Deborah M. Kolb is the Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women and Leadership and a faculty affiliate at the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons School of Management. From 1991-1994, Kolb was Executive Director of the Program on Negotiation atHarvardLawSchool. She is currently a Senior Fellow at the Program where she co-directs The Negotiations in the Workplace Project.
Professor Kolb is an authority on gender issues in negotiation and leadership, especially how women can negotiate the conditions for their own success at the same time as they contribute to the effectiveness of their organizations. Kolb has co-authored several books on this subject. Everyday Negotiation: Navigating the Hidden Agendas of Bargaining (Jossey-Bass/John Wiley, 2003) shows women (and men) how they can become more effective in their everyday negotiations by attending to the dual requirements of the shadow negotiation – advocacy for oneself and connection with others. Originally titled, The Shadow Negotiation, Harvard Business Review named it one of the ten best business books of 2000 and it received the best book award from the International Association of Conflict Management at its meetings inParis, 2001. Her new book Her Place at the Table: A Women’s Guide to Negotiating the Five Challenges of Leadership Success describes how successful women negotiate for what they need to be effective in leadership roles at all levels of an organization.
Kolb publishes extensively on these topics and regularly presents her work to national and international audiences. Among other firms, Kolb has recently done work with: Campbell Soup, Credit Suisse First Boston, Deutschebank; Deloitte and Touche; Eli Lilly; EMC, W.L. Gore, IBM, JP Morgan-Chase, Nationalgrid; Phillips Medical, Pricewaterhouse/Coopers; Time, Inc., and Verizon. Non profit organizations she has worked with include: The Ford Foundation, The Consultative Group in International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Girl Scouts, USA, The Society for Human Resource Management, Financial Executives International, Financial Women’s Association, the Mayo Clinic, Network of Executive Women, Women in Technology International, among many others. Dr. Kolb is a principal in Negotiating Women, LLC., a company that provides negotiation training and consultation especially designed for women. Kolb has been affiliated with the Girl Scouts, Patriot’s Trail Council, as a board member, vice president and president (2001-2005). In 2006, she was awarded their Leading Woman Award.
Professor Kolb is also the author of The Mediators (MIT Press, 1983), an in-depth study of labor mediation. She is co-editor of Hidden Conflict In Organizations: Uncovering Behind-The-Scenes Disputes (Sage, 1992), a collection of field studies about how conflicts are handled in a variety of business and not-for-profit organizations. She the editor of a study of the practice of successful mediators, Making Talk Work: Profiles of Mediators (Jossey-Bass, 1994) and of Negotiation Eclectics: Essays in Memory of Jeffrey Z. Rubin (Program on Negotiation, 1999). She has authored over 100 articles on the subjects of gender, negotiation, conflict in organizations, and mediation. Kolb is on the editorial boards of the Negotiation Journal, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the Harvard Negotiation Newsletter.
Deborah Kolb received her Ph.D. from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where her dissertation won the Zannetos Prize for outstanding doctoral scholarship. She has a BA fromVassarCollegeand an MBA from the University of Colorado.
Interview with Professor Deborah Kolb
What would you advise women to focus on when developing a progressive, strategic path if they would like a career trajectory leading to executive leadership?
I want to preface all my responses by saying that when I talk about women—, I am not talking about all women. There is much diversity among women and the situations they face are different. I am talking about tendencies. One always needs to pay attention to context and how that shapes opportunities, the likelihood of a glass ceiling and what women can do to succeed if they find themselves in these circumstances. Having said that, women, often, but not always need to create opportunities for themselves. This can happen for several reasons. First, women may not be given assignments that are as valued as others—not the choice clients, human resource types of assignments. One needs to understand what kinds of assignments lead to success and seek these out. Second, some jobs are gendered in that men may be offered them more frequently than women. If a woman sees such a role as important—she may have to engage a hiring person in rethinking the requirements or skill set for such roles. Finally, there is anecdotal evidence that women often have more lateral moves than their male colleagues to be seen as equally ready for more responsibility. So a woman may have to push back on these assumptions.
Could you explain what you mean by "second generation gender issues" and why do you consider them to be the reason why women who aspire to Leadership should negotiate effectively?
Second generation gender issues are accepted cultural norms and work practices that look like they are natural and neutral but can have differential impacts on different groups of men and women. For example, if a parent wants to negotiate a flexible work arrangements, s/he does so against an assumption that an ideal worker is one who is totally committed to the organization. Or if a woman performs what we call invisible work, being available to other women to help and support them, or being asked to sit on diversity task forces—these activities are not likely to be rewarded in the same way that taking on a strategic client might—therefore the person doing this work needs to negotiate value for that work—or else it does not count.
