Gender Roles at Your School: Are Accommodating Girls and Disruptive Boys Setting Their Future Courses in the “Real World?”

As I have written before, I am a big fan of teaching negotiation and entrepreneurialism in schools.  While many independent middle and secondary schools do not touch on these areas, I think they should.  There are several key elements in these disciplines that are extraordinarily important for college and career readiness of our students.

I was reminded just how important it is to teach negotiation basics at an early age after reading the latest blog post from Harvard’s Program on Negotiation entitled “How to Narrow the Gap: Women and Negotiation.” The post written by Katie Shonk elaborated on three ways women could improve their negotiation skills, acknowledging that women average just 77.4% of the median men’s earnings in 2011.  Shonk wrote her article in order to educate seemingly well-educated women through this perceived weakness.

If one were to look at our schools, one would see several areas similar to the one’s Shonk uncovered that could be remedied with some subtle curricular and school rule shifts.  For instance, I looked at our Middle School disciplinary data for the first semester.  We had a minimum number of referrals which speaks to the good behavior of our middle school students and to the excellent classroom management skills of our teachers.  Looking closer, however, I saw a relative imbalance in the number of referrals of boys to girls.  In our case, boys were about twelve times more likely to be referred than girls.  These referrals were for things like talking perpetually out of turn, disrespect toward teachers, and repeated violations of classroom rules like walking around.  These results seem to validate Shonk’s evidence behind relative female weakness in negotiation.  Shonk writes: “Deeply ingrained societal gender roles lie at the root of the gender gap in negotiated outcomes…In many cultures, girls are encouraged and expected to be accommodating, concerned with the welfare of others, and relationship oriented from an early age. Notably, these goals clash with the more assertive behaviors considered to be essential for negotiation success, which are more in line with societal expectations that boys and men be competitive, assertive, and profit oriented.” 

For boys, it is worth it to possibly disrupt the classroom harmony and the mental comforts of  teachers to promote their opinions.  For girls, this is rarely, if ever an inviting proposition.  The rare girl in school who is competitive, assertive, and potentially disrespectful would likely be ostracized as the women with those perceived traits could be in the workplace.

For boys, the brief moments of conflict are inviting.  They offer an opportunity to earn a badge, so to speak.  In the long run, these opportunities when they stand up in conflict may, in fact, help them in  skill development in areas like negotiation.  My Upper School Dean and I witness this routinely at the end of the semester when demerit counts build and consequences mount.  Brazen boys come in to “negotiate” new terms rather than settle their accounts in full.  While these encounters are equal parts draining and entertaining, they offer a glimmer into what the boys will be like in “the real world.”  It is also interesting to see how the tactics of these boys develop from freshman year, to sophomore and so on.  By the time they are seniors, many of these boys have developed board room- worthy negotiation skills.

Again, we rarely if ever see this from girls and I think it is a shame.  I wonder if my counterparts in all-girls schools witness a different dynamic.  I also try to think if there are other areas where girls have opportunity to negotiate with figures in elevated roles.   Our Academic Dean is female and she also does not regularly encounter negotiations from female students as frequently as males as far as I can tell.  Likewise for our Counselor and Registrar, both females who handle all scheduling conflicts.  I’m thinking these may be great areas for our female students to safely assert themselves with the “power brokers” at their school.

In summary, there are two questions that need to be looked at by school leaders:

1.  How are we preparing our girls to speak truth to power and to stand up for themselves in matters academic, financial, political, etc?

2.  How are we training our teachers on the habits and modes of boys to make it safer for boys to demonstrate their perspectives and learning styles since it is ostensibly beneficial to them in the real world, but reasonably taboo in the school situations they face on a daily basis?

Taken from the

Taken from the

I’d love to hear your perspective on these questions @MikeZavada on Twitter

Until next time… if you are a girl, drive a hard bargain.  If you are a boy, behave 🙂

I’ll Trade You for Your Pudding (but if you won’t, my Pringles are still a solid B.A.T.N.A)

It recently occurred to me that something at first so natural to kids at the cafe lunch table in elementary school tends to be so absent from our school curricula. For over two hundred years in American education there has a been a “N” word that has been prohibited at schools and it has nothing to do with race. “Negotiation.” There, I said it. It has a nice ring to it. Yet, it is a skill schools feel uncomfortable teaching their students. Maybe it is because many teachers themselves are so uncomfortable with the process. One can picture the early 1800’s schoolmarm or master abhorring the prospects of negotiating a fair salary with the townspeople. Room, board and some travel expenses will suffice but what if I am no longer able to teach? Outside of public school district collective bargaining, teachers in general have been reluctant wheelers and dealers. Is this why educators tend to be paid less on average than most professions requiring as much education.

