Two weeks ago I posted about restoring the balance by promoting feminine qualities in our leadership in A Great Experiment Has Begun. I was discussing the post with my friend, Maria Falbo who raised a great point: how do we know what qualities are feminine and what qualities are masculine? Could this distinction be somewhat arbitrary? How do we know that sensitivity, intuition, nurturing behavior is actually feminine while competitiveness, repressing emotions, pursuit of status, and confidence are actually masculine and not just socialized. This is a great point. It seems most likely that they are just socialized: women are encouraged by society to develop and display “feminine” traits and repress “masculine” traits, while men are encouraged to do the opposite.
So then this got me thinking that maybe I should amend my initial take on this topic a bit and say that rather than just bringing more femininity into powerful places in the form of women and “feminine” traits, perhaps what is needed is a balance of “masculine” and “feminine” behaviors on both side. I.e. – the world would be best served if men and women broke through their repressed set of behaviors connected to “masculine” and “feminine” and brought them into balance in their lives.
Well the timing here is fortuitous because yesterday I participated in a negotiation workshop for women entrepreneurs that my friend, Professor Noah Eisenkraft from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and I set in motion more than a year ago. It all started at a beer tasting. Craft beer is very strong and I had corned Noah to complain about my piss poor negotiating skills. At the time I was having my first go at negotiating prices on production, delivery dates, shipping – you name it. And I found myself unable to push hard on the points that mattered to my business. My inclination was not to make anyone uncomfortable and to preserve an amicable tone (do worries about likability and niceness sound familiar?). Anything else felt unnatural. I knew that negotiating was something I had to get better at and I needed help. Noah not only offered to help me, but he offered to host a workshop for my women’s group: Advancing Women Entrepreneurs. (Since I know that my discomfort with negotiations comes from the way I was socialized, I suspected that other women would want help with this too.)
So yesterday, 25 women of various ages and stages in their entrepreneurial careers, took their seats to learn how to negotiate. Noah is an extremely talented educator and the bulk of the class was learning by doing using case studies to illustrate different negotiation scenarios and then breaking down key learning points. Like lots of other areas of business, negotiations aren’t necessarily hard (though sometimes they are), we just have unhelpful habits and perspectives that we default to that keep us from succeeding in them.
A few big points stood out:
The only reason you should ever make a deal with someone is because it makes you better off. This sounds very simple but our bias is towards thinking that a negotiation is successful only when a deal is struck, so people strike deals all the time that make them worse off. A lot of our learning here had to do with preparing to know exactly what would make you better off and when to walk away. It is a lot less scary when you have determined this ahead of time.
In most negotiations, one party’s loss in NOT another party’s gain. Success means creating value for both parties with multiple issues. For example, say a fabric supplier’s priorities are as follows: sell as much fabric as possible, gain exposure in a new market, retain customers, and expand their customer base. My priorities are: obtain innovative fabric for prototypes, make as small of an upfront investment in fabric as possible for prototypes, build a long-term relationship with the fabric supplier, and co-market products for mutual increased exposure. So while I would like to initially buy as little fabric as possible for the prototypes, and the fabric supplier would like to sell as much as possible, the other three areas of interest overlap and we can create a lot of shared value out of them: the fabric supplier wants a new customer, we both want to increase our exposure in new markets, and we both want to build a long-term mutually profitable relationship.
The last point has helped me look forward to the coming year of hammering out crucial deals to build the capacity to do something difficult and novel in women’s apparel: made to measure wardrobe staples. This work will require negotiations with the technology gatekeepers, potential cofounders, manufactures, fabric suppliers, investors. Whereas before the negotiations workshop I had dreaded what I saw was the inevitable conflict of interests for each of these talks, I realized that there is a huge amount of shared value to be created and I look forward to uncovering that value with the different parties.
And this is just the impact the workshop had on me and Reid Miller Apparel. 24 other women took it all in and put it in their toolboxes to become more powerful in the work they do. What a blessing. Thank you very much to Professor Noah Eisenkraft for generously donating his expertise and to the AWE organizers: Lee Anne McClymont, Professor Rosanna Garcia, Professor Kate Annette Hitchcock and AWE’s graduate student supporter, Savannah Fender, for all your hard work to make this happen. Thank you as well to Adam Klein and the American Underground for hosting the event.