Can Guys Teach Gender?

Yes…and they should!  Coming back from the WIP conference this past November at Harvard, one of the most interesting conversations was a late night one between several professors—men & women—about teaching gender in a negotiation class.  Now that the new semester is starting up, I wanted to bring this topic up again. 

As others have noted to me, the vast majority of gender & negotiation research, and public presentations on gender, tend to be by women.  Debbie Kolb, of course, would point out that everyone has gender—not just women—and yet there is clearly something about teaching gender that make at least some male professors uncomfortable.  And, don’t get me wrong, it’s not for lack of thinking it’s important; it’s more that they don’t want to be patronizing or make the situation worse by raising stereotypes that they themselves do not believe in.  At least one male professor hoped that by avoiding teaching gender, and teaching general negotiation effectiveness, everyone would get the message that people should not be defined by their gender.  But, as he noted, that does not, in the end, necessarily serve either the male or female students in our negotiation classes. 

So…I would argue that we need to teach gender differences–or perceived gender differences and the stereotype problems that occur—for two reasons and then I’ll discuss how.  First, only by raising awareness of the false and problematic issues faced by women professionals (often called the likeability v. competence dichotomy), can we hope to change the minds of the men and women who make these assumptions.  For example, as I gathered data on last year’s presidential election, I did not really believe that gender really played a role in media coverage.  But…when faced with the overwhelming evidence of some truly horrid coverage, I have become much more aware of how the media covers women in leadership roles and now watch more carefully what is said about women leaders.  For example, last fall a political commentator noted, while attacking the Democratic position on health care, that he would not want to marry Nancy Pelosi.  Are you kidding me?  Why would I care and why is that relevant?  I don’t recall that actually being a question asked about Tip O’Neill!

Professors need to highlight these issues and raise awareness.  We also need to give women the tools to deal with these stereotypes until they are reduced.  When women are negotiating, there are some clear strategies that researchers have found that are more successful.  As explained in more depth in articles by my colleagues and me, women should do three things:  (1) when possible, frame the negotiation as one that is on behalf of others—your client, your team, your department, your company;  (2) be sure to highlight your role or profession as a lawyer so that this identity—that of a lawyer—is more salient than any other identity and that role of lawyer is one in which we fully expect assertive negotiation; (3) finally, be sure to use the high status of a lawyer to signal that, again, that status—and perceived negotiation effectiveness expected from that status—should permit you to be assertive without suffering any backlash. 

Now…is it completely ridiculous in part to be arguing that we, women, should work within the core stereotype as opposed to breaking it down?  Absolutely.  Are we serving our students by only giving advice to fight stereotypes versus adapting until they are broken down?  No.  And both male and female negotiation professors need to feel comfortable doing this….

4 thoughts on “Can Guys Teach Gender?”

  1. When I teach gender and negotiation to executives, managers and practicing attorneys, I suggest that we learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Unlike politics, there’s no cultural sterotype tugging on our sleeve and imploring us to pay it lip service. Women are already masters of collaborative, interest-based negotiation and men have much to learn from them. Men are more natural competitive players and we women can deploy many of their natural tactics to our benefit. Play to stereotype when your negotiation partner can be bested by doing so or when he needs it to be coaxed to the line of impasse. Play against it to maximize the power of surprise. Be conscious, be prepared, be canny, brave and daring. But never ever believe yourself to be limited by (or invulnerable because of) your gender.

  2. I agree that all of us who teach negotiation should discuss gender differences, regardless of our own gender.

    The vast majority of the students in my negotiation classes tend to be men. I find that many have not thought about how gender differences might impact on a negotiation. Many of my students take the view that “no one notices gender.”

    My favorite example that contradicts this view was one year when I divided the students up into 6 person negotiating groups with single genders (the women negotiated with women and men with men). The men didn’t notice there were no women. In contrast, the women noticed immediately that there were no men and all reported enjoying the all-women negotiation.

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