Educators also tend to scare at the notion of students having a negotiating voice in school proceedings. One does not have to be around long to hear from a fellow teacher that “the inmates are running the asylum” when the notion of the value of student input into the curriculum and discipline code are broached by students or the “radical” colleague.

Well, I want to assert the case for negotiation as one of the primary skill sets we teach American students. Why do we kick the proverbial can down the road toward Business school or MBA programs when it comes to negotiation? Shouldn’t the abilities to empathize, strategize, barter, problem solve, create and close be central to the 21st Century Education? Pat Bassett, past President of the National Association of Independent Schools cited six “Demonstrations of Learning” in 2009. Many independent schools ran with the list and incorporated it with slight variations into their strategic plans and their portraits of learners in their communities. The splendid six were:

1. Character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage);
2. Creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit;
3. Real-world problem-solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis);
4. Public speaking/communications;
5. Teaming
6. Leadership

Among the researchers Bassett cited in his 2009 article espousing these six was Tony Wagner and his impressive work The Global Achievement Gap which bemoaned the ways students were learning (or not) in schools and how we were not preparing them with skills they would need to compete in a world that had shifted. The world had shifted mostly because it is now flat as Thomas Friedman eloquently stated in his critical text. But even Wagner and Bassett don’t specifically say we need to teach negotiation. Respecting both of them, I would tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. In doing so, I would point to the six skills and illustrate just how implicit negotiation is to each.

1. Empathy is a critical skill in negotiation. Knowing the cards the other side holds as well as the emotional leanings they have can help one get to the heart of a deal that will work. Resiliency and courage are critical to making the right deals and being patient to hold out for what matters most. Cultural negotiations also lend themselves to wonderful learning opportunities in empathy. We all can envision the 1980’s power business deals with the Japanese with the awkwardness of the handshake versus the bow. It would be great to put our students in situations such as these. And with the technical ease of something like Skype, we can now do this without traveling abroad.
2. Creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit are critical to the negotiation process. Placing students in negotiation scenarios is the best way for them to practice these skills. We can’t just talk about creativity or have them design an art project and say we are teaching creativity. Furthermore, the entrepreneurial student is traditionally looked upon with a weary eye by educators. Formal negotiation training built into curricula can correct this failing.
3. When we can’t agree at the lunch table on a one for one deal Pringles for Pudding, we need to see other possible outcomes. What about a 3 way deal? What about future considerations? Our students can see this in NBA transactions, but why can’t we bring this to life for them in the curriculum? Bassett mentioned filtering, analysis and synthesis. Ostensibly this means DATA. Why can’t STEM courses incorporate negotiation data analysis into their skills development?
4. The ability to communicate ones needs in a transaction is critical practice. Having taught Speech and Debate for several years at an independent school, I was frustrated by the typically uninspired persuasive speech on a less relevant topic foisted upon the student. Lincoln-Douglass debates also lacked pizzaz. So, I added a third component to my course: negotiation. We negotiated salary packages for first jobs out of college. We negotiated collective bargaining agreements. We negotiated Nick Saban’s contract at Bama (the boys, in particular, loved that one).
5. Teaming to get a deal done is also one of the wonderful processes in negotiation. Whether I work together with those on my side to see the whole picture or I team with my chief rival for the common good, I learn that only by working in unison can the greater good be served. In the Negotiation classes, we practiced a wonderful game/simulation lent to us by Harvard’s Program on Negotiation. In the game, two teams are created. Each team has a chief negotiator. The rest of the seven members of each team are responsible for certain parts of the deal creation. The teams are situated in opposite rooms, and at designated times, only the counterparts of negotiation (Chief with Chief, #2 with opponent #2, etc) meet at the negotiating table. When they go back to the team room, they invariably try to sway their team to make the concessions needed by their counterpart. The counterparts become invested in each other. Points are given when there is agreement on certain issues. When there are breakdowns, points are deducted. This is a tremendous exercise in a greater framework for teamwork. It also relates closely with Skill #1, empathy. Educators can see how important this is at an adult level in schools when a proposal needs endorsement. For more simulations from Harvard’s PON go to
6. Negotiating for one’s side means standing up for the things that matter and conceding the things that don’t really matter. Isn’t that what leadership is?

I encourage educators to take a second look at your perceptions of negotiation. Is it a dirty word? Do you feel dirty doing it? Why do we let students hit the “real world” without this critical skill? Do they have to get ripped off on their first used car purchase as a “rite of passage” to learn negotiation skills? We can do better.

Until next time, here’s my best offer: Your pudding and peanut butter sandwich, along with Jimmy’s peach for my Pringles, Jimmy’s apple and another snack to be named later. What do you say?

B.A.T.N.A.= best alternative to negotiated agreement, i.e. if we don’t make a deal what will I have? Is that better than the deal they are offerin