by Betsy Polk and Maggie Chotas, co-authors of “Power Through Partnership: How Women Lead Better Together” and co-presidents of the Mulberry Partners
Sara finally gives up. She’s tried at least three times to get her voice heard by her colleagues on the leadership team. As she looks around the conference table, hopelessness sets in. As much as she thought this time would be different, she still is the only woman on the team and the only one whose voice is routinely ignored. Five minutes later, Sara’s teammate Bill voices the idea Sara was trying to share. “Great thinking,” team members say as they nod in agreement. Sara shrugs and gives up on her promise to herself to try harder by raising her voice and repeating her idea several times. She’s tried that before; it’s exhausting, and it doesn’t even work. “Next time keep your ideas to yourself,” Sara thinks as she leaves the conference room.
A month later, Bill joins another division and is replaced on the team by Yvonne Taylor. Though Sara knows of Yvonne — like Sara, she’s been with the organization for several years — she has never worked with her and is concerned about another woman joining the team. Especially one who is as strong as Yvonne is rumored to be. Though Sara would never say so out loud, deep down she knows that there’s only so much room for women at the table. After all, Sara has worked hard to get as far in the company as she has. There’s no way she’s going to give up her seat to Yvonne (or any other woman). And Yvonne, Sara figures, is certainly smart enough to feel the same way.
During the first team meeting with Yvonne, Sara is ready to defend her territory. She emphatically raises an opinion, but the conversation quickly swerves to another topic. Sara is surprised when, instead of sidestepping Sara’s idea or taking credit for it, Yvonne listens eagerly, acknowledging and building on it. At first, Sara figures Yvonne is trying to win her over, but Yvonne’s support continues. As a result, Sara finds her confidence growing as her connection with Yvonne and other team members strengthens. Before long, Sara trusts that when she offers her perspective, she can count on Yvonne to reinforce it. Yvonne might not always agree but she consistently listens and respects Sara’s views.
It doesn’t take long for Yvonne’s support and acknowledgement of Sara to become contagious. Sara soon finds herself doing the same thing for Yvonne and for other women in the company. Her fear of losing her place at the table is replaced by a deepening commitment to championing Yvonne and other women in the organization.
This story might seem to be the result of a happy accident that happened just because a new team member brought new energy. However, a dig beneath the surface reveals much more. As researchers who have studied the benefits women realize from leading together, we see how in this fictional example Yvonne acted skillfully to encourage partnership with Sara via five steps to a pathway we call the RAISE model. RAISE stands for Recognize, Amplify, be Intentional, Support and Elevate, five steps to partnership any woman (or man) can take in the workplace.
Let’s break down how RAISE worked when Yvonne joined the team: Yvonne intentionally looked for ways to recognize and amplify Sara’s voice. In lending this support, she helped elevate Sara’s ideas, a dynamic which led to Sara’s increased confidence and skill in contributing to the conversation. As trust built, the dynamics on the team shifted, allowing for productive conflict that sharpened ideas and provided better decisions and outcomes. Sara’s confidence had been diminished by the previous team dynamic in which she had to fight to get her ideas recognized. But the new dynamic encouraged her to bring out her best – contributing to the pool of input flowing into the organization. Sara didn’t know it could be like this because she hadn’t experienced anything like it before.
Sara’s story is not uncommon. As consultants and coaches who have worked with women in leadership in many different organizations, we’ve heard and seen similar versions of this story up close and personal. As Sara came to understand, intentional partnerships such as the one Yvonne and Sara developed make it possible for women to bring our best selves to work. The steps to partnership RAISE offers can be followed in any order and are easy to remember: Recognize. Amplify. Be Intentional. Support. Elevate.
The secret to success for women and men in the workplace is being intentional about following RAISE steps. To grow opportunities for women, it’s important to celebrate our female colleagues successes. That will expand employee capacities and strengthen visibility while boosting morale, talent capacity and the bottom line for everyone. As Sara, Yvonne and their colleagues discovered, these five simple RAISE steps led to a work environment that benefitted everyone. Go forth and RAISE and keep us posted on the partnerships you discover.