WAPPP, Program on Negotiation Host Seminar on Gender in Negotiation, Decision Making

October 7, 2009
by Theresa Lund, Associate Director for Research, Women and Public Policy Program

Decision scientists, economists, legal scholars, negotiation experts and psychologists from around the world convened at Harvard Kennedy School last week (1-2 Oct., 2009) for a research seminar on “Gender in Negotiation and Decision Making.” The two-day seminar was co-sponsored by the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School and the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. It was chaired by Hannah Riley Bowles, HKS Associate Professor of Public Policy, and Iris Bohnet, HKS Professor of Public Policy, Director of the Women and Public Policy Program and a member of the executive committee of the Program on Negotiation.

Michael Morris, Chavkin-Change Professor of Leadership at Columbia Business School, gave the keynote address, titled “Gender Differences in Negotiation: Personality or Strategy?” during WAPPP’s weekly seminar series, which drew more than one hundred faculty and students. He presented several studies examining to what degree personality and strategy help explain gender differences in negotiations. In the studies that examined personality, which were conducted among MBA students, the effect of gender on the performance of negotiators was marginal.

However, in the studies that examined a negotiator’s strategy, which were conducted among executive MBAs and upper level managers, Morris found that because women anticipated social backlash for behaving too assertively, they made greater concessions to a counterpart who started with a tough stance and ended up with lower salaries. Once negotiators were asked to advocate for others, though, women performed equally as well as men, providing further evidence of a pattern found by Hannah Riley Bowles and collaborators in earlier research.

Bowles presented two studies in which she examined what she called the “Lilly Ledbetter problem.” Lilly Ledbetter was a female executive who, in spite of earning her company’s “Top Performance” award was paid 13 percent less than the lowest paid man in her position. The first legislation that President Obama signed after entering office was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which, he said, “should send a clear message that making our economy work means making sure that it works for everybody.” Bowles asked, how can someone like Lilly Ledbetter negotiate for higher pay without paying a higher social costs than her male colleagues?

Bowles tested strategies that women can use to both reduce the social risks of negotiating and improve their economic prospects in negotiation. She showed that using “relational accounts” that justify the salary request while communicating concern for organizational relationships are effective for women in achieving both social and economic objectives in compensation negotiations. Bowles emphasized that the goal of this research was not to solve gender inequality in organizations by “fixing the women,” but rather to suggest that women can play a role in “fixing the gender inequalities” through their own interpersonal interactions.

This seminar was made possible through the generous support of the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard Kennedy School.

Hannah Riley Bowles

Hannah Riley Bowles speaks at the research seminar on the subject of women and negotiation. Photo credit Lindsay Hodges Anderson.

Hannah Riley Bowles

Bowles emphasized that women can play a role in “fixing the gender inequalities” through their own interpersonal interactions. Photo credit Lindsay Hodges Anderson.


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