Countering gender bias

Negotiation is everywhere. 

Though not always obvious, negotiation rarely happens in isolation. How you negotiate in one area (like salary) immediately affects other areas (like long work hours, unpaid overtime, and possibilities for promotion). 

One place where this is critical is the powerful, often unspoken, element of gender bias. For women and non-gender binary confirming individuals, “good” negotiation is a double bind. You sometimes have to play the game the way that men do, but you also face punishment for reasons that are difficult to call out (think Hilary Clinton being attacked for being “too aggressive” vs. criticism for being “a weak leader who cries in public”). 

It’s a very subtle line to walk, and there’s already great deal of research into how gender bias works… 

The Ellen Pao suit against VC firm Kleiner Perkins from earlier this year illustrated how troubling that double bind truly is. If you pay close attention to workplace dynamics, many of the scenarios from that case, like preference in seating charts, will sound familiar (some of Pao’s testimony is here, and the full stack of court documents is here). 

And while hidden negotiations and bias have implications for people on the unequal side of a power balance, it also, as the HBR piece from above suggests, has an effect on everyone. Creativity, productivity, autonomous decision making, and quality of work all suffer when gender bias is at play. 

But how do we realistically and practically combat gender bias when it is hidden in so many cases? Here are a few insights from a recent email exchange I had a few months ago with two of the smarter folks I know who work in technology / startups… 

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