Co-Director of the Program on Negotiations in the Workplace, Program on Negotiation, Harvard University
Topics: development, gender and conflict, social structural changes
Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003
Listen to Full Interview
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: Could you give me a brief overview of your work?
A: I think I should talk about it in several ways. There's sort of my current work, but there is also the work I've done before. My interests in this field started with mediation, so I was interested in mediation.
A: I got interested in mediation when I was starting my doctorate. I went to a labor-teaching mediation, and I got very interested in that process and my work. I did my dissertation on labor mediation and it became a book called " The Mediators." All my work in the mediation field, which was then also influenced in the gender piece, has been looking at how people take up roles in negotiation and mediation, and then how their understanding of the roles shape what their practice is. That was certainly true in labor mediation, and then that was also the way "When Talk Works" was done.
I'm always interested in sort of how people frame and interpret the situations in which they are involved in, and then also how their experience shapes that kind of thing as well. My work on gender actually is not so dissimilar from that. My most current work began when I went to the program on negotiation. I always like to say I became the instant expert on gender even though I never had studied gender. People expected me to have something to say about gender because I always like to say the reason is because only women have gender; so I must know something about gender.
I began to try to think about ways to think about gender in negotiation, which is a complicated topic. Most people think about gender as looking at men and women; how men and women are different. I think that's not very interesting way to look at gender. I think that people are positioned in negotiation differently and the way they are positioned makes a huge difference in terms of how they can enact their roles. Sometimes men and women are positioned differently.
Q: By position you mean ???
A: The social structure in which they're involved. My interests since I teach in the Business School, is very much interested in business. Generally men hold higher positions than women. When you come into negotiation you are not just talking about men and women, you are talking about men leaders and women managers, or men managers.
The position that you occupy in a negotiation makes a huge difference in terms of what your able to do, and how you see the possibilities. My early work was sort of looking at that, I called it,"Her Place at the Table". I looked a little bit at gender differences, but I was also interested in how the place that you occupied made a difference. That notion of how you are positioned in a negotiation, the choices that you have as a result of that, and the experiences that you have, are what I see as my contribution. I learned about it from studying women but I think the implications are more generic so I wrote this book called the The Shadow Negotiation, which is now in it's paperback version called, Everyday Negotiation.
The idea in that is that what I learned from women was about this idea about how you're positioned and shadow negotiation. We give lots of advice on how to do negotiation. Talk to Larry and he's you know advocate of mister mutual gains negotiation, but my view is the ability to do that is very much determined by the position that you're in. People would talk to me about how they got in their own way. They didn't experience having a sense of agency. If they didn't have a sense of agency how can you claim, how can you do value creating, value claiming, it's very hard to do. People talked about the difficulty of getting people to the table, and if you're not at the table how can you enact these kinds of processes or get into situations where they're challenged and they have to push back.
On the connections side, I think we learned a lot from women about how to think about creating interdependence, as well. My codeword ??? for that sort of how you think about people, not just about their interests, but about who they are and then the whole idea of sort of using stories and experience to create a connection. That's really been my work recently.
Q: Is the purpose of creating interdependence to highlight the power dynamics?
A: What I always like to say is that you have to be able to get yourself in a good position as an advocate in order to have interdependence. I think you can then from that position create interdependence so you can engage in some inquiry. Sometimes inquiry in an organization leads to different kinds of outcomes than you've expected before, sort of a lot like buying a car. From my experience, a lot of times when people can foster interdependence where they begin to see that they buy into a share of problems, is the way that I would think about it. They start to recognize some of the systemic problems that are causing the symptoms in the first place, and this can sort of transform a negotiation. I don't think that happens all the time certainly, but in my own work in organizations I think it can happen. The stuff that people really resonate much more is the part about getting yourself into a good position, the idea about ???in turns and getting people to the table.
I've given this talk often to this group called "Women Waging Peace", and I don't know anything about women waging peace, but those are women involved in intractable conflicts. We've sort of talked about the challenges that they have especially getting to the table and being actors at the table. I am not sure I have all that great advice for it, but I think that a way to think about gender is not to just look at the way men and women would negotiate differently. The fact is that the women aren't at the table, and so how can they be participants? The issues that one would want to work on from a gender perspective, as far as I am concerned, is how women mobilize to get to the table so that they can be participants whether they would bring a different perspective or not. I think that there's some sense in these kinds of very difficult conflicts that they probably do it, they care about food, schools, and communities, not that they have different styles, but they care about their value system.
