Israeli study: As negotiators, man smart, woman smarter

Forget the men when it comes to business negotiations. Women may be more skilled than their masculine counterparts, according to a new study by an Israeli researcher.

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.

woman smarter william shatnerThese 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.


‘Inside the Cult of Kibu’

On my first day as editor-in-chief of a heavily financed Bay Area Internet startup whose mission — its mostly female staff of trendy 20-somethings recited like a mantra — was to "empower" young women, I realized I had a big problem.

My hair was all wrong.

It wasn’t that my shoulder-length dark ringlets were unstylish. It’s just that, as I gazed at my new colleagues with their sleek, stick-straight blond tresses, I knew that I was different.

Besides a fellow curly-haired brunette named Lisa, I was the only Jew at the 60-person company.

In the scheme of corporate America, this ratio hardly seemed skewed. But for an L.A. native who’d previously worked only in Hollywood — an industry where to be a goy bordered on the eccentric, if not the decidedly disadvantageous; where colleagues kvelled over a writer’s new script; admonished difficult directors to "act like a mensch," and doled out judgments worthy of an elder Jewish mother atop Mount Sinai — ("Would it kill him just once to put a lunch on his expense account? Oy gevalt, that one’s a schnorrer") — I felt like a complete outcast in my new environment.

Experience seemed to bear this out. My second day at the startup, I attended the company-wide staff meeting which, strangely, consisted of going around the room and sharing "your most embarrassing story" (most had something to do with wrap-around skirts falling off at church); and, like a sorority pep rally, applauding ourselves for how great we were.

Yet the editorial meeting I called the next day turned out to be not another love-fest, but the most frustrating meeting I’d ever run — and this includes the time I volunteered to lead a group of troubled teens in prison. After a failed attempt at witty introductory remarks (my Sarah Silverman routine bombed), I handed out production schedules and deadlines, which were met with blank stares and dead silence. The only noise in the room came from a dropped metal hair clip that a Chanel "Face," a preppy producer named Slick, was using to braid her colleague Shannon’s flaxen hair. Hmm.

Not sure what to make of this inauspicious reception, I decided to check in with the CEO (think: Britney Spears with crow’s feet) who didn’t like to get "bogged down with details."

I gave her the broad strokes: the Face of Horoscopes didn’t "believe in astrology"; the Face of Fashion, who drove a Porsche, kept forgetting that teen girls shop at The Gap, not Gucci; the Face of Wellness, an earnest Martha Stewart-like ophthalmologist, was interested exclusively in sharing recipes (when I suggested that her content could be a bit more "fresh," she thought I was asking her to post a salad recipe); the Face of Beauty used the word "luscious" so incessantly (luscious lipstick, luscious liner, luscious lids) that when I did a search for "luscious" and left "replace with" blank, her word count shot down by 30; and the Face of Guys, a 20-year-old Backstreet Boys doppelgänger, called me "unreasonable," because I wouldn’t let him wax poetic about his favorite magazine, Maxim, on a site providing "insight" and "inspiration" to teen girls. And, I added, we’d just launched with virtually no sponsors, users, or a feasible business plan.

Something had to change.

Apparently, our CEO also needed a change. She announced that, in order to prevent burn-out, she and Molly, our co-founder, would chill out on a beach in Hawaii.

With our bosses MIA, it became increasingly difficult to separate out the world of our teen audience from the world of our business. Two cliques formed, composed of those who tried to keep the company on track ("the studious kids" — the two Jews, me and Lisa) and those who just wanted to have fun ("the popular kids" — almost everyone else). I felt like I was trapped in "Heathers" meets "Lord of the Flies." Soon I began having flashbacks to high school, and if there’s one thing I gleaned from that adolescent political arena, it was that if you wanted to exert any power at all, you had to belong to the popular crowd. So what if at my West Los Angeles high school, the Jews were the popular crowd?

I called an emergency meeting with our Face of Hair.

The effects of the flat iron, a hair-straightening device that allowed me to look like a clone of my Kibu kin, were instantaneous. My colleagues complimented me on my fashionable new locks. They asked me to join them for lunch. They confided their imaginary cellulite problems.

Now that I was one of them, they showed up for most of their story meetings, appreciated my suggestions and turned in their work on time. Being overtly Jewish, I concluded, had been my liability.

Or so I thought.

Two months later, Lisa and I were "unhired" from the company because of religious differences — not Jewish vs. Christian, but heathen vs. believer. We stood out in the startup culture not because of our ethnicity, but because we declined to bathe in the sickly sweet baptismal keg of Kool-Aid. We refused to become embroiled in a Jonestown-style New Economy mass delusion that led to no one questioning the viability of their business models. So I wasn’t surprised when, by autumn, the Wall Street Journal dubbed Kibu "a poster child for mismanaged Web companies" and announced that the doomed dot-bomb was shutting its doors.

Sipping my Kibu-branded "chai energy tea," I stared at the article and thought about all I’d learned from my startup experience: trust your instincts, not the hype; create the product before you launch; bigger isn’t necessarily better; work for people who have a clear vision; if you jump on a bus, make sure you know its destination; and finally, becoming a shiksa to fit into a workplace is as idiotic as joining a dot-com in the first place.