When newly appointed as Chair of the Board of the Environment Protection Authority in South Australia, I made a mistake. Today is the anniversary of said “growth opportunity” (as it’s politely referred to in leadership-development-speak.)

I was determined to “put a stake in the ground” to mark the importance of diversity in leadership and gender equality in the agency. What better way to start, I thought, than by hosting a celebration for International Women’s Day. An appropriately symbolic gesture which would extend solidarity to women in the organisation.

Female staff were invited to an afternoon tea at which they had the chance to hear female board members speak.

Everyone seemed to suitably enjoy the occasion. I was chuffed.

Until a male colleague spoke up.

He shared that he would have really liked the opportunity to participate in the celebration of EPA women and to acknowledge what International Women’s Day (IWD) means to him.

His message to me; sustainable culture change around diversity in leadership and gender equality would not happen with the “me” versus “you”, “us” versus “them” approach.

He was right.

The following year I worked with CEO Tony Circelli to extend an open invitation for an IWD event.

The turn-out tripled from the previous year. And most importantly it nudged senior leadership to hone in on how their own team cultures were faring in terms of diversity and inclusiveness and led to the refresh of a mentoring program to better support emerging female leaders.

There’s been a focus in recent months on the dysfunctional dynamic between men and women in workplaces and the wider world. #MeToo has called out some truly awful cases of sexual harassment, abuse of power and persistent inequality between men and women in workplaces worldwide. It’s been a powerful platform for so many women to voice pain, trauma and anger and ultimately, for calling perpetrators to account.

But as Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn.org and Survey Monkey discovered from a survey of almost 3000 people in the US, #MeToo has also given rise to some unintended consequences. According to survey results, the number of senior males uncomfortable about mentoring female colleagues has tripled with senior men now 5 times less likely to take a junior female colleague out for coffee or a meal than they would a junior male for fear of possible misinterpretation or accusation. Sheryl’s response has been a call to action to senior male leaders to #MentorHer.

Today I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with Inkling Women CEO Sophie Hampel as we launch a counter-balance campaign here in Australia. #WeTwo.

#WeTwo aims to shine a light on the positive ways in which men and women are working “two-gether” and encouraging each other to step up, speak up, lead and become champions of change in the workplace.

The campaign calls for stories about how men and women are standing shoulder to shoulder to challenge the status quo, creating greater equality and opportunity for diversity in leadership within their organisations.

#WeTwo is an invitation:

… for women to share how they’ve mentored men about creating cultures that leverage female leadership;
…for men to share how they’ve stood up for pay parity;
…for women to acknowledge how men have backed them to step up;
…men to share how women have invited them to speak out two-gether about the need for greater diversity in their organisations;
…for women to talk about how they’ve been supported by women, and men to say how they’ve been nudged by male colleagues to take a stronger lead for diversity and equality.

It’s about pointing to the positive change happening in plenty of places. And celebrating it.

#WeTwo also calls for individuals to continue to act with courage, diligence and commitment in the workplace to create gender equality; this, we know from the hard stats, creates a better environment for all.

I’ve personally worked alongside plenty of great, respectful and supportive men who’ve made a positive difference in my career. Mark Withers is someone who deserves to be named because he may not realize the impact he had.

Around the time of my IWD lesson, I was finding my voice as the new head of a board comprised of experienced, long-standing members. As an “outsider” I was conscious of striking the balance between treading carefully in getting to know the dynamic while also stamping my authority on the role.

During this time, I found myself going head-to-head with a powerful male board member who was strongly opinionated and particularly pointed in some of his contributions. I became aware that at times I was becoming defensive in my interactions with him.

When I looked at it all, I realized I was feeling the weight of having to prove something as a younger newcomer, butting up against my inner glass ceiling and beginning to doubt my authority. It was then that I had a pivotal conversation with board member Mark.

He reminded me to back myself, offered a reminder that I had “what it takes” and observed that I could change the dynamic by calling on the power of collaboration and throwing the conversations over to the rest of the board instead of thinking I had to handle it solo.

While I couldn’t see it at the time, I’ve since recognized the incredibly constructive opportunity that I was offered by Allan Holmes through his forthright clarity, extensive expertise and exceptional critical thinking. I’m very grateful to him too.

Because ultimately, working with these two men, I discovered that “leaning in” also means “leaning in two-gether” from time to time!

Three ways that you can join the #WeTwo movement:

1. Share positive experiences of women and men supporting each other in the workplace on FB, Instagram, Linkedin using #WeTwo

2. Pledge: Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn: copy and paste status to show your commitment to gender equality in the workplace. Examples might include:

a. I will not ignore bias and inequalities at work #WeTwo  OR

b. I will be conscious about creating diversity in my workplace. I will celebrate the unique strengths we bring and challenge our team to accept and celebrate difference #WeTwo  OR

c. If I have an inkling that something is misaligned, I will stand up and speak out to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace. We must work together to achieve gender equality #WeTwo

3. Start conversations in your workplace, if you see something that is not right, speak out.

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  1. Sally Jamieson

    March 8th, 2018 at 11:29 am

    I so appreciate and value your leadership Mia – thank you for shining light on the way forward. #WeToo is a wonderful initiative and I have an Inkling it’s going to be a game changer.

  2. Mia Handshin

    March 8th, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Thanks Sal, thought you might like to check out Sophie Hampel’s blog post too!

  3. Matthew Wright-Simon

    March 8th, 2018 at 1:14 pm

    A thoughtful and open invitation, Mia. #WeToo has rather a nice energy and great potential to bring people together in what is too often an oppositional world.

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