There were seventy women in the room. It was a wet but mild summer’s evening in Hobart, Tasmania. I’d describe the audience as mixed; from 20 to 60 year olds, from university students to directors, from not for profit to corporate, from small business to large bureaucracy. All women, bar one Organisational Development Coordinator from Tasmania Fire Service. Great bloke and brave!
These women (and one bloke) had come to listen to and share ideas about women in leadership, a well travelled dialogue, well publicised, well dissected and utterly relevant to Tasmania and to this audience.
Opinions offered and shared focussed on frustrations about having a voice, about decisions being made with little care or insight about consequences, about the ever present sense of the ‘boys’ club, about the anxiety of admitting you want children (how that will be greeted, how you will be treated leaving and how you will be affected on returning), about the great hidden experience of menopause, about the wish for … something more or different.
The evening proceeded a pace, with comments from many then the conversation paused, as if the collective were breathing in for a moment, a shared inhalation of frustration or fatigue; and then it exhaled. And as it exhaled, someone almost whispered, ‘I wish we could just work together more effectively, isn’t that what we were meant to do?’.
What followed was an explosive, enabling, energising, inclusive discussion about how central it is for all people that men and women lead together, towards a future we want.
Although I work with women, it was One World Atlast I was thinking about as this storm of conversation flowed over us all. I think that collaboration is about men and women recognising that you can’t change a paradigm from within (Thomas Kuhn, physicist, historian and philosopher of science). It has to change from without, when the rules of play don’t matter any more because you are playing a different game.
Collaboration at this level needs deep personal insight; why am I doing what I am doing, what is it that I really value, am I willing or even able to work towards a greater purpose with others, changing/moulding my own behaviour so others can participate just as I want to participate?
Right now, I do not believe that there is a collaborative vision in our world for men and women to work in equal part leading our world. Many people agree it seems fair to have gender balance, but why exactly and to what end is not clear.
I believe men and women working more effectively together is actually central to our survival; without it I am deeply unsure as to whether our species can make it. Too much competition, too much self promotion, too much about money as a singular measure of success, too much about edifices that are bigger and shinier. Not enough about community, about social and spiritual health, about family and continuity, about a physical world that will prosper, beside our cleverness.
OWA is about collaboration, about building a sense of purpose that many own, with aligned values, where things that are important to one are important to many.
I believe this is the bedrock of a sustainable planet. Successful business AND engaged communities, not OR.