Q: So before you analyze women's style of negotiation, you have to have them negotiate?
A: You have to have them negotiate and I don't even think it's style, I think you would say it's concerns. I think in the US there are upper middle class, professional women that go to the schools from where we get most of our research insights and are entering professionals just like the men are. My guess is that they don't see the situation all that differently, in terms of their style of negotiating. The people who are involved in some of these very difficult intractable conflicts would, not that their style should be different, care about different kinds of things, that's not to say that they're peaceful. I don't think that women are necessarily peaceful, I think that they care about things like community, schools, feeding people, and so that those kinds of things might be much more on the table then might happen if women were not there so I guess that would be one of the ways I would think about it.
Q: All right. Is there an experience in your work that has especially touched or inspired you?
A: I love what I do. I feel that I'm just reading my students papers now, which there's like a bazillion of them to read, and a lot of them talk about their own experiences. I have a lot of different paper options but one of them is that. You can really see how empowering it is to help people, especially women I think, to recognize that they're in negotiations, that they have opportunities to do things to help them sort of get in touch with some of the ways that they can do things. For me it's quite interesting. I did have an experience that inspired me about thinking about gender in a very different way. I was asked about seven or eight years ago to speak by the World Population Council. They were running a conference in Amsterdam for women from the south, people who are gender trainers. Do you know about gender trainers?
Q: Is it something like a diversity trainer?
A: These gender trainers work a lot in government and in NGOs in the developing world to give people a gender sensitivity. When they're doing that it isn't just about that people are different; it's about different roles in society since they're coming from the global south. I have two really interesting experiences from when I was there. One was that they asked me to do a negotiation workshop. At the time I was at the Program on Negotiation and so I came and I sort of did the standard stuff that we did. How much this was relevant to them I wasn't sure. It was also clear that this sort of technocratic US way of looking at negotiation might not fit with them very well, but they really challenged me in a lot of scores around the presumption of agency, about women in these cultures, and it sort of really made me think about this notion that it was a very powerful thing on positioning.
The second thing that happened at that conference was very interesting. These gender trainers have a lot of technology that they use in training, and they were sharing that technology. One of the things that they had was this game, which was called Mono Mayo, and it was a little board game with two cultures. I don't know I forget what their called, Alphas and Betas, maybe. You picked up cards and you moved around this board and the cards say, for instance you may have just gotten a grant from the AID to grow more rice, you know there's a big rain storm and your product is wiped out, or you know you need to come up with the money to send the kids to school and school uniforms. There's that kind of thing you sort of move around, and you have money.
What happens over time is that the Alphas start to do incredibly well and they've got a lot of grants from AID. The Betas have to give up their community farms because they've got to go work for the Alphas and their wiped out, and there's money for the community and when you get to this point you run out of money. I was on the group that ran out of money and I said, "listen we need to revolt. We've just got to revolt, this is crazy. They are exploiting us, they're not doing anything. They are sitting around watching television, drinking beer."
At the end you find out that the Alphas were the men and the Betas were the women and you had no idea that that was the case. That experience of taking negotiation ideas and trying to translate it to women in the global south who are quite savvy about gender caused me to rethink how we thought about gender in negotiation. It is not as something that's about difference, but that s really very much about where people are in social structures and how they are then able to negotiate effectively. I guess that was a huge experience for me.
Q: Sort of a world development rigged monopoly game?
A: A world development rigged monopoly game, but also me teaching two things. It was about me teaching and getting very confronted by these women. I had met them at the conference in Amsterdam and again when I went to the Global Women's UN Conference in Beijing. They are very sophisticated, a lot were from the Philippines. These women are scientists, activists, and have very, very sophisticated ideas about gender. I learned a lot from them.
Q: What specifically did you learn from the Alpha-Beta game?
A: I learned from the Alpha-Beta game about how you don't recognize the ways in which gender shapes culture and society. I was playing this game as if I was an equal. There were these two groups in this community, and I was an equal who was just getting a run of bad luck. The game was actually trying to show you how sort of international players exacerbate gender roles; there is no money for the gardens that the women would grow to feed the family. You begin to understand how gender structures things; it's so invisible to you. You don't pay enough attention to it. You know the work we do here at our center for gender and organizations is really about all the subtle ways that gender is embedded in organizations that creates these playing fields. If you really want to make some changes around organizations or around practices you really have to begin to understand, to unpack some of those gendered assumptions.
