Women in Negotiation

A leader in any situation, but particularly a leader in a negotiation, needs to find a way to direct their team in a manner that allows for collaborative and progressive interactions. In July 2015, CEDR organised a leadership seminar at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, asking what qualities define a good leader. Although answers were numerous, a particularly resonant one (from Helen Dodds, Global Head of Legal, Standard Chartered Bank) spoke of “a view from Copenhagen” – that is, the view that Wellington had as a leader from his horse [Copenhagen] at the battle of Waterloo: a leader should take charge from the front without being aloof, whilst able to see a situation from a different and wider perspective. However one question that was not sufficiently explored on this occasion was what happens when one puts gender into the equation of leading a negotiation.

Undoubtedly the world has made progress on a range of fronts when it comes to breaking down many of the barriers of gender – the legal community in the UK has made massive strides with almost equal numbers of solicitors from both genders. Yet when looking at role models in the world around us there is still not that same equality. As business woman and author Margaret Heffernan said in her 2004 book The Naked Truth, “I remember sitting in a room full of brilliant women in a leading investment bank. Together, they probably had more degrees than the government and more intelligence than their board of directors. What was their problem? They didn’t know how good they were… …It’s way past time for women to take ourselves seriously, know how good we are, be comfortable with our own energy, skills and talents – and make sure we put ourselves in positions where those are used, admired, respected and compensated appropriately.”

Are there attributes inherent in women that might make them better leaders in some aspects of negotiations than men? The notion that women are strong empathizers is often unchallenged, and can manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, women might have an easier time inferring what people are thinking or intending when they say something in a certain way, or might communicate in more cooperative and collaborative manners. What is not articulated in a negotiation can be just as important – or perhaps more so – than what is said, and being able to “read between the lines” and dig out information can lead to a better negotiated outcome.

Margaret Heffernan in her 2014 book “A Bigger Prize” also argues that it isn’t that women aren’t as good as men at competing for what they want, but rather that for myriad reasons they do not always choose to. What does this mean for a negotiation? If people, women or men, choose not to compete does that mean that they are less ambitious or does it mean that they spend less time focused on our differences and more time on what we can achieve – particularly using collaboration?

The reality is that whilst there are clues we still do not have all the answers. Which is why on 21 of October CEDR is running an event called Women in Negotiation, where a number of female negotiators (including Margaret Heffernan) will share how, why and even if gender makes a difference to their work. This is a topic where the more we discuss it and test it, the more it is likely to reveal. As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “a woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”

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