June 2020

Gender differences: The way ahead

by Serena Tittl

Back to insights

Gender differences: The way ahead

June 2020 by Serena Tittl

Back to insights


Gender differences. Equality and gender bias. Diversity in the workplace. Regardless of your individual positions, these topics come loaded with personal connotations and elicit a plethora of emotions. But why?

Gender differences. Equality and gender bias. Diversity in the workplace.

Regardless of your individual positions, these topics come loaded with personal connotations and elicit a plethora of emotions.

But why?

Prior to this survey my awareness of the issues surrounding gender and diversity in negotiation was largely anecdotal. I’ve served on teams that were made up of all women; I’ve served on teams where I was the only female in a group of 45; and I’ve served on teams with a diverse range of genders, experiences and ethnicities. What I’ve experienced and can be unequivocal about, is a correlation between creative and productive outcomes and greater diversity on the team.

So three cheers for diversity, right? Yes, but also…let’s take a reality check for a moment. Because, to be clear, those teams were not always the easiest to be a part of. In fact, they could be incredibly challenging at times, demanding a balancing of the wide range of ideas and contributions. But despite – or because of – this challenge,  they resoundingly delivered more net positive outputs.

As I’ve made clear, this is my anecdotal experience, and if I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s that egocentric bias - individuals overestimating the impact of their own experience when analyzing a wider perspective – is to be viewed with caution. So, rather than rely entirely on my own experience, I approached this issue of gender and negotiation as I would any negotiation itself, by digging into the available data and research. It was frustrating to quickly discover how little research has been conducted about negotiation, let alone as it relates to gender and diversity. The research that does exist leaves the investigator with more questions than answers.

In light of that, regardless of your personal views on the subject and/or whether you are aware of other research findings, this survey presents a global pulse check on the attitudes and behaviours that presently exist. Being aware of our own personal biases is the first step in being able to digest this information as a data point. It’s not right nor wrong, nor judgemental or condemning.  Rather, it provides much needed data we can leverage for improvement. What I mean is this: taking a glass half full or glass half empty approach to this survey misses the point that the cup is entirely refillable. And how can we refill the cup if we are unaware of where the water line currently sits?

For me, the learnings and attitudes revealed in this research bring to mind parallels with challenges I’ve experienced personally, in which I’ve been judged as a direct and “tough” female negotiator. While the findings echo a similar sentiment, it’s important to reflect that this survey is not a destination, rather an important step to identifying where the water level is today, across the collective.

As this is a starting point, it is up to all of us to carry the momentum forward. This survey measured responses based on what people say and think of themselves, but there is still opportunity to quantify gender and diversity differences through observation. Words paint one picture, yet behaviors all too often paint another. Here’s an example: the survey cited, “Of the men we interviewed, almost all found old-style tactics of fist-banging, yelling, or sticking to extremes as inappropriate” - yet these behaviors are still happening. I’d like to see more research conducted into when, where and how these behaviors take place.

Are they taking place in negotiations with little to no diversity (of gender or thought) in the room? Furthermore, which settings tolerate and accept that behavior, despite being deemed inappropriate, and which settings do not tolerate the inappropriate behavior? If behaviors act as the canary in a coal mine, capturing more insight around them could prove to be a powerful tool in identifying signals to the deep-rooted problems underpinning the challenges of diversity and gender in negotiations.

We frequently reference discomfort in negotiations, as is highlighted in the survey. So, it is appropriate that we address our own comfort level with the information revealed in it. Are you comfortable with the findings in this survey? If you are, why? If you are not comfortable with the findings, also challenge yourself to lean in and ask why? Regardless of whether you are or are not comfortable, continue to dig deep and ask yourself, why? Then ask why? again. And again. 

Our ability to ask why?, coupled with quantifiable research data, will be our greatest leverage in holding constructive, and much needed, dialogue to positively impact the path forward.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please download our Gender and Negotiation report below. 

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Serena Tittl