That's the kind of work that I do. I was just down in New York on Tuesday while I was working with one of our clients, a large financial services company which is having a lot of trouble keeping women. What we did was try to look at some of the subtle ways in which the practices run, and how that creates differential impacts for men and women, making it difficult for women to succeed. Like us, a cultural norm that says never say no to a client, means you're working all kinds of hours. These women have children and they're in dual-career families. They just can't do it, so they leave. Guys, a lot of them have wives at home, or wives with sort of much lower level a much more part-time job or something like that. They can manage these kinds of things, these very subtle things. How can we negotiate with senior leadership to change some of those things? That's exactly what I was working with them on.
Q: What did you come up with?
A: Well, we came up with lots of things. Some of them were individual things that people could negotiate individually on, like pushing back on clients.
Q: So that you could spend more time with each individual client?
A: No. This particular practice has a lot of uncertainties built into it. When they do mergers and acquisitions for example, and they say we need these documents by tomorrow, and the issue is well do they really need them tomorrow; often they don't. Are there ways that you can negotiate or could you give them pieces of things? Next, we talked about more systemic interventions, in which there might be fee penalties for clients that ask you do things at the very last minute.
Q: Take away the incentive to rush everything, right?
A: To rush everything through. One of the things that you sort of recognize is that the degree to which you do that, people keep expecting you to do that. For one, we talked about the heroes being people who never take vacations. So starting publicizing people taking vacations and making the hero as someone who takes vacations rather than not. You start to model a different kind of behavior. The hero is not the person who is the work-a-holic, but the hero is somebody else.
Another thing we looked at was that there is great pressure to sell. You eat what you kill. They actually said, you can't eat unless you kill. This is very interesting though because it rewards only certain aspects of selling.
If somebody makes a connection and makes a match they don't get credit for that sale, only the closers get that sell. This undermines the team efforts of selling. What kind of changes could be made around that? That has a lot of implications for women, especially young women; it's hard for them to make these kinds of sales. They're young and they're more likely to make the connection, but then pass it along to somebody else. A lot of women don't like to be out there selling, they would much rather do the work. The negative consequences to the business is they often promote the rainmakers into positions of leadership and they're lousy leaders, but they're great rainmakers.
Those are sort of gendered assumptions that are in the workplace that create this unequal playing field, which makes it then difficult for women to negotiate and to get what they want. I think I learned about those kinds of things from lots of things, from reading, from my colleagues here at CGO and the work I've done. I think the experience that I had in Amsterdam was pivotal in terms of understanding how your position makes a huge difference, and the subtle ways in which these structures shape practices that influence them.
Q: Do you learn about that culture by interview and observations?
A: It depends. We do a lot of that. We can come in and do that work by interviewing and such. We just worked together to try come up with some of these assumptions. I have asked them a series of questions: What worked gets rewarded? How to demonstrate confidence? What's an ideal leader look like here? We use the answers to those questions to get some of these cultural assumptions.
Q: When you get at those, is the company willing to change the culture of this very competitive style? Is it worth it to them to have women there?
A: We always say it isn't just women. I think the issue is if you're just going to do it to keep women, although for this particular organization they care about it a lot. What we try to do there is to say it isn't just for women; it's for the business. We call it the dual agenda, because it affects men too; and affects business effectiveness. If you think about the eat-what-you-kill notion, it presumes that everybody's equally able to sell. It doesn't deploy people based on their talents and what they like to do. It also doesn't recognize the team aspect of this, which you'd much rather have a team aspect. Recognize that there are people who make connections, people who make matches, people who write proposals, and people who close deals. Then there's some people who are wonderful at running engagements and why should they be selling, and the rainmakers who are lousy at running engagements, running engagements; that's not good for the business.
Q: It's sort of bottom line and making the most efficient use of few resources?
A: Right. What we try to do is say, what are the implications for business effectiveness, or what implications for gender? We always try to look at both of those things.
Q: Because if everybody's competing to close because that's where the big money is, then you don't have the matchmaker.
A: That's right. It means people just hoard their connections. It isn't clear that in fact they're generating a kind of revenue. They might be able to generate more revenue if they did, it actually might be better. In this organization they're going to try and experiment with that for three months. They're going to try to let the sellers sell. I am not exactly sure what the structure is going to look like, because they have to work that out. They're going to try to have the sellers' sale and other people pick up that work and see if revenues, at least don't go down. . That takes us a little far a-field from you guys, because it's not intractable conflict.
