I have a hobby in adr research and writing.  Recently, mixed in with materials on normal negotiation and teaching negotiation was an essay on negotiating your identity written from a feminist legal approach.

The article started with the fact that one result of traditional gender roles and stereotypes is that “likeable/good looking” and “competent” are considered exclusive of each other for women.  If you are good looking or likeable you are “not competent.”  If you are competent, you are by definition not likeable.  The professors provided a list of tools for negotiating your public identity if you were female and wanted to be both.  The tools apply to women anywhere they deal with gender stereotypes.

[If you want the entire essay, footnotes, and their conclusions instead of my thoughts based on same, look up Negotiating your Public Identity:  Women’s Path to Power by Tinsley, Chedelin, Schneider & Amanatulla in Rethinking Negotiation Teaching.]

You have several choices.

  • Worth within stereotypes.
  1. reframe what you do as fitting within the stereotypes.  For example, when you negotiate or present positions, push on behalf of groups or community.  Act on behalf of groups you are nurturing or responsible for.
  2. use softer methods.
  • Minimize the activation of stereotypes
  1. Act as a part of a diverse team.  Diverse teams cause people not to revert to stereotyping.
  2. Appeal to common goals.
  3. Take on roles that are seen as outside of the stereotypes (e.g. female lawyers are not evaluated or reacted to as “female” but rather as “lawyer” so that the stereotype that goes with “female” is often not applied to female lawyers).
  • Renegotiate your identity.
  1. Create a coherent alternative story to the stereotype that applies to you.
  2. Break out of stereotypes by adding complexity to your story or by preventing alternative narratives.
  3. Network to activate others and use their social capital.
  4. Destabilize stories and narratives that revert to stereotype.

Interestingly enough, the law professors used Sarah Palin as an example of someone who had a great deal of success in connecting to her base as both likeable and competent and Hillary Clinton as someone who faced problems in succeeding in that endeavor as a candidate for president (and who has had success as secretary of state).

To break free from stereotype you need a narrative that is both engaging (rather than threatening) and complex.  E.g. a hockey mom and a hunter (Palin).

Of course the real question is whether the tools that work for individuals will work for groups, and if they do, what they can work for.

Do you feel a need to renegotiate your identity?  If you do, what changes do you want to make, what is the narrative you seek?

(Yes, this moves me back on track and back towards Zion and past my last post).