Increasing Women’s Agency and Impact
Employers, communities, and households benefit when women have greater opportunity and agency. Research has shown that companies perform better during economic turbulence when they have women on their boards, and communities with women in public office have greater investments in public goods, like access to water. Within households when women determine how to spend extra income, they are more likely then men to save that money or loan it to their personal network, rather than spending it on personal consumption.
Gaining positions of leadership involves risk-taking, competition and negotiation, which research has shown women are less apt to pursue: Although men and women have similar levels of trust and reciprocal behavior, women are less likely to take risks than men; women are less likely to enter competitions (though interestingly, this trend is reversed in matriarchal societies), and they initiate negotiations less frequently. When they do negotiate assertively, women experience “social backlash,” from which men are immune, because such behavior does not conform to gender stereotypes.
Learning to negotiate effectively can be a crucial tool for women - from making their own health and reproductive choices to negotiating with their parents to attend school. When women do not compete or negotiate, we all lose out.
How We Can Advance Women In Leadership Positions, Level Playing Fields In Negotiations, And Enhance Their Decision Making Agency
Within gendered systems, a confluence of factors impedes women’s negotiation, decision making, and leadership, including ingrained stereotypes and social backlash for violating those stereotypes, an aversion to competition, family responsibilities, as well as a lack of female role models. To overcome these obstacles:
- Establish Quotas: Quotas on corporate boards and political offices improve women’s participation in leadership roles. Reserving political seats for women increases female electoral participation and improves the government’s responsiveness to women’s policy concerns. Seat reservations for female elected officials also make communities more likely to associate women with leadership and vote for women in the future. Quotas or affirmative action can increase women's willingness to compete in competitive mixed-gender environments resulting in more qualified candidates, men and women alike, applying for competitive positions. In the board room, however, there are mixed results. After board quotas were instituted in Norway, gender diversity increased, but this imposed costs on firms and shareholders.
- Modeling Female Leadership: Women in leadership positions have a multiplier effect: Repeated exposure to female elected officials improves perceptions of female leaders and leads to future electoral gains for women. Female role models in leadership positions help adolescent girls aspire to leadership positions. Mentorship, confidence building, media training and political education are all effective tools to increase adolescent girls’ and women’s political aspirations and efficacy.
- Women’s Legal And Social Control Over Assets: Increasing women’s control over assets and encouraging them to set goals leads to increased decision-making for women in households. Research shows that women who receive microfinance funds tend to invest in education, housing and nutrition. Commitment savings products, in particular, positively affect household decision-making power for women and consumption decisions that favor women’s preferences.
- Industry Negotiation Standards: Ambiguity heightens the potential for gender to play a role in price and salary negotiations. Reduce ambiguity by having transparent information about what career opportunities, resources or rewards are negotiable and what the standards are for attaining them. Educate employees about the importance of resisting implicit gender stereotypes.
- Negotiation Strategies For Women: Women are strong negotiators. In fact, when women negotiate on behalf of others, they exceed men's negotiated outcomes. When negotiating for themselves, however, women correctly predict social backlash and hesitate to negotiate strongly. One way to circumvent this is by displaying concern for relationships within the organization, or using relational accounts. Crafting strategies that anchor in relational concern within the organization can enhance women's persuasiveness and help them avoid the risks of social backlash. Additionally, learning what can and cannot be negotiated allows room for different ways to gain.