Q: I think in a lot of ways it is, such as the invisible sort of structural elements that keep women from being promoted to positions that they could be.
A: Right. I think the interesting thing is, not only does it keep women from being promoted to positions that they could be in, these are levers on things that could be better for everybody. If you have people with very different views of the world at the table then you get a better agreement that works for everybody. I'm not in my realm to talk about war. In this little game of Mono Mayo, what happens is there's no money to send the kids to school to buy uniforms, there's no food to feed the family and the men are sitting around drinking beer, watching television, getting rich, and abusing the women, and insisting that they help them in the rice harvest. That's an example where it's not just bad for the women, but it's bad for the culture.
Q: The total output is less?
A: The total output is less, right. That's another example of using what we call using a gender-lens. It gives you a lever into looking at things that you don't see. I think that the shadow negotiation is an example of that. The gender-lens gives a lever into looking at aspects of negotiation we haven't seen before.
Q: Should we talk about what aspects of your work has been most rewarding?
A: I think I try to make a contribution. Aspects of my work that are most rewarding are trying to help change organizations, empower individuals to be more successful, and to recognize they have more opportunities than they think they have. I love to teach and I love to help my students, both executives and MBA students, really recognize how they can be more effective. I also love to do this work with organizations, which is tough, it's very hard to kind of surface these assumptions and come up with good ideas about how to change them.
Q: What techniques have you found most successful for doing in the organizational cultural awareness piece and also empowering your students?
A: You know you obviously teach students, but then really giving them opportunities to reflect and think about their own experiences and learn from each other. I always more than encourage my students, I require them to be a part of teams where they're always learning from each other. I think that it's a way to sort of help you be more reflexive about what you're trying to do. So that's what I do in my teaching. In my work that I do with organizations I think it's really trying to really be able to carry out inquiry in ways that you can really help people see something different. I am always really paying attention to how they're seeing things, feeding it back to them and helping them do that, which I think is very difficult to do. My view is that these solutions to these ideas come from a process of engaging people, I can't tell them what to do.
Q: What do you say?
A: I say to them, let's look at the assumption. They came up the assumption about eat what you kill; it wasn't mine. We look at that assumption and we'd say, why do we have this assumption, how's it positive, and how's it negative for the firm, for gender? If we wanted to try some things to disrupt that assumption, what would we do? It is all their ideas, I just can never know enough so it's a very interactive engaging process for me. They have to do what we call it collaborative interactive action research.
We have a way of thinking about the problem and presenting gender in a way that helps them do that, but the analysis and solutions are going to come from that.
Q: Is that the point at which you see their face change when you say what other ways can we look at this assumption? How can we interrupt the assumption?
A: I think that there is not individual's face change, but they work on it together. A group comes up with ideas and they keep building on it. When I was doing this the other day, we got into this interesting ???on this sales forum. This was about always being available and never saying no. They came up with some very interesting things about how to price people in a way that made it if you were very overworked you wouldn't cost a lot to do other things. They kept saying, that's just never going to work.
Then they said, well maybe we should take that money and pay it to the people who are being overworked. I said, well no then that's going to encourage them to work more, and you don't want to do that, so maybe the money should go into a penalty fund. They start to do that, and then somebody said, "You know I'm wondering whether a simple thing that we could do is we could say you never say yes to one of these things." The story was that there was a client that had to go to court on January third, and this whole team had to cancel their Christmas vacations.
In the process they lost two partners who left the firm. They had a huge revenue but they wounded up losing because they had lost two very good people. Somebody said, "You know maybe before you ever do that you should say I have to consult with somebody else, I won't make that decision myself. I'll consult with somebody else and their job will then for them to explore options for us not to have to do that." That's something that's pretty ??? as opposed to this. They worked together, they reviewed them, and their trying to work it. I said, "How would that one work?" They said, "You know that actually might work." It's a very collaborative kind of process.
A: Where are we? I told you about where techniques have been particularly useful. I think they are really useful in these organizational change pieces. I guess there's another thing that I do that I think is really important. I try to help individuals become more effective in the things that they do. I try to work with organizations around trying to understand these gender things, but we also do some work with organizations where they send women here to some of these??? programs.
