Category Archives: Gender Matters

Disputant perceptions of gender: a challenge for women who mediate

Gender differences at the mediation tableGender bias persists.  Its influence casts a shadow over the negotiating table, where social conditioning and cultural expectations produce significant economic costs for women, following them from their first paycheck to beyond retirement.

But stereotypes and assumptions about gender may reach women on the other side of the negotiating table as well — the women who work as mediators, according to a research paper titled “Males and Females as Mediators: Disputant Perceptions“. From the abstract:

Third-party mediation is a popular means for resolving conflict in a variety of contexts. We investigated the extent to which a mediator’s gender may influence the disputing individuals’ view of the mediation. An examination of existing studies indicated that in general male mediators were perceived more favorably than their female counterparts were. Different perceptions could be the result of either behavioral differences between men and women or the stereotypes that disputants may hold regarding males and females. These results provide yet more evidence that additional barriers and challenges exist for women, compared to men, in the world of work.

(A hat tip to Geoff Sharp for sending along the link.)

Facing ourselves: new tests for hidden biases at Project Implicit

Facing ourselves: testing for hidden biasesThis is by no means the first time I’ve encouraged readers to plumb the depths of their hidden biases with the help of Project Implicit and its Implicit Association Test (IAT), an instrument which “measures implicit attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling or unable to report.” With the recent discussion here and elsewhere of gender bias, I thought it was time to revisit the IAT.

The IAT tests for biases across a range of categories, from gender to skin tone to disability. Since I first wrote about it, Project Implicit has introduced other tests, including

  • the “Weapons – Harmless Objects” IAT, which requires the ability to recognize White and Black faces, and images of weapons or harmless objects;
  • the “Arab Muslim – Other People” IAT, which requires the ability to distinguish names that are likely to belong to Arab-Muslims versus people of other nationalities or religions; and
  • a “2008 Presidential Election” IAT, which requires the ability to recognize images of U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.

You can also take the Three Countries IAT (link good at the time of this post), which requires participants to identify words associated with China, India, and Japan.

Visit Project Implicit and get to know yourself better.

Where are women who mediate, part 2: how can you hold a panel discussion on diversity and forget to include women?

Women still invisible - even at diversity workshopsLast week fellow mediator, blogger and rabble-rouser Victoria Pynchon published a post with a confrontational title: “Dispute Resolution by Old White Men: Gender Prejudice Sinks Arbitration Award“.

Lobbed like a Molotov cocktail, Vickie’s post blew gender bias apart, as she recited a litany of examples of discrimination spanning decades against women inside and outside the legal profession.

It’s not just the persistence of gender bias that makes women like Vickie and me so damn mad. It is also its effect: it makes us invisible — so much so that it drove me to ask out loud several weeks ago, “Where are all the women who mediate?“, as I looked at an ad for a panel of 15 neutrals that included only one woman.

Now I’m asking a different question. A colleague just sent me a flyer for a workshop on diversity and conflict resolution to be held here in New England.

First the good news: the workshop leaders, all nationally prominent figures in the ADR and legal fields, are of different races and faiths.

Now the bad news: they’re all men.

So I gotta ask: how can you conduct a workshop on diversity without including at least one woman on your panel of speakers?


Accessorizing for your next negotiation: should appearance matter?

Looks matter for your next negotiationA Google Alert in this morning’s email directed my attention to an article titled, “Isn’t Your Look Part of Your Negotiation?“, posted on, an online magazine “written for today’s entrepreneurial woman”.

The article emphasizes the importance of preparation to effective negotiation — namely, making the right impression with your appearance:

Here are some tips: mimic their style, put yourself in an attractive light and don’t create distractions. What does mimic their style mean? It doesn’t mean be who you are not, but rather present yourself in such a way that will look good to the other party… Mimic their look means to create a look for yourself that will be most pleasing for them to receive you.

Now here’s my favorite part, which the article offers up with a straight face and not even the faintest whiff of irony:

Negotiations are all about getting the other party to listen to you. Your hair, your clothing and your accessories should all be in tune to the tastes of the other party.

(Emphasis added.)

Huh? My accessories? Are you serious? (Incidentally, as my readers know, negotiations are indeed all about listening, but not “all about getting the other party to listen to you”. It’s in fact a lot about listening to them — vital to the relationship building that successful negotiations depend upon. Plus you’ll learn a great deal and be able to leverage the information you acquire.)

How about emphasizing the importance of a professional appearance? In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini describes how powerful authority is as a tool of persuasion and how readily we submit to those who wield it, often unable to distinguish between real and apparent authority. He points out that one of the most recognizable emblems of power here in the West is “the well-tailored business suit”, which “can evoke a telling form of deference from total strangers”, as experiments have shown.

Well-tailored suits aside, I confess I am left uneasy by all this talk about a negotiating woman’s appearance. Behind it lurks a whole array of social justice issues uncomfortable to discuss but urgent for us to face — women and aging, youth and beauty, race and skin color, antipathy toward the obese, prejudice against those with disabilities or deformities.

In urging women to “mimic” the look of their bargaining counterpart, how would the author of this article counsel the 60-year-old woman negotiating with her 30-year-old prospective boss? Or a woman of color negotiating in a predominately white workplace? Or a woman wearing a hijab? Or a woman with a face disfigured in a car crash, negotiating with people who are unscarred and whole?

