Gender Frustrations

So I have taken a week to think about how to blog about a session that I saw last weekend at the ABA Conference.  The session was about using movies to demonstrate gender differences in negotiation and I went to see what teaching tools might be provided.  I was on the negotiation program track for the ABA, and had helped select this session for presentation at the conference, so I was really looking forward to it.  Instead, the session became a very good example of the challenges in teaching about gender differences in negotiation.

The session started out with slides that listed how women communicate or how women negotiate.  I think, in retrospect, that the speakers may have been trying to highlight some of the stereotypes about women from the 1970’s and ask whether these were still relevant but– without any introduction to what they planned to do, cites to the outdated research, or other signposting, –it appeared that the speakers were presenting these comments as current and true (even if that was not their intention).  When asked what research this was based on, the speakers stated that “this is what the research shows. ”  As some in the audience continued to challenge further assertions about the research, the tone went downhill and unfortunately, rather than becoming a learning experience, became more of an argument, which continued even after the session.  All this, of course, at a dispute resolution conference.   

I wanted to unpack a few key things from this session.  First, as presenters, academics and scholars, it is incumbent upon each of us to know the research in any given area on which we speak.  One of the frustrations was that the presenters referred to “research” without differentiating where, what, how and by whom the research was done.  (I think it was taken primarily from an ADR textbook that they use though I have not confirmed this.)   So, below, I am linking to a batch of the latest research on gender in negotiation.  

My second point is linked to the first.  Like many presentations, this one presented a mix of research that applies to lawyers or has been done on professionals versus research done on girls.  For example, Carol Gilligan’s work on 10 year olds is interesting (and important and ground-breaking) AND  not as relevant in terms of giving advice to adults.  If we are teaching in law schools (or presenting at law conferences) with our goal being to give good negotiation advice to all of our students and generally have a very limited amount of time to talk about differences–racial, gender, ethnic, cultural, etc.–we need to make sure that our advice is pointed and useful.   If we start our courses, our textbooks, or our presentations with outdated and offensive stereotypes, we risk that the inaccurate message is the only one heard.  We end up spending the rest of our advice, or readings, or lecture then digging ourselves out of the hole we have created.  I, for one, am done teaching Carol Gilligan as a start, then Carrie Menkel-Meadow’s response (to start digging out of the hole), then other pieces, and then, finally, my research and Charlie Craver’s showing no differences. 

Enough.  Let’s start with the good news–as lawyers representing clients, men negotiate just as effectively as women; and focus on the exceptions and key questions–what can each gender learn from each other in terms of tendencies? when do women face backlash? what are gendered contexts that make negotiation more difficult? what are the most effective strategies to avoid this?  This is not to say that there are no gender differences or that, magically, stereotypes have disappeared.  This is, however, a call to focus on what matters most for the future lawyers we teach.

Finally, ironically, one of the pieces of advice that the presenters gave–asking a potentially sexist counterpart if he held stereotypes about women negotiating–may have come from a misunderstanding of my own work (can’t make this up!)  Let me clarify–my 1994 article “Effective Responses to Offensive Comments” outlines a framework for how to respond (linked here).  When facing a comment that might be offensive, first the the receiver should think about her/his own assumptions and then contemplate how to respond.  Second, your choices to respond are ignore, confront, deflect or engage.  In engaging, the recipient of the comment might ask why someone said something–“why did you ask me if I am the only one representing this client?”, for example.  I would not, and have never suggested, that anyone open up a negotiation by fishing for someone’s biases–rather the choices of responses are tools to respond, not to assert. 

As promised, here are some links to updated gender research–in addition to my articles on which I have blogged before, there is a host of good research coming from Hannah Riley Bowles, Kathleen McGinn, Linda Babcock, Cathy Tinsley and, of course, Debbie Kolb.  An SSRN search on any of them will give you a host of good articles.  Here are just a few to get started:  (the first two are co-authored with me, Emily Amantullah, and Sandy Cheldelin)

Tinsley et al, Women at the Bargaining Table (Negotiation Journal, Nov 09)

Tinsley et al, Leadership and Lawyering (Hamline Symposium from AALS Annual Meeting  of Women in the Law Section, Jan 2009)

 Kolb, 25 Years of Gender Research (Negotiation Journal, October 09) (not on SSRN, need to find through Neg J. website)

Bowles, Babcock & McGinn, Constraints and Triggers: Situational Mechanics of Gender in Negotiation (Kennedy School working paper, 2005)

Kolb & McGinn, Beyond Gender and Negotiation to Gendered Negotiations (HBS working paper, 2008)

Bowles & Babcock, When Doesn’t it Hurt to Ask? (IACM Working Paper, 2008)

4 thoughts on “Gender Frustrations”

  1. Thank you so much for this. Unfortunately, “dedicated” sessions like this are usually so full of fail that if I feel brave enough to attend? I always brace myself for the inevitable mess that is to follow.

    Over the weekend, I attended a session on women writers at Marvel Comics and it was much the same thing even though all the panelists were women. Gender and/or race fail nearly always happen at these “dedicated” sessions, regardless of the good intentions that went into creating them. :\

    And I only say nearly above, because there HAS to be a session somewhere that doesn’t end up in fail. I have yet to attend one, though.

  2. I have also had the challenge of presenting on this topic to an audience of female lawyers ranging in age from 25 (my daughter’s age) to (ahem) those of us that grew up in the feminist era of the 1970″s. My conclusion is that it’s a challenge to throw off the historical experiences and blur over the communication differences without appearing biased and dated–even if it’s presented side by side with the newer research. I personally chose, in that instance, to invite another woman to do the second of the series which I was invited to present! I appreciate your candor and observations here.

  3. Great AND confusing post, Andrea. I’d sure like to see more about the interactions among power, status and gender in negotiation. In other words, aren’t women more likely to be as effective as men when/if they have the same power/status as the men with whom they are negotiating? Haven’t you written recently about how women often need to hide behind the “caretaker stereotype”–perhaps being raised Catholic I can also think of this as the “Madonna” stereotype– in order to be effective? And isn’t it interesting/odd/sad/frustrating that women apparently need to choose between being viewed as competent or likable—that it’s incredibly difficult to be viewed as both? And last, isn’t it interesting/odd/sad/suspicious that women are under-represented in positions of high status and power?

    Am planning to make some of my Negotiation/Mediation students aware of your post. Didn’t even know about the Hamline symposium. Thanks for the information–and thanks to Hamline!

  4. Thanks all for your comments here–I think it is crucial that we keep talking about the challenges of teaching this, what we need to tell our students about the way the world is, and what might we do to change it.
    More specifically, Nancy, in response to your comment–you are correct that, at least in my study, there was no difference in effectiveness rating based on gender. In the book chapter and in the Hamline piece (all linked above and on my SSRN), we note that while other females may face this likeability v. competence dichotomy recently illustrated in the 2008 presidential elections, female lawyers seem to escape this. Our hypotheses as to why this seems to be the case (and that women can assert without backlash) include (a) that perhaps the status of a lawyer gives women “power” to assert; (b) that perhaps the role expectations of lawyers as aggressive mean that asserting fits the mold; or (c) that advocating on behalf of the other (the caretaker stereotype Nancy refers to or that I call the mother bear syndrome) means that women are expected to assert in those instances.
    There is still more to do and more to research (and more to change) so thanks for the ongoing conversation!

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