Written by: Anthony Madigan, MD
On the night of November 6 2018, Stacey Abrams faced the biggest moment of her life. A successful lawyer in the US and former minority leader of the Democrats in Georgia’s House of Representatives, Abrams watched the results of that day’s election come in. At stake, the Governorship of the state of Georgia. Her interest? She was the Democratic candidate.
Her opponent was Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, During his tenure, hundreds of thousands of names had been removed from Georgia’s voter records. To some, this was a process of ensuring voting records were up to date. To others, it was voter suppression.
Abrams lost. By 55,000 votes.
A fair fight
Within a year Abrams had founded Fair Fight Action, an organisation focused on fighting voter suppression in her home state and further afield. Her ability to bring people and organisations together behind a common cause transformed voter registration in Georgia and many other states.
This might have remained a local political story were it not for two more recent elections. In November, Joe Biden won Georgia by a wafer-thin majority on his way to the presidency. And in January, Georgia delivered a shock result in its elections for the US Senate, sending two Democrats to Washington and taking overall national control away from the Republicans.
Stacy Abrams is generally considered to be the person who helped make these results happen, upending US politics (as well as engineering the defeat of a sitting Georgia Senator nominated personally by the very same Brian Kemp).
More women leaders, please
Everyone should know this story, and Women’s History Month is as good a time as any to tell it.
Not that we should need platforms like Women’s History Month. Inequality is an inhuman condition, and it hurts more than those who suffer its consequences directly. The very fact that we need to fight inequality in any part of society is, frankly, a disgrace but we can only deal with the situation we have and work to change it.
And in this case the situation is the gross under-representation of women in positions of power, influence and decision-making. And we’re all losers because of it.
Write the Talk, the business I founded, is an almost entirely female team at the moment. I’m probably the token male (the team will undoubtedly confirm that). It should go without saying that everyone is here on merit, and over the years we’ve attracted a rainbow of talent, expertise, backgrounds, experiences and outlooks.
WTT wouldn’t be what it is today without this powerful female influence, and on this Employee Appreciation Day I’m grateful to every one in the team for what they’ve brought to the business and to me.
The Stacy Abrams story also highlights one particular area where many businesses could help themselves to be much more successful.
Collaboration or competition?
I once read a study that compared the formative years and experiences of schoolchildren with the environments they went on to work in. In simple terms, boys in friendship groups were competitive, constantly trying to outdo each other. Girls were much more collaborative and supportive. And what happened when they went to work? The male-dominated work environments favoured the competitive personalities and therefore the ‘boys’, perpetuating a bias that still exists in many male-led businesses.
Collaboration is one of the most powerful forces in business. A team that collaborates, supports, and shares skills and ideas with a common purpose will outrun and outlast a team of self-centred competitors. Every time.
Internal competition (where someone always loses) can be deeply corrosive. Internal collaboration is a multiplier, an amplifier of all strengths. And it makes for a better place to work.
Stacy Abrams brought people together to make massive things happen. But this isn’t an either/or debate. No one is going to persuade me that Abrams isn’t competitive, but her capacity for working with people and helping them achieve great things has proved to be transformational.
Having women properly represented at all levels of your team and organisation brings myriad benefits, but remember the advantages of having natural collaborators. Getting change done well is a collaborative exercise not a competitive one. A group of people with a critical mass of collaborators and a shared story to get behind can achieve anything.
Focus on making your organisation more collaborative and maybe some other imbalances might improve naturally.