The programs run several times a year. All the women come from one organization and we all build a cohort for change. We've been doing this for four years with one organization, so we've had a few hundred women who have come through this program and in this particular organization. It's a partnership and there was a leadership change; the chairman and CEO were stepping down. The group of women who have come to this program, got together and they said we're going to have a woman chairperson, and they did. I think that you create a cohort of people who are beginning to see that their situation is unique and they want to figure out how to work together to gain more ???. That works very well.
Q: I was going to ask you about when a group like that gets together and decides to appoint a woman chairman.
A: They can't appoint them; they have to advocate them.
Q: Does then that chairman have to be aware of those obscure gender structural obstacles that you were talking about, because seems like a lot. Can a woman can rise to the top like that and have any awareness of those things for other women?
A: I think that people can. Carlie Furina, is an example,???, so ???, don't have much gender sensibility to some of those issues. That's not quite as true as her press was about. I think in this particular circumstance this woman really did, mainly because in this organization they have been sending women to these leadership programs. They have been doing a lot of stuff on women, so this woman clearly does have some clear understanding of those kinds of things. That's not to say that she's just going to promote women. The thing about this woman was she's the right person for this chairman's job. She clearly has some gender sensibility, has this has been a very important factor in making good appointments of women to significant positions. My guess is that she'd be an ally in some of the kinds of changes where those changes we were working the other day and it was one part ???, it's the same part, part of this organization, were she to get to the top of that organization. I think she would be quite sympathetic.
Q: What do you find are the major obstacles to your work?
A: I think the major obstacles are that people have a way of thinking about gender as differences between men and women, and it's very hard to move away from that. When you say it's about gender they think either you're just going to talk about women, or your going to talk in your negotiations about the differences between men and women. What I always like to say is when we talk about the differences between men and women in negotiation, were doing two things, either women are the same as men, or they're different from men; we never talk about men. It's a model deficiency, so women are deficient in some way and we have to help them get better.
Q: Because the ideal is the man?
A: Absolutely, the ideal is quite masculine, even in parts of our field in which people sort of argue that the sort of the feminine like Getting To Yes. I think it's a very rationalistic. The attributes of people that can be successful using that tends to be quite masculine. I remember when I first got to the ???negotiation, I was sitting in a seminar and Jeff Rueben
and Jess Salacuse???. They had a curriculum at the Fletcher school that had been developed at the program of negotiation which is very much ??? in Getting To Yes. In the first version of "Getting to Yes", power is not mentioned, and so these people say "well what about power, what about power differences." These people sitting around the table, the program people say, " well they don't understand the theory if they ask that question". and I'm thinking yeah right, if you white, Harvard, the U.S. and you're male, power doesn't matter, but to everybody else in the world it, it really does.
I was saying that people say Getting To Yes has a feminine cast to it because it's different from distributive negotiation. I think it presumes that people do have power and
they can speak with agency written by some white guys at Harvard. I think that it doesn't recognize the ways in which people's positioning makes a difference. I always like to say, and you know I have had some difficult experiences about it, that when people ask you about gender and gender difference, that it's a way of not dealing with the power issue. If you look at post-modern theory about gender, you will see that it's all about power. If you take that feminist stance and critique some of the literatures, which I have tried to do, it's an uncomfortable position that people who write about this stuff in the field don't like to hear. It's much nicer to talk.
Q: So they don't like to hear about power?
A: They don't like to hear about power; don't like to think that the truths of the field leave out a lot of things. The truths of the field are quite masculine, so they are much happier asking a question about gender difference cause gender difference has nothing about that in there.
Q: So when you say gender is not about difference, you're saying it's about power?
A: I think it's about power. I think to take a gender lens to a field is to look at what the truths of the field are. It seems to me that that's what's silenced.
Q: Whatever field you're looking at?
A: I think people do that. They have done it in history and they've done it in literature. What we do in organizations is look at what the dominant practices are, what the dominant cultural assumptions are, and how does that have negative implications? I think my bias, in terms of when I critique the field, is very much about the stuff that gets done in business schools, so it's very much about negotiation. It's not about the kind of things that I think you learned at George Mason. I think it's much more about there being a cognitive rational. We worry about people being rational as opposed to thinking about people's social position, no amount of rationality is going to make a difference if you don't have the social position to advocate for yourself. That's silenced in the field. I think a gender lens helps to look at what's silenced. That's what I've tried to do, and that's not so comfortable for a lot of people. They'd much rather talk about gender differences, which is about women's deficiencies.
Q: Gender differences, in other words, women do things like this, men do things like that?
Q: Where as your saying, that's not the point.
