When you walk through the toy section at your local Target, what colors do you see? Typically, half the store is pink, filled with princesses and dolls, and the other half is blue, black, or red, packed with trucks and sports gear.
While a gendered toy section may not seem like a big deal at first glance, our early introductions to biased concepts of gender have far-reaching effects and consequences. Many gender stereotypes are ingrained into people’s subconscious during childhood, and they show up everywhere, from the playground to the workplace.
Throughout history, gender biases and stereotypes have put women at a disadvantage, limiting their career potential and excluding them from male-dominated sectors—which, historically, have been nearly all of them.
But what if I told you that you can make gender stereotypes work for you rather than against you? What if I told you that when you learn to recognize gender bias, you can use it to help negotiate for what you need and desire most?
Identifying Early Concepts of Gender
When you were a young girl, were you encouraged to quietly create crafts or play turn-taking games like hop-scotch? Alternately, were your brothers or the local neighborhood boys encouraged to play competitive sports like football or basketball?
Harmless as it may appear, that early coaxing is integral to shaping children’s skills and interests. In its simplest form, it conditions girls to be collaborative and nurturing while conditioning boys to be assertive and combative.
Here’s the truth: these gender stereotypes are not necessarily rooted in science. Not all boys are naturally more competitive, and not all girls are naturally more nurturing. Rather, society encourages children to develop separate skills from an early age. Research shows that kids between the ages of 3 and 7 have already formed distinct concepts of gender!
You can see the early effects of gender biases and expectations when asking a kid what they want to be when they grow up. Typically, girls cite women-dominated careers like teachers and nurses, while boys choose stereotypically masculine jobs like firefighters or pilots.
These early concepts of gender remain throughout adolescence and adulthood, confining people to societal expectations and threatening to limit their true potential as human beings.
Recognizing Gender Bias in the Workplace
The gendered assumptions enforced during childhood linger through adulthood and into people’s careers. The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, found that 51% of people feel that gender stereotyping in childhood constrained their career choices later in life.
The competitive traits that boys develop at a young age lead them to adopt steadfast attitudes as men. In the workplace, men come across as rational and logical, emphasizing objective fact over subjective opinion. Gender norms permit men to be more dominant and authoritative in their approach, feeding the stereotype that men are more direct and effective.
Women, on the other hand, are conditioned to value collaboration. They’re more inclined to form alliances and prioritize strong relationships. When they find themselves in situations (especially in the workplace) that aren’t conducive to collaboration, they may become passive, submissive, and tense. This tendency leads to deferential behavior and tentative speech patterns, like using the doubtful phrases “I think” and “I’m not really sure” to sound less forceful and more participatory.
Do you see yourself succumbing to these gender stereotypes and constraints in your own personal and professional life? It’s hard to undo society’s conditioning, but recognizing gender biases for what they are can help you overcome their limitations and use them to your advantage.
Using Gender Bias to Your Advantage in Negotiation
There’s a temptation to reject gender stereotypes entirely—and I can certainly understand that inclination! We’re gradually moving further away from a traditionally gendered society, but we’re still not quite there yet. As long as gender bias still exists, I suggest finding ways to make these stereotypes work to your advantage:
Flip the gender stereotype. We’ve all heard the phrase “act like a lady,” often used derisively to imply that women should passively smile and nod to avoid conflict. People generally expect their female adversaries to behave less competitively and more cooperatively, so use this knowledge as your secret weapon and allow them to underestimate you! While aggression comes across as threatening and offensive (both counterproductive in negotiation), an assertive approach will help you embrace your power. Take control and demonstrate a firm but fair demeanor. You’ll take the advantage when you show them you’re in control. This control comes from being prepared for your negotiations.
Come prepared. Did you know that women are less likely to be considered the authority on a given subject? Put this sexist stereotype to rest and show your counterpart that you know exactly what you’re talking about! Thorough preparation can guard you against being taken advantage of in negotiation, enabling you to test your counterpart’s claims with ample research.
In addition to preparing for the subject matter(s) at issue, also be sure to include consideration of the 5 W’s as part of your preparation process. The 5 W’s are an integral part of my Art of Feminine Negotiation system and will give you a profound advantage when applied with intention. Grab your free copy of my 5 Secret Weapons to More Effective Negotiating book here.
Combine gender stereotypes. In her ground-breaking book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg suggests that women are most successful in the workplace when they combine their stereotypically feminine attributes, like smiles and friendly gestures, with so-called masculine characteristics of assertiveness and independence. Harness the power of your femininity from a position of strength!
To be clear, I’m not suggesting you ‘act like a man’. Rather, embrace your feminine traits as your greatest strength. Bring rapport-building, empathy, flexibility, intuition and trust-building skills to the table. Own them. Use them with intention. Studies show that bringing these traits to your negotiations will get you better, more creative outcomes, build better relationships, get better buy-in and longer-lasting agreements with more positive impact.
See yourself as your own advocate: Women tend to negotiate more assertively for someone else because they feel more comfortable pushing for the good of others. If you had a child or a loved one in need, you would fight to get them what they deserve. I implore you to negotiate for yourself as passionately as you would advocate for someone else! Afford yourself the same courtesy and recognize your inherent value.
I hope you come away from this blog post feeling empowered to use gender biases to your full advantage in all your negotiations. If you’d like to learn more about my proven approach to effective negotiation, let’s talk today!