times that I have sat passively quiet to allow the dominant males in the group to ‘have their say’. But, then it made me feel angry (again) that in 2016, I am expected to be part of teams where women continue to be under represented.)

Dattner, now addressing a captive audience, invited the nine men in the room to stand while asking the women to take a good look at them. She asked us to look at their faces, ages, their clothes and their demeanour. And to take our time. It was unusual and I suspect for most of the men, uncomfortable.

But, as she observed, “that’s what it’s like for women trying to succeed in business everyday where we are judged on our appearance, age, child bearing status and attire.” Bravo!

Again, as so many wise women such as Dattner have highlighted over numerous International Women’s Days and months and years, women are different to men, and we want to be accepted for our differences and consequently included.

“Women do not lead the same way as men, it is our nature to be collaborative and to surrender leadership in areas where we know that another person can do it better. Conversely, men are always modelling themselves on the strongest, most powerful leader and working out how they too can fill that role,” she explained.

“Men are confident with a structural hierarchy and model success on those above them, while our brains are wired to work laterally.” I imagine that you have heard all this before, I know I have, and everytime it sounds like one of those insurmountable hurdles that are going to keep women disenfranchised, at least in my generation.

But Dattner had a solution: “If addressing the gender inequality issue is not the most important thing in your life then it will never happen.” Sobering, actionable and transformative.

When I asked her what was the one action that the women and men in the room could take to have our voices heard, she was succinct. “Work together, not in isolation. That is where women will flounder because we are made to work in community. Create clubs, networks and groups where we are all included and that way you will flourish and then your voices will be heard.”


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