A: Who cares?
Q: Women aren't there.
A: That's right.
Q:..And they're being excluding through various subtle structural mechanisms.
or and what you know that and what we privilege makes it difficult creates in some these deficiencies. So,
Q: ??? and blindness?
A: And blindness. I try to use this perspective to be more of a critic, and I think it's not so easy to do. I think I have been some what successful, though not totally successful, it's not so easy.
Q: The main obstacle then is for whatever reason people don't want to talk about power because they don't see it?
A: That's right. They want to talk about it as gender differences, and I think that's a huge obstacle that's really hard to get away from.
Q: When people call you and have you come in to deal with some gender issue, is that what they think they're going to get? Do they think they're going to get somebody talking about gender differences or are they surprised to hear what you have to say?
A: I have two things that I do in my practice, one is that I do executive education and training. If it's women's groups that bring me in we talk about gender and different ways of thinking about gender. If it's mixed groups, I just use the shadow negotiation and how gender helps you think about that. When organizations call, I think they know something about our center here, but they also have a problem and the problem typically is a problem that begins with women. Women are leaving, there's high turnover, and maybe there's some diversity issues as well. They might have a high turnover in terms of other under represented groups, and so there's a presenting problem and they can bring in lots of kinds of people to try to work with them on it and their interests. They're interested in our take on it. We had a big Harvard business review article on this several years ago which is called, "A Modest Manifesto for Shattering Glass Sealant", in which we talked about some of this, when people ask us to come in and do it. I have done a ton of stuff for this group on lots of things; I've given talks and workshops, mainly for the women. This was a women's group that brought me in but with the blessing of the leadership of this particular lines of business, so they know I think what their getting. People talk about the differences between men and women, so I think reframing it to help them think about it in a different way is a challenge.
Q: You've mentioned a few, but is there a favorite success story you want to share?
A: A success story ???
Q: Maybe somewhere you've actually had some sort of structural change which has resulted in a power shift?
A: Well, I don't know that I can claim a success story myself. I was working with this one firm where these women have become a real cohort and see themselves as sort of a fore-front of change and pushing for things.
Q: This is the firm where they appointed or were advocating for a women chairperson?
A: And they got it. They got a chairperson, right. I don't know how to call it my success story, because I wouldn't just say it's because they had a woman chairman. I just think that they have a cohort of women in leadership and just below leadership positions who see themselves as a cohort that can make a difference, and for me that's key. That's why I teach a women's business school instead of just any business school; training women to be investment bankers or ???makes a difference.
Q: Where did you see change there?
A: I think lots of things change. I'll give you two examples. One of the things that happens in firms like that is that when you get assigned to clients people want to do it on the basis of we need you on this, but it's clear that to succeed in this firm you need to have an industry expertise, for example. In a consulting firm it could be a technical expertise and so the ability to be clear and get that expertise is going to be crucial to being successful. You need to recognize that just being nice and when they say we need you on this, and I am going to work in retail and I am going to work in healthcare and I am going to work in manufacturing is and this is going to screw you. Helping people recognize that and negotiating for really what they need, are things I think that they've gotten just hugely better at. They've taken much more control. The second thing that happens, this is an interesting organization that's I think very committed to promoting women, and when they promote a woman it's a test.
The head of this group came to speak the other day said, "So I appointed two women and it was really a risk but they worked out, but it was a risk." The issue there is that you know it's a risk. When you're being tested you do all the kinds of things that are going to make it seem like you're not competent for this job, like your going to micro-manage especially right if you're going to be tested you better take total control so if you micro-manage it means you can't be a leader. I think I am helping these women, as a group or as individuals, recognize the support that they need to get that in order to be successful I think I've helped them understand how gender operates in this organization that impacts them and helped them become more proactive about how to deal with that, and I think that's exactly what they do.
There's another thing that happens in this organization. This woman said something interesting the other day when I was down there, she's taken this workshop that I've done here. One of the things that happens is that in a lot of organizations women get asked to do these human resource things, not to be a human resource manager, not at all, but to chair the performance management task force, or go recruit at your college. They once had one other organization where they had something called "Women and Men as Colleagues", which was a program to have men understand how women were different and the women had to keep going to the program over and over again in order to rotate for the men. They said they had enough women in each class to do it, so what happens is that those kinds of things are not rewarded. There's a norm in this particular organization that you should never say no to a developmental opportunity, and so if you say no, you're not a team player; but if you say yes to it, it's a stupid thing to be spending your time doing whereas if you are a man you have the opportunity to be the assistant to the lead clients service partner at one of the big three auto companies. This woman, she's now CEO of part of this organization, said, "You know after I took that class, no human resource responsibilities for me." I think they start to recognize that those are gendered.
