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January 18, 2011 Practice Points

Recent Study Explores Perceptions of Male and Female Attorneys in Negotiations

By Sara E. Dionne

Being perceived as both competent and likeable is imperative for success. Yet, female professionals often face a double bind whereby the perception of one characteristic comes at the cost of another. A recent paper published in the Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, “Likeability v. Competence: The Impossible Choice Faced by Female Politicians, Attenuated By Lawyers,” however, discusses a study finding that this double bind may not be faced by negotiating attorneys.

The study asked attorneys to describe and evaluate the attorney with whom they had most recently negotiated. The study found that women were perceived to be no more or less effective than male attorneys regardless of their negotiation style. Examining the descriptions used for the subject attorneys, the study concluded that there were few differences in the descriptions used for men and women. Moreover, to the extent there were differences, many ran contrary to gender stereotypes (e.g.,female negotiators were more often described as assertive and firm, whereas male negotiators were more often perceived as creative).

In addition to discussing the study’s findings, the paper also posits several reasons that may explain the lack of gender differences found in the negotiation study and offers several suggestions for how female attorneys can deal with gender stereotypes.

Keywords: negotiations, gender stereotypes

Sara E. Dionne works at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Sacramento, California.

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