It is interesting that when you discuss negotiation in the context of leadership roles, you focus on negotiating conditions for one's success. Would I be right in saying that there is the assumption that the topic of negotiation is usually taken to mean that it is about negotiating Conditions for one's personal gain such as higher salaries and that most of us do not consider looking at it in terms of getting a job done effectively?
That is correct. We tend to think about negotiating primarily in terms of salary and compensation and we know that women, for a host of reasons, do not do as well in these negotiations. When negotiations are framed solely in terms of self advancement, women can experience backlash when they ask. But what we have found is that to the degree that a woman ties what she needs to succeed to what is good for her organization or group, that backlash dissipates. It is also the case that if you get what you need to succeed it is more likely that other things - such as compensation - will follow.
You discuss in your article that women who succeeded in leadership roles ensured that their roles fit well with their skills, abilities, and levels of experience. What if one did not have the experience but felt confident that they would be successful in delivering results as they believed in hard work and in giving it 200%. How could these women overcome the barrier of succeeding in job interviews when their resumes cannot compete with those who have got the experience?
That is a great question that gets asked frequently. Let’s start with the experience piece. You need to be quite clear as to why you think you will succeed—just thinking that working hard and giving 200% will do it are not good reasons why somebody would hire you. Everybody claims that they work hard. You need to figure out what your value proposition is to the employer. What specifically do you bring/ If you are clear about that, and that is crucial, then you might be able t negotiate a trial for yourself with clear metrics on how the employer would judge your success. You would also want to negotiate for the support you might need to help ensure that you can deliver those results.
In negotiating for resources, both financial and human to deliver results, should one obtain such commitments from employers in writing or do verbal levels of support at the interviews suffice?
This is a situation where knowing about the other person and context is critical. Is this a person who says yes but then doesn’t follow through. Then I would send an email following up the meeting specifying your understanding about what was agreed to. The other person may still renege but at least it creates a record. That can be especially important if the person who made the agreement leaves and you are dealing with somebody new. On the other hand, if the person you are negotiating with honors their commitments, I don’t see any reason to follow up.
From your research, what do you see as being effective actions that organizations can take to level the playing field for women?
Organizations need to recognize how second generation gender issues may be hampering women. So some of the things they could consider are—looking at assignment patterns—are women and men being channeled into different paths? They could consider the kinds of mentoring and support they give to men and women so that they can understand how informal networks may be functioning to make it easier for men to succeed—they might get feedback from these networks in ways that women don’t. The more transparent policies and practices are the more likely it is that the playing field might level. Of course, one of the most critical is how the boundaries between work and personal life are managed and the degree to which notions about ideal workers drive decisions about leadership. Women who have disproportionate responsibility for this will be hurt. Finally, they can develop programs for women to help them understand how gender operates in their organizations and the skills they can develop to negotiate for what they need to succeed. In the process, it helps the organization learn as well.
How do you see what you say about women and leadership in relation to the prevalence of the glass ceiling? Do you believe that women can break through the glass ceiling if they negotiate through out their career and in their negotiations ask for opportunities that translate into leadership experience?
Yes, I do believe this. But I believe not just because I think it is up to individual women to challenge the glass ceiling. But because what we know from demographic studies, the more women in leadership, the more likely it is that other women will see these as role models and see that they too can succeed. I also think that to negotiate about these second generation gender issues (and I do think women need to think about how they engage these issues so that they don’t foment backlash) they are pushing back on organizational practices and policies. I believe that this can foster learning which is good for individuals and good for their organizations.
How did you come to be interested in this area of research? Are your findings as discussed in this paper reflective of how you developed your career trajectory?
I became interested in these issues because of my students—both MBA students and executives. Companies come to the Simmons School of Management because they are committed to moving women into leadership. But what I found was that commitment was not enough. We know new leaders fail at high rates—I found that the women executives I was working with were not being set up for success. Their companies were not doing it and neither were they—so I used these stories to help women and their companies develop strategies to help women succeed. These are in both my books—Everyday Negotiation—which gives women (and men) strategies to negotiate the hidden agendas that accompany all negotiations and Her Place at the Table—which helps women(and men) figure out what they need to negotiate about.
What areas do you regard as being the most difficult for women to overcome in negotiating conditions for leadership success?
All negotiations occur in the context of gender schemas and stereotypes—some more powerful than others. Women need to pay attention to how these schemas may be operating. One of the things I find is that when women take one of my workshops, they feel empowered to negotiate. Sometimes that empowerment can translate in to very aggressive stances and that often does not sit well with people on the receiving end. Women need to learn how to effectively mange some of the double binds that accompany their negotiations—they need to negotiate what they need but do so in a way that fits who they are. Successful women negotiators have discovered how to do this effectively.