There’s much, much more here than meets the eye.

Missing in action: where are all the women who mediate?

Women missing from commercial mediationAn advertisement for one of the big ADR firms appears regularly in the weekly newspaper for lawyers distributed here in Massachusetts.

The ad, in sober gray, black, and white, covers more than half a page. It displays thumbnail photos of the neutrals on its panel, with the names in full caps printed neatly beneath each headshot.

Samuel. Jerry. William. Gordon. David. Patrick. Cortland. James. A second James. Robert. Charles. Allan. Eric. John.

And, like an afterthought, or a printing error, one lone Maria.

This ad bothers me. It seems to contradict everything I have told my daughter about women and careers. “You can be anything you want,” I have told her, ever since she was a little girl.

This ad tells my daughter something very different.

Ask For It: a book, a blog, and online resources for women leveraging the power of negotiation

Ask for It - books helps women leverage the power of negotiationFive years ago Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever published Women Don’t Ask, a book that ripped the lid off of one of negotiation’s most intractable problems: the challenges that women face in negotiating successfully. They examined the barriers — institutional, cultural, and social — that hold women back and provided strategies to help women conquer the gender divide at the negotiation table to ask for and get what they want.

Women Don’t Ask touched a responsive chord in women nationally and internationally, many of whom had encountered these barriers up close. Many women contacted the authors to thank them for writing a book that opened up their eyes to negotiation’s possibilities and to ask for help with their own negotiations. This enthusiastic response motivated Babcock and Laschever to write a second book, the recently published Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want.

I plan to post a review of this book later this week, but one thing I can tell you right now is that it may be one of the best books on negotiation I’ve ever read. What Tammy Lenski recently did for mediation marketing, Ask for It does for real women facing real-world negotiations — women who want practical, common sense advice and tools for being effective negotiators. The advice is so good though and the revelations about gender issues at the negotiation table so disturbing that men should read it, too — not just to learn better ways to negotiate but to find out how any of us can battle gender bias in negotiation.

The Ask for It web site provides support for negotiating women, everything from downloadable worksheets and information to links to online resources, including Babcock’s work helping girls learn to negotiate.

There’s even (be still my heart) a blog. Although the blog is new with just three posts so far, if “Scary Monster(.com)” and “Cut Throat Bitch“, with their gutsy commentary on negotiation and gender, are any indication of what’s to come, this is one negotiation blog you’ll want to follow.

Boys will be boys: gender still an issue for the legal profession

climbing the legal profession ladder still tough for womenI will remember always the pride I felt the day I was sworn in as a member of the bar.

I was the first woman in my family to go to college, to get an advanced degree, and now, to become a lawyer. It was an important achievement for me and for my whole family.

It meant a great deal, this formal commitment to the courts and to the law that courts serve — to become a member of a profession dedicated to principles so lofty that when you speak their names out loud, you can hear the capital letters ring out:

Justice. Liberty. Equality. Rights.

Such is the romanticism of youth.

A week or so after the ceremony, something unexpected happened to crush my youthful idealism.

I can no longer remember what mission the partner who was supervising me had sent me on, but for the first time I walked into a courtroom as a lawyer. I wore a brand-new suit and carried a leather briefcase (also new). I walked past the gleaming wood rail that marked the area where the general public waited, entered the lawyers’ bullpen, and proudly sat down.

A few minutes later, two attorneys, men in their late sixties, approached my row, caught sight of me, and then glared at me. They stood for a moment, and I had the impression that they were about to ask me to move. Instead, they glanced meaningfully at each other and then sat down directly behind me.

They began whispering to each other, just loudly enough that I could hear every word. “It’s an outrage what’s happened to the legal profession. People these days evidently don’t know their place,” said one. “Looks like anyone can be a lawyer these days,” said the other, “they’ve certainly lowered the bar.” There was more along those lines.

Nothing in my law school career had prepared me for that. I had no idea what to do. I could feel my face burning. I felt sick to my stomach. And really, really angry. The attorney sitting next to me rolled his eyes in disgust. “Ignore it,” he whispered, “and don’t let it get to you. Dinosaurs like that are on their way out.”

As it turns out, his prediction was wrong.

Sexism is alive and well and living in the comments section of an article in the ABA Journal’s Law News Now about a woman who contacts an advice columnist to get some help with a toxic workplace — specifically, the law firm that employs her.

Go see for yourself that dinosaurs still walk the earth.

The art of persuasion: negotiation advice for women

Negotiation tips for women in businessWhat difference does gender make in negotiation? Although both men and women in business strive to be leaders at the negotiation table, there are potential traps that women need to be on guard against, according to the speakers at a recent seminar of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario.

Leadership communication expert Donna Goodhand and attorney and negotiation coach Delee Fromm had advice tailored for women who want to become more persuasive and effective negotiators:

“People respond more to the person representing the cause than they do to the cause itself,” Goodhand said, emphasizing the importance of image. “If we want to be seen as leaders in our realm, if we want our ideas to be credited and our voices to be heard, then it’s essential that we take a persuasive presence into our encounters.”

Emphasized were the importance of:

  • developing a vocal presence – women are socialized to speak quietly and use their “indoor voice”
  • avoiding “undermining openers” like “It’s probably just me” or “I guess what I’m trying to say” in a competitive negotiation
  • strategic, context-specific use of different negotiating styles

To read more on gender and negotiation, here some posts from the archives: