Diving into the UP-WAVE: Women and men in leadership together

by Sue Congram, Rosie Mayes & Mary Musselbrook

Hard to face the reality, but the truth is that life has thrown our way something that we do not have all the answers to: how men and women can fully appreciate and capitalise on their differences in the top layers of organisational leadership. We’ve got over the issue of fixing the women, addressed our unconscious biases, argued our beliefs on differences between women and men (or not) and still not a lot has changed ……until now. 

There is a shift taking place, something is happening, a new wave is beginning to rise that we have not seen in quite this way before - women and men in dialogue on this important issue, getting right to the heart of it, really willing to explore and discover what it takes to work together in leadership at the top. With new policies thought through and in place, this next extraordinary phase of change seeks to address what is happening in practice; engaging tough conversations that speak a truth; stepping aside from the self limiting feelings of blame; rising to the challenge and meeting each other with new interest; diving into the next up-wave together with the courage to hear what it’s like from the position of the other. Whilst nothing much was going to change until this happened, the conversations that really make a difference can be tough because they explore beneath the surface of everyday activities: 

  • inviting each other to notice the assumptions we are making and the judgements we carry

  • exploring deep cultural beliefs that drive our behaviour

  • demanding personal reflection beyond the role - in life - to want to influence a world that our children are growing up in

  • a willingness to explore how we inadvertently re-create the very thing we are trying to change

  • demanding deep listening - to put aside ‘what I want to say’ for the sake of really hearing and affirming what the other is saying

  • growing an ability to notice personal reactions that are historic, to separate these from what is happening now

  • for both parties to set aside beliefs we carry about being ‘hard done by’ or ‘not understood’, in favour of seeking to understand the other from a place of interest and curiosity.

Let’s not pretend this is easy, it requires good levels of relational intelligence, as good as any other learning, knowledge and experience needed for a leadership role.

In the past relational intelligence has not been recognised as a key leadership requirement. Now it is. Men and women who want to understand their differences are on the move, finding out, inquiring, diving in, exploring, reflecting on themselves, changing perspectives, shifting attitudes. Women and men alike want change.

Vicki Gray