Gender bias is something that becomes ingrained in us from the moment we learn to talk. Some would argue even earlier!
When men and women interact, they use entirely different approaches. A lot of this stems from boys being brought up to believe bragging and asking for what they want is the way forward, while women are more self-effacing and nurturing. Parents are likely to be more protective of their daughters than their sons. And girls are encouraged to be seen and not heard as well as hold back from asking for what they would like.
Research shows that the concept of gender in children forms between the ages of 3 and 7. By this age range, kids have a firm subconscious idea of which jobs they should grow up to do as men and women. Also, by this time, girls have often already been negatively affected by gender interactions and boys’ masculine conduct in schools.
Boys are also exposed to competitive situations at an early age. They are usually encouraged to engage in Little League baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc. These activities introduce boys to the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” during their formative years.
Meanwhile traditional girls’ games like jump rope and hopscotch are turn-taking games. By waiting your turn, you are subconsciously becoming deferential to others. Competition is also indirect, because one person’s success doesn’t mean someone else fails.
Fast forward to adulthood, and this is how that bragging and ‘put yourself forward’ attitude for the boys shows up in behavior and perception. Men, for example, typically talk for more extended times and interrupt more often. They are also more direct. Men are perceived as being more rational and logical. They emphasize the objective fact and are dominant and authoritative in their approach.
Women tend to be deferential and tentative in our speech patterns. This goes back to those stereotypes you’ve grown up with. Remember feeling bashful when you were given a compliment? Have you ever responded, ‘Oh, this old thing,’ when someone tells you they like your outfit? You put yourself down in deference!
As a woman, you likely use terms like ‘I think’ and ‘you know,’ so it sounds less forceful. You focus on maintaining the relationship, and you can be more passive and submissive. However, women are a lot more sensitive to non-verbal signals. So this gives you the advantage when you are negotiating.
We also see this gender bias in the media. Movies and TV promote the idea that being male is more valuable than being female. Boys learn early on to embody masculine traits and behaviors. Historically, girls and women have even been significantly less visible on screen than our male counterparts. Geena Davis had been doing some great work on this issue.
Let’s look at Disney movies as an example (which are a staple of the majority of children’s upbringing).
In many Disney characters, a woman’s appearance is valued more than her intellect, and women are helpless and in need of protection. They are also portrayed as domestically orientated and likely to marry.
In Sleeping Beauty, the first gift given to the baby princess is beauty. In Snow White, the Queen’s motivation to kill Snow White derives from her jealousy that she is the fairest in the land. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel wins the love of Prince Eric even after losing her voice.
While women are valued for both their appearance, intellect, and accomplishments, the message is that intellect cannot be appreciated on its own.
An example is Beauty and the Beast. Belle loves to read and is portrayed as independent. Her beauty is celebrated (“It’s no wonder her name means beauty–her looks have no parallel.”) but her intellect ridiculed. The town sings, “I am afraid she’s rather odd (for reading books and rejecting Gaston)–she’s nothing like the rest of us.”.
As a side note, overweight women are usually portrayed as ugly, unpleasant, and unmarried; Ursula, the sea witch, is large and scary, and the stepmother in Cinderella is overweight and mean.
These gender stereotypes don’t do men or women any favors. Research carried out by the Fawcett Society (the UK’s leading charity for gender equality and women’s rights) revealed. It revealed 51% of people felt constrained in their career choices, and 44% said it harmed their personal relationships.
In the survey carried out in 2019, over half the women who took part in the research said gender stereotyping negatively impacted who does the caring in their own family. Older women were particularly affected by this. 7 in 10 younger women, who were in the 18-34s, said their career choices were restricted.
Meanwhile, 69% of men under 35 who took part said gender stereotyping of children had a damaging effect on perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman.
A real-life example of this internal gender bias is when you negotiate your salary. You are more likely to subconsciously ask for lower compensation if your firm’s representative is a man than a woman. And, given that, most of the time, someone in a superior role is a man, this dynamic plays out time and again. So how can you overcome gender-bias to your advantage?
Using gender bias to your advantage in negotiation
Know your own worth as a woman.
Men believe women should behave like ‘ladies,’ and being overly aggressive is seen as threatening and offensive in negotiation. And while I do not advocate using anger in your tactics, assertiveness can enable you to step into your power. You will find this is more effective as you will have control and demonstrate a firm but fair approach. You can be more empathetic to your counterpart.
Both sexes find it hard to use a retaliatory approach against you as a woman in negotiation. This knowledge gives you a bargaining advantage. Use your intuition to assess how to approach the scenario with this knowledge. Men also find it harder to act competitively towards women so leverage this yourself to get the result you want.
Assertiveness, empathy, and intuition are all part of my A.R.E.F.I.T model, which is one of my core teachings. (You can learn more about it if you check out my programs.)
Men (and women) also assume as a woman, you won’t employ tactics in your negotiation, because this is associated with men. Men and women who expect their female adversaries to behave less competitively and more cooperatively often ignore the realities of their negotiation encounters. You can use this knowledge as your secret weapon. Let them underestimate you.
As a woman, you may have feelings of inadequacy and check yourself because your counterpart is calling out what they deem as ‘behavior’ which is not acceptable for your gender. Don’t allow others to employ this belittling tactic. You have every right to use the techniques you think appropriate, regardless of the stereotypes they might contradict.
To your male (or female) counterpart, who raises a baseless objection to your conduct, if you are being assertive, you are involved in an interaction in which gender should be irrelevant. Tell them that politely but firmly.
If you’re interested in learning more about unconscious gender bias, check out my blogpost on this issue
You can guard against being taken advantage of in negotiation by engaging in thorough preparation and testing your counterparts’ claims. For example, if you don’t know much about cars and need to take yours in to be fixed, speak to people who know about the cost. Test the claim by talking to friends who know more about cars or getting a second opinion. (Of course, this advice applies to men who know little about cars as well!)
I discuss the best way to prepare for your negotiation in great detail, so you are in a position of strength in my programs. It is integral to you, ensuring you get the outcome you want.
This leads me into BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), another concept I deep dive into in my programs. It is defined as the most advantageous alternative that a negotiating party can take if negotiations fail, and an agreement cannot be made. Your BATNA is your option if negotiations are unsuccessful.
By knowing your BATNA and what alternative is best for you, you will get your best-negotiated outcome.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg suggests combining your assertive message with smiles and friendly gestures. This doesn’t mean batting your eyelashes. It’s using the power of your femininity from a position of strength.
See yourself as your own advocate
Women negotiate more assertively when doing it for someone else. You feel more comfortable pushing for the good of others. And you actually NARROW the gender gap when doing so.
I advise you to negotiate as if you are advocating for someone else. If you have a child or a loved one in need, you would fight tooth and nail to get them what was necessary to make them happy. Afford yourself the same courtesy and recognize your inherent value.
In my Art of Feminine Negotiation program, I encourage you to harness the power of your momma bear. That bear cub inside you is hiding in the corner, thinking, ‘I can’t do this because when I was a kid, THIS happened when I put myself forward’. So bring out your inner momma bear to go into battle for the little bear cub that still lives in you!
If you liked this blog post, then check out how to negotiate past your fear.
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