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Stop Backbiting. Start Collaborating.

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Stop Backbiting. Start Collaborating.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into the lunchroom at work in Sydney one day to hear women gossiping about their colleagues: how this one behaved, how that one dressed, how the other one wore her ‘Greek hair’, who wore hijabs and why. There was all manner of nastiness about skills, personalities, appearance and behaviour. It was all about backbiting and elbowing for position.

It shocked me that these were women talking about women. Listening to the stories of women I coach and groups I facilitate tells me this is not unusual in corporate settings, in not for profits, small business or social environments (and, of course, online). Surely there are enough obstacles for women who work – balancing their caring and professional roles, finding a supportive and encouraging partner, and earning well enough. Whether we are employees, executives, entrepreneurs or solopreneurs, the last thing we need is other women bringing us down.

I’ve noticed that some women’s networking groups reinforce the competitive and nasty stereotypes of women, rather than challenging them. Names that include words like ‘bitches’ and ‘chicks’ might be tongue in cheek, but to what end? Women face enough difficulty without labelling ourselves that way. Just listen to Madonna in her confronting acceptance speech for Billboard Woman of the Year 2016, or Tara Moss about violent threats against women who dare to offer opinions online. Australia’s Jamila Rizvi, in her recently launched book, Not Just Lucky, documents how bad workplaces can be for women and how we need to take a stand and make them better. It’s tough enough out there without women turning against their own.

We can’t build a sisterhood of support when women are bringing one another down or trying to out-manoeuvre each other. The time has come for a different way of doing business – a way that celebrates women for all they bring to the workplace and the entrepreneurial world, and to join forces to recognise our value and strengthen our joint contribution. We need the skills of women from all backgrounds and experience, from all ages and persuasions. One new initiative, Team Women Australia, has #TogetherWeAchieve at the core of their work. It is time for us to put our significant weight behind initiatives like these that encourage collaboration of women.

We need to do more than win. We can’t even stop at win-win. We need to create ‘Triple Wins’ in every decision and every action: wins for ourselves, for those around us and the world. We can do this by taking seven actions to collaborate and be part of a movement of achieving together:

1. Document your values.

Work out what you stand for. Then stand for it.

2. Find collaborators.

Find people and groups who share your values. Create opportunities or partnerships for co-marketing, co-coaching and co-mentoring. Make the sum more than its parts.

3. Add some diversity.

Find people outside your normal circle to collaborate with: people with different opinions, experience, skills and challenges. People from different age groups, religions, backgrounds and sexual orientations. You don’t have to compromise on values, but you do need to step out of your comfort zones. As Sheryl Sandberg says, “Diverse groups do better.”

4. Stop engaging in the damaging behaviour.

Notice any critical thoughts about other women. Notice the temptation to speak about other women rather than to them. Stop yourself and redirect your thinking and action.

5. Tell your stories and listen to stories.

Sharing stories and challenges is a great way to understand and to invite and offer assistance.

6. Work out your strengths and delegate the rest.

There’ll always be things that you are not good at. Collaborate to reach your goals: hire someone to support you, or exchange time and skills. Don’t struggle alone when there are women desperate to do what they do best. Engage them. Create opportunities. They’ll benefit and so will you.

7. Look for ‘Triple Wins’.

Make sure there are wins all round and keep yourself in the winning loop. There is a certain dynamism to creating wins for you, those around and the world.

“Like life, peace begins with women. We are the first to forge lines of alliance across conflict divides.” – Zainab Salbi, Iraqi Activist.

My theme for this year is ‘collaboration’. This small shift in mindset has drawn powerful opportunities my way. With this as our focus, women really will be stronger together. And more successful.

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