August 13, 2008
Israeli study: As negotiators, man smart, woman smarter
The doctoral study, by Yael Itzhaki of Tel Aviv University (TAU), indicated that in certain groupings, women offered better terms than men to reach an agreement and were good at facilitating interaction between the parties.
"Women are more generous negotiators, better cooperators and are motivated to create win-win situations," Itzhaki said.
Itzhaki, an adjunct lecturer at TAU's Faculty of Management at the Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration, carried out simulations of business negotiations among 554 Israeli and American management students at Ohio State University, in New York City and in Israel.
The simulations, which were designed to examine how women behave in business situations requiring cooperation and competition, involved negotiating the terms of a joint venture, including the division of shares.
During the course of her research, Itzhaki discovered that while women in mid-management positions are often held back from promotion for being too "cooperative" and "compassionate," men have begun to recognize the skills of their female colleagues and are now incorporating feminine strategies into their negotiating styles. "The men come in and use the same tactics women are criticized for," she said.
Although both men and women can be good negotiators, Itzhaki emphasizes that there should be more women in top management jobs. Women have unique skills to offer, she said: They're great listeners, they care about the concerns of the other side, and they're generally more interested in finding a win-win situation to the benefit of both parties than male negotiators.
These are especially desirable traits in today's business world, which is calling for service improvements for customers and clients. Women today are earning more top positions in banking because of this trend, Itzhaki says.
In part, she says, women don't reach CEO positions because they lack the right professional experience for the job and never enter the pool from which top positions are drawn. Managers commonly choose successors and colleagues who are most similar to themselves, Itzhaki explains. As a result, men are more likely to promote men.
Itzhaki, who is the founder of Netta, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement of women in the workplace, is currently advising Israeli companies on how to take affirmative action. Enforcing equal opportunity laws is one concern, but her advice also responds to concerns beyond the law. Are women being heard in corporate boardrooms? Does the company have policies that measure the amount of work accomplished and not merely hours on the job?
A lot of women don't want to "fight" to be recognized, she said, preferring cooperation over competition. But more women in management can translate to a healthier bottom line, Itzhaki said.
"Businesses need to develop an organizational culture where everyone is heard, because women's opinions and skills can give businesses a competitive edge," she said.