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My style of deal–making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.

–Donald Trump (Mulligan 2018)


I was a bit delayed dialing into a conference call the day after the 2016 election. When I got on, I heard the others (all men) say that they were glad that now they are free to treat women differently – they would stand up to us. Shocked, I introduced myself.

–Story told to author by a woman president executive (2017)


In conversations with women across the country via email, I saw several examples of how women are asserting their power after the wave of sexual harassment allegations that have rocked media, Hollywood, politics, and many other industries.

–Kelly Wallace (2017)


These stories illustrate three different ways that president Donald Trump could affect women and men negotiators in the future. The first focuses on the most obvious – his style. The second and third suggest that Trump’s hypermasculine behaviors – his aggression and misogyny (Connell 2005) and the fallout from them, could affect women and their place at the negotiating table.


Trump’s Hypermasculine Style

The first quote, from Trump himself, is about his style. According to Trump, a great negotiator is a tough guy with a zero-sum competitive strategy and the goal to win at all costs. His style aligns with what scholars have described as a masculine, competitive approach to nego- tiation, as opposed to one that is more “feminine” – that is, relational and ethical (Babcock and Laschever 2003; Kray and Thompson 2005; Mazei et al. 2015; Kennedy, Kray, and Ku 2017). Trump’s high-profile example may encourage others – particularly men – to behave similarly. Indeed, in a fortuitous “natural” laboratory experiment, comparing gen- der differences in negotiation before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Jennie Huang and Corinne Low (2017) found that, following the election, agreements were more elusive and the primary reason was that men acted more aggressively toward women.

To focus solely on his negotiation style, however, is to ignore Trump’s dismissive treatment of women, and their concerns, in ways that elevate men and masculinity. The second story suggests that men may feel that they are superior and feel justified when they diminish women as peers, as the president does. When men are perceived to be more qualified as leaders and negotiators, women are, by definition, stigmatized as less so (Wang et al 2017). Trump’s misogynist and dis- missive comments about women, both before the election and in the context of Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court, have contributed to this perception. Further, his moves to curtail wom- en’s rights – such as scrapping equal pay regulations, cutting funding for birth control, and calling women who report sexual assault liars, reinforce perceptions that women do not count. Indeed, when Trump created his Business Advisory Council, he appointed only male chief executives to the Women in the Workplace panel (Krouse 2017)!

When Trump insults women, and elevates men, it reinforce stereo- types of men as legitimate leaders and negotiators and women as less so (Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb 2013). This rhetoric reinforces common gender barriers: stereotype barriers, in which the same behavior is seen differ- ently such that women can be punished for negotiating; motivational barriers, in which women are told they are poor negotiators and so they shouldn’t even try to negotiate; and a winner take all barrier that re- inforces a masculine negotiation style and devalues ethical negotiating (more associated with women) as a sign of weakness (Kennedy, Kray, and Ku 2017). Indeed, we know that when women are accepted as lead- ers in their organizations, they feel they have a more legitimate place at the negotiating table (Mor et al. 2018). These feelings are precisely what is being challenged when hypermasculinity is elevated in politics, in the workplace, and in society more broadly.

The third story at the top of this article suggests a counter-nar- rative that also has the potential to affect a woman’s place at the ne- gotiating table. The #MeToo movement, initially founded in 2006, has surged during Trump’s presidency and has empowered women to get angry, speak up, and speak out against decades of abusive, oppressive, and discriminatory treatment. And it has had an impact on men, who thought that they could act with impunity; now hundreds of them have been pushed out of their leadership positions (Carlsen et al. 2018). It has challenged companies such as Nike, Google, and Uber to consider how women are treated and heard in the workplace (Dobbin and Kalev 2018).

#MeToo has given women a voice and a widely recognized right to be heard and to be treated with dignity and respect. We have seen women push back when their voices are not heard and their experi- ences ignored (Kolb and Williams 2001; Kolb and Portes 2015; Robillard and Kolb 2018). By speaking in solidarity with one another, women are empowered to engage in difficult conversations about what is accept- able behavior and what is not (Ely and Kimmel 2018; Gino 2018). To the degree that #MeToo encourages organizations to take women’s claims more seriously, we can expect that women will feel more legitimate when they negotiate for their own interests – for promotions and equal pay (Krivkovich et al. 2018), to claim value for the invisible, helping work they do (Fletcher 1999; Babcock et al. 2017), and to create greater workplace flexibility (Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb 2013). And, as women feel that they are more legitimate players in their organizations, they are also likely to become empowered negotiators (Mor et al. 2018).

At the same time, we need to curb our enthusiasm. The #MeToo movement, especially after the Kavanaugh hearings, has produced back- lash – doubts cast on claims of abuse, portrayal of high profile men as victims with no path back to their former roles, and mothers purport- edly more worried about their sons than their daughters (Ellis 2018). It is not surprising to expect that those who lose power will push back. But #MeToo may have awakened other men to the realities of women’s lives (Kimmel 2018). After all, 55 percent of senior level women report experiences of sexual harassment during their careers (Krivkovich et al. 2018).

Some male leaders, however, may become more reluctant to mentor and sponsor women for fear of being accused of inappropriate behav- iors (akin to Vice President Mike Pence’s stated policy of refusing to dine alone with any woman other than his wife; Parker 2017). Exclusion from networks has many potential consequences – it can hamper a negotiator’s effectiveness (Seidel, Polzer, and Stewart 2000) and can par- ticularly hurt women if it deprives them of critical information they can use in their negotiations (Bowles, Babcock, and McGinn 2005).

So, we are left with a mixed assessment about how the Trump era will affect a woman’s place at the negotiating table. Will we have more empowered women leaders, supported by their male and female col- leagues, who take it upon themselves to “lean in” and so pave the way for other women to do so? Will they be supported by their organizations to focus, not on “fixing women,” but on fixing the conditions that have undermined women (Krivkovich et al. 2018; Tinsley and Ely 2018)? Let’s hope so. Let’s hope that Trump’s enactment of hypermasculinity might have the paradoxical effect of actually benefitting women negotiators. We have evidence of this effect from the 2018 midterm elections, in which a record number of women ran for office and were elected. From this we can see the power of women to make themselves heard – to assert their legitimate place at the table.

By Deborah M. Kolb, Deloitte Ellen Gabriel Professor for Women in Leadership emerita and co-founder of the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons University School of Business in Boston. She is co-director of the Negotiations in the Workplace Project at the Program on Negotiation. Her e-mail address is

© 2019 Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School Negotiation Journal January 2019 185



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