We are doing a project with another organization, it's a very large multi-media company and I interviewed this woman very senior and she's says to me, "I always do the girls work". "What's the girls work, relative to all that stuff over at human resources?" "You don't get a lot of visibility for it, you know people say if you really want to get ahead you have to get rid of that stuff," however people expect her to do it. Recognizing those gender dynamics and giving people skills to deal with those is what I love to do. It's what I think I am great at and I think I help them do it.
Q: Bringing certain invisible assumptions to the surface?
A: Absolutely, absolutely and helping people recognize the invisible work that women do and getting credit for it. We are just in conversations about a book. I am going to do a new book which is going to be about women taking over leadership positions, negotiating these kinds of challenges, negotiating for the support you need, the resources you need, getting allies, and negotiating to get buy in. By recognizing these kind of gender things that happen and having strategies so you can be an effective leader. We're just in the process to firm up the proposal and getting the contract to do it because I've been working with women leaders so much recently and these things keep coming up. I think it's about negotiation, but it's negotiation around these leadership activities that I've just been telling you. That's what I am writing my book about.
Q: So, what advice would you give to someone who's starting to do this work? I guess probably your organizational piece is very interesting in terms of getting in to the field, it's almost in off shoot of organizational development.
A: Right. I also think it's got a lot of pieces in organizational facilitation. You could even say in mediation..
Q: So advice for men or women who are getting into this kind of work?
A: My advice to start is to pay attention to the unspoken assumptions. As you begin to look at doing this kind of work, either if you're doing it as a theoretician or practitioner, challenge the dominant paradigm. What's silenced? What are the truths in organizations, or the truths in a field? What's missing? How does it impact the theory or organization? What are it's implications for men and women?
Q: I think finding what is silenced is something that's fairly pervasive for helping the field of conflict resolution.
A: When I was doing stuff with "Women Waging Peace" that's what we started to really try to talk about, you know how do you get to the table, you know how you're able to negotiate things, how to recognize these gender dynamics, and try to do something about it.
Q: And last, but certainly not least, are there any important lessons in your practice that you would care to share?
A: I think I have sort of said all of the things that I can say. Two years ago I was at the ICM meeting in France and Dan Druckmen asked me to be apart of this panel on turning points in your career. He and I are not so young and I sort of talked about what I do in my work and as always having challenged conventional wisdom. In this talk I used examples of four books that I had done and what the reviews of these books were.
The first one was my thesis, which was about labor mediation. And it's review was an interesting bad theory of mediation and , I felt that it was kind of a miss, people didn't really understand it but you know, I sort of challenged conventional wisdom there. There was a view of labor mediation at the time that mediators had this bag of tricks and they come in and do a diagnosis and decide which strategies they should use. What I tried to show was that it was the enduring relationships that these mediators had with the chief spokesman and that shaped what they did, and in fact they constructed the case to fit that. I found differences between federal and state mediators, not because they were federal and state mediators, but because of relationships they had with these chief negotiators.
The second book I did was something called Hidden Conflict in Organizations, and there we tried to look at this invisible stuff that happens around conflicts in organizations that people are avoiding. What's going, and how do we understand it? The review of that book was actually quite nice, it was highlighting some things that were potentially interesting, but the reviewer didn't understand what people would actually do with it, and that was sort of interesting. Then there was When Talk Works, and I think that got some really nice reviews about sort of looking at context and what ???. Then I did the Shadow Negotiation, which was named as best book by Harvard business review. I think in every single one of these they really do something that's quite different than where the field is at a particular point in time.
My advice to people going in to the field is to try think where your passion is, what you're interested in, and to try to catch on to conventional wisdom. It's much more interesting than I think than working in the normal paradigm, which is what I think a lot of people choose to do. so I guess it has nothing to do with gender, I think it has to do with how you see yourself in your career and I think I've had some influence, not as much influence probably if I had done normal paradigm kind of stuff. It's much more interesting as far as I am concerned and it gets you meeting people who are outside of your paradigm. My main colleagues have never been, negotiation people, but people outside the field in anthropology or women studies, and taking that kind of thinking and applying it to your own.