09/26/2014 05:18 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2014

Woman at Work: Negotiations -- Foreign and Domestic

Business, like politics, is the art of negotiating, of offering this in order to get that through compromise and deal-making. Negotiations can be employee to boss, team to team, interdepartmental or company to company, and may include internal, domestic and international negotiating partners. Every time we seek a promotion or a raise, or deal with business partners over goods, services, fees and prices, we are engaging in negotiations.

Since men have long dominated the business world, they have established the vocabulary and behavior of how to negotiate successfully. Businesswomen can learn much from this rich store of knowledge, but they also have to develop strategies to profile themselves, achieve their goals and build networks. For a wide variety of factors, this is more challenging for businesswomen than for businessmen.

Some of these factors include:

Positioning and personal branding: because men have been at it longer than women, they are more effective at branding themselves. Men ask for more because they know this is part of the negotiation game: demand the entire loaf while expecting half. Internally, men habitually apply for jobs that they are not qualified for whereas women are usually more self-critical of their abilities and know-how, and thus their true value to the company. Often, they choose to remain on the outer edges of the limelight, letting men take center stage. But the first step in branding themselves is learning the art of self-praise.

Culture and traditional gender norms: across the globe, businesswomen have to battle stereotypes of how they are expected to behave, whether this means that they should be less aggressive when seeking promotion or more demurring when negotiating with business partners. In many cultures, such as in the Middle East, women are presumed to live more domestic, family-oriented lives, while it is anticipated that men be active outside of this sphere.

Perception and second-generation bias: social psychologist Professor Faye Crosby at the University of California, Santa Cruz, observed what she calls "the denial of personal disadvantage." She discovered that people, particularly women, often believe that they are unaffected by injustices they see impacting others; a denial of the obvious. In business, men and women alike often do not see or refuse to see the subtle, in-grown, almost invisible hurdles of assumptions, learned behavior and organizational structures which hold businesswomen back from reaching their potential. Gentle pressure to "be nice," "supportive" and "caring" keep women in the background, stunting their abilities and their careers. As Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, in Psychology Today, writes,

"According to researchers at the Center for Gender in Organizations, second generation gender biases are 'work cultures and practices that appear neutral and natural on their face,' yet they reflect masculine values and life situations of men who have been dominant in the development of traditional work settings."

Thus, even well-meaning companies which have diversity policies may in fact have deeply ingrained corporate cultures that undermine their female talents.

Backlash: consciously or subconsciously many women demand less out of fear of appearing too assertive and thus unfeminine. Recent research by Professor Hannah Riley Bowles of Harvard Business School, and Professors Linda Babcock and Lei Lai of Tulane University shows how "both male and female study participants were less interested in working with women who attempted to negotiate a better salary than they were with men who tried to negotiate a higher salary." Thus, many qualified women step back for fear of how others will view and treat them.

The Game: the language of negotiations is masculine and militaristic -- you attempt to "out- maneuver," your "opponent" by "deploying" "tactics," unfolding a "battle plan" in order to "dominate," the negation, even if it's labeled win-win. When businesswomen adapt such terminology, it often sounds forced and off-key. Moreover, researchers Jessica Kennedy of the University of Pennsylvania, and Laura Kray and Alex Van Zant of the University of California, Berkeley, have found that people lie more to a female negotiator than to a male one, in part because businesswomen are seen to be less business savvy than men.

Networks and double-standards: free of most family and household duties, men are better at networking than women because they can devote more time to after-work drinks and excursions to the golf course where many negations are made and deals sealed between "business friends." People promote and do the best business with those whom they know; if a business sector is dominated by men, it is logical that they favor other men in their circle. Additionally, powerful double-standards exist: if a woman joins male business partners for drinks, she may be broadcasting the wrong signals that have little to do with work. Yet if she forgoes this, she's missing out on valuable opportunities to close deals and advertise her worth to her boss. Businesswomen are thus more disconnected from power and influence than their male colleagues.

In order to thrive, excel and reach their full potential, businesswomen have to become more robust as negotiators. They have to become consciously aware that "niceness" can be perceived as weakness; that assertiveness is not necessarily the preserve of males; and that traditional feminine characteristics, such as empathy for others, are assets not liabilities. Effective negotiating skills can be developed in both genders but rights and privileges are not given freely; they are won through hard bargaining at the negotiating table.