Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, women have been contributors to the modern working world in one form or another. For almost two centuries their roles were supportive or administrative until the feminist movement of the 1960’s shed light on the need for cultural and societal changes as they related to working class women, and women in general. Women’s roles, however, continued to be architected by men which led to more passive and/or submissive professional positions. Out of that oppression came female trailblazers who got fed up and asserted that women could perform equally, or exceedingly, in the roles for which only their male counterparts traditionally competed. Otherwise, they settled for what they could get in order to earn a living and ended up back where they started – frustrated and defeated.
Gender bias has been silently, but consistently, woven into the business culture everywhere. The assumption that women are “too emotional” to make decisions, or are perceived as “difficult” or “too aggressive” when they politely show firmness in their communication, are common examples of the biases at play.
Do these biases show up in negotiations? Without a doubt! They are pervasive across all industries, relationships, and levels of authority. Negotiations are not something everyone is comfortable being a part of, but there are many “negotiators” who think they know it all when it comes to strategies and tactics. So, how do we as women overcome the gender biases and drive excellence in our negotiations and interactions, while disproving the myths that we’re not the right fit for accomplishing our organizations’ goals?
In my experience, this seems to have been a process of trial and error. I started my working career in the mid-1990s. My work experience is mostly made up of technology companies that are ever-changing and fast paced – and male dominated. Combine all of that with the fact that women have been known to stifle, push-down, step on and undercut other women just to get ahead, or gain favoritism, and you have a hot mess on your hands.
What has proven effective for me is to first, take your own inventory. Be honest with yourself no matter how uncomfortable it is. Asking questions like these are key:
- What am I doing that is undermining my progress and the progress of those around me as it relates to negotiations?
- Are we preparing the team well enough before going to the table?
- Do we negotiate in person or via telephone or email?
- What did we learn from our last negotiation?
It may surprise you to learn that there is always something that can be adjusted in your approach and style to help ensure that the integrity of your role as a negotiator remains intact as you strive to break down the biases working against you.
The Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation has a daily blog which covered this exact topic: Challenges Facing Women Negotiators (https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/leadership-skills-daily/women-and-negotiation-leveling-the-playing-field/). The 3 steps they recommend to overcome gender biases in negotiations are almost too obvious, and should not be ignored:
- Audit your negotiating behavior – ask yourself how you are viewing the women negotiators you meet with
- Raise standards – find ways to improve the strategies and skills that negotiators use in your organization
- Educate and mentor others – within your organization set the example for someone else to grow into that role without bias.
It’s been proven that women still have a long way to go, regardless of our abilities in business and negotiations, here in the 21st century. Continue to lift other women up, and lead your male counterparts by example in order to clear a path for the future generations of women and men who will hopefully recognize experience and capability over gender.