The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law May 2012
ADR @ Moritz

Schwartz Lecture Explores Gender and Negotiations in the Workforce

The annual Schwartz Lecture on Dispute Resolution this year featured Deborah Kolb, who spoke on “Negotiating in the Shadow of Organizations: Doing Well by Doing Good.” Dr. Kolb is the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership (Emerita) and Distinguished Research Fellow at the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons School of Management. Dr. Kolb is an internationally renowned scholar on gender and negotiations, and commonly presents to audiences and women executives worldwide.

The Lecture focused on Dr. Kolb’s latest research—namely, how women can negotiate the conditions for their own success while contributing to the effectiveness of their organization. Dr. Kolb began her lecture by detailing how the vast majority of research on negotiation compares women and men, focusing on women’s shortcomings. Dr. Kolb’s current research project looks at the organizational contexts within which everyday negotiations take place and considers how the context shapes not only what gets negotiated but the process itself.

In the negotiation field, research finds that agentic behaviors usually associated with competent negotiators are normative for men but counter-normative for women. Dr. Kolb explained that women are forced to choose between efficacy as a negotiator and fulfilling gender stereotype of niceness and accommodation, which is commonly termed the “double-bind” for women. She expounded that the majority of research and negotiation advice—which instructs women to tone down their agency, avoid directness, and act relationally—reinforces gender stereotypes.

When navigating the “double bind,” a woman may also have to decide between negotiating for herself and taking others into account. Assertive women negotiating for their own interests are less likely to be promoted, well-liked, or trusted. Women also face “the social cost to asking”—also known as backlash—when negotiating for themselves as principals, especially if they fail to act “assertively enough” on behalf of others.

Dr. Kolb explained that the skills that women predominantly bring to the workplace, such as facilitating group work or averting crises or breakdown, are not viewed as the most valuable leadership skills. Other skills that men use in the work place are often more highly valued, leading to quicker promotions. She explained that part of this value system is based on stereotypes. However, if all skills that help a workplace run smoothly were valued equally, the business would run better and employees would be happier. Dr. Kolb referenced organizations about which she has written case studies, such as The Body Shop (a successful woman-run company that utilizes diverse skills of employees).

Within this value system, Dr. Kolb discussed the merits of “Negotiating in the Shadow of Organizations”, i.e. women helping themselves and their organizations through their negotiation tactics. Dr. Kolb challenged the audience with case studies; audience members worked through a woman’s negotiations for a promotion and a large company’s attempt to have a women’s hiring and advancement initiative. Dr. Kolb explained that negotiators need to create awareness about “second generation” negotiation issues with their negotiation counterpart before the actual negotiation can take place. Awareness can activate changes in how organizations work, such as making the criteria for promotions more transparent or changing the firm’s value system to achieve a better work-life balance.

“Dr. Kolb’s use of case studies helped me recognize the many forces already in place and how to utilize negotiation tactics in this context. It is possible to persuade a workplace of your worth by emphasizing how your unique skills will better serve the company as a whole,” said Amanda Barrera, ’13.

Dr. Kolb is a principal in Negotiating Women, LLC, a company that provides negotiation training and consultation especially designed for women. Dr. Kolb received her Ph.D. from MIT's Sloan School of Management, where her dissertation won the Zannetos Prize for outstanding doctoral scholarship. She has a B.A. from Vassar College and an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado.

The Schwartz Lecture on Dispute Resolution was established in 1992 as a result of the generosity of the late Stanley Schwartz Jr. (a 1947 Moritz College of Law graduate) and the Schwartz family. Each lecture is published in the interdisciplinary Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, in keeping with Mr. Schwartz's interest in the promotion of scholarly publication in the area of dispute resolution.

* Article by Whitney Siehl, Moritz class of 2013.

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