To collaborate, or not? That is the question many executive women want to know

As I was fielding questions at a Women in Manufacturing event last month, a smart 'n savvy audience member asked a really smart 'n savvy question.

Q: Can you tell us about collaboration? Women are meant to be good at it, but that's not always the case, and it doesn't seem to get me noticed any faster. Should I be doing it?

Great question!

My response?

Collaboration is said to be a feminine leadership superpower - where women are perceived to be better at working together with others towards a common cause than men.

Collaboration is usually seen as the exact opposite of competitiveness (a stereotypical masculine trait).

However, as with any trait or strength collaboration can be a double edged sword.

Let's be honest, not all women collaborate well. In particular, recent research tells us that when women are in single gender environments we are more competitive and less collaborative.

When women do collaborate in mixed gender teams, we frequently come off getting less credit than our male peers, which we learned from research into academic papers in the economic world.  

Worse, when women don't collaborate well in mixed gender teams, they lose in the likability stakes - a hangover from our playground socialisation. "Play nice kids!"

Ironically when men collaborate they get extra kudos for doing so - as with office house work!  

So what are you supposed to do?  Should we collaborate or not?


When we look at The Future of Work Report by World Economic Forum for Davos 2016 we can see that in 2015 'working with others' (collaboration) was #2 on the desired skills list. For 2020 it's still really high, but has dropped to #5 being pipped at the post by

  • complex problem solving
  • critical thinking
  • creativity and
  • people management

So yes, collaboration is right up there and seen as a highly desirable workplace skill now, and will continue to be highly desirable in the future.

Five key collaboration pointers for exective women

  1. Remember, because stereo-typically women are said to be better at collaboration, others will criticise us if we don't do it well.  Collaborate smartly. Understand the biases around gender and collaboration and navigate strategically. Plus, be sure to learn how to collaborate in both single gender and mixed gender teams.
  2. Ensure you take proactive and visible roles (rather than only passive or background roles) in collaborative projects.
    • Note taking, making sure everyone is okay, gently reminding people of project deadlines = passive or background.
    • Chairing, leading, driving, inspiring, reporting = proactive and visible.
  3. Ensure you get credited with your contribution and (where possible and appropriate) ensure your name is listed early on the list of contributors on collaborative projects (rather than after the men). The men are likely to get extra social credit for just being on the team, so don't feel guilty.
  4. Ensure that at least one of your collaborative projects is deemed by the rest of the business as "sexy",  high profile and/or highly visible to leaders inside the business. Yes, someone has to be "the fixer", but make sure that's not all you do.
  5. If you are a manager working to empower or champion the female talent within your business, then keep these pointers in mind to ensure your female team members flourish and get noticed for all the right reasons.

And finally?  
It doesn't have to be damned if you do and damned if you don't. Keep the five pointers above in the back of your mind and get in amongst it. Turn collaboration into your secret weapon of mass engagement. Not only will learning to collaborate smartly be an act of future proofing, but it will definitely help with your leadership goals.  

After all Smart 'n Savvy +  feminine super powers=  priceless

Vive la révolution! #ambitionrevolution

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