He plus she equals we – collaboration as the key to gender equality. The Boat Race.

Female rowing team

In the world of business, gender equality is very much underpinned by co-operation: companies adhering to equality because legislation means they have to. At best, this means the majority of organisations ticking the necessary boxes when it comes to requiring equal numbers of women on boards and in management positions. However, if gender equality is to be transformed, this half-hearted co-operation needs to be replaced by a genuine drive to collaborate. Organisations need to support gender equality because they want to. Because working together on this issue really would achieve a better outcome for everyone.

The United Nations “He For She” campaign is founded on this key principle, encouraging true collaboration, that is working together to achieve something that is better than you could achieve alone. Through this campaign, the UN aims to unify both men’s and women’s efforts towards gender equality. He For She, is a solidarity movement for gender equality that brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half of humanity, for the benefit of all.1

This is a laudable ideal, but psychologists know that there’s more to collaboration than simply ‘working together’. The motivation to collaborate is an essential precursor of effective collaboration. Why would men want to work together with women to achieve parity in the workplace? Motivation to collaborate on gender equality comes when both men and women feel that they’re getting something out of the collaboration. The more one party gives, the more willing we are to put more on the table.


However, different parties may inevitably have disparate viewpoints and priorities – there is both a “he” and a “she” in the “we” equation. The process of establishing a collaboration in which both parties, men and women, have a vested interest and equally high levels of motivation, is rarely a smooth one.

Collaboration will be in action when sporting history is made on Saturday April 11th 2015, as The BNY Mellon Boat Race is joined on the Tideway for the first time by The Newton Women’s Boat Race. First raced in 1829 (men’s) and 1927 (women’s) respectively, the BNY Mellon Boat Races between Oxford and Cambridge universities are amongst the oldest sporting events in the world.


Traditionally, the women’s race is held the week before the men’s race and on a different part of the river, in Henley. It is nearly 90 years since the initial women’s Cambridge v Oxford University Boat Race, but the first time the women’s crew are being allowed to compete on the same day and Tideway course as the men.

As well as equal television coverage and funding from sponsors, this has come about through a motivation to work within a sponsorship arrangement in which both the men’s and women’s goals and needs are met. Not only do they both have television coverage for their respective races, but there is collectively more coverage and a larger audience on which to draw; something that is appealing for rowers and sponsors alike.

This is a great example of where working together to increase gender equality has led to a win-win for both men and women. Organisations need to stop seeing equal opportunities as an obligatory hassle and to start seeing the opportunities. Collaboration requires us to consider our common goals. “He” plus “she” can be made into “we,” when we work together to meet both parties needs in our teams and our organisations.


Do you think gender equality will only happen when there is a win-win?