Gender & Negotiation after Trump

“In conversations with women across the country via email, I saw several examples of how women are asserting their power after the wave of sexual harassment allegations that have rocked media, Hollywood, politics, and many other industries.”


“My style of deal – making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I'm after.”

–Donald Trump (Mulligan 2018)

“I was a bit delayed dialing into a conference call the day after the 2016 election. When I got on, I heard the others (all men) say that they were glad that now they are free to treat women differently – they would stand up to us. Shocked, I introduced myself.”


These stories illustrate three different ways that Donald Trump could affect women and men negotiators in the future.  The first focuses on the most obvious – his style. The second and third suggest that Trump’s hyper masculine behaviors – his aggression and misogyny, (Connell, 2005) and the fallout from them, could affect women and their place at the negotiating table. 

The first quote, from Trump himself, is about his style. According to Trump, a great negotiator is a tough guy with a zero-sum competitive strategy and the goal to win at all costs. His style aligns with what scholars have described as a masculine, competitive approach to negotiation, as opposed to one that is more “feminine” – i.e. relational and ethical (Kray and Thompson 2005; Babcock and Laschever 2003; Mazei et al 2015; Kennedy, Kray, and Ku 2017). Trump’s high-profile example may encourage others – particularly men – to behave similarly. Indeed, in a fortuitous “natural” laboratory experiment, comparing gender differences in negotiation before and after the 2016 United States presidential election, Jennie Huang and Corinne Low (2017) found that post election, agreements were more elusive and the primary reason was that men acted more aggressively toward women.

To focus solely on his negotiation style, however, is to ignore Trump’s dismissive treatment of women, and their concerns, in ways that elevate men and masculinity. The second story suggests that men may feel that they are superior and have permission to diminish women as peers, just as the President does.  When men are perceived to be more qualified as leaders and negotiators, women are, by definition, stigmatized as less so (Wang et al 2017). Trump’s misogynist and dismissive comments about women, both before the election, and in the context of Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation to the Supreme Court, have contributed to this perception.  Further, his moves to curtail women’s rights – such as scrapping equal pay regulations, cutting funding for birth control, and accusing women who report sexual assault of lying, reinforce perceptions that women do not count. Indeed, when Trump created his Business Advisory Council, he appointed only male chief executives to the Women in the Workplace panel (Krouse, 2017)!   

When Trump insults women, and elevates men, it reinforces stereotypes of men as legitimate leaders and negotiators and women as less competent (Ibarra, Ely, and Kolb 2013). This rhetoric reinforces common gender barriers: stereotypebarriers, where the same behavior is seen differently such that women can be punished for negotiating; motivational barriers where women are told they are poor negotiators and so they shouldn’t even try to negotiate; and a winner take all barrier that reinforces a masculine negotiation style and devalues ethical negotiating (more associated with women) as a sign of weakness (Kennedy, Kray, and Ku 2017). Indeed, we know that when women feel accepted as leaders in their organizations, they feel they have a more legitimate place at the negotiating table (Mor, Mehta, Fridman and Morris, 2018). These feelings are precisely what is being challenged when hyper masculinity is elevated in politics, in the workplace, and in society more broadly. 

The third story at the top of this article suggests a counter narrative that also has the potential to affect a woman’s place at the negotiating table. The #MeToo movement, founded in 2006, has surged during Trump’s presidency and has empowered women to get angry, speak up and speak out against decades of abusive, oppressive, and discriminatory treatment.  And it has had an impact on men, who thought that they could act with impunity; now hundreds of them have been pushed out their leadership positions (Carlsen, Salam, Cain Miller, (2018).  It has challenged companies – Nike, Google, Uber among them to consider how women are treated and heard in the workplace (Dobbin and Kalev 2018).  

#MeToo has given women a voice and a widely recognized right to be heard and to be treated with dignity and respect.   We have seen women push back when their voices are not heard and their experiences ignored (Kolb and Williams, 2001; Kolb and Porter, 2015; Robillard and Kolb 2018). By women speaking in solidarity with one another, women are engaging in difficult conversations about what is acceptable behavior and what is not (Ely and Kimmel, 2018, Gino, 2018).  To the degree that #MeToo encourages organizations to take women’s claims more seriously, we can expect that women will feel more legitimate when they negotiate for their own interests – for promotions and equal pay (McKinsey, 2018) to claim value for the invisible, helping work they do (Fletcher 1999; Babcock, et al, 2017,and to create greater workplace flexibility (Ibarra, et al 2013). And, as women feel that they are more legitimate players in their organizations, they are also likely to become empowered negotiators (Mor et al 2018).  

At the same time, we need to curb our enthusiasm. The #MeToo movement, especially after the Kavanaugh hearings, has produced backlash – doubts cast on claims of abuse, portrayal of high profile men as victims with no path back to their former roles, and mothers purportedly more worried about their sons than their daughters (Ellis, 2018).  It is not surprising to expect that those who lose power will push back.  But at the same time, #MeToo may have awakened other men to the realities of women’s lives (Kimmel, 2018).  After all, fifty-five percent of senior level women have experienced sexual harassment during their careers (McKinsey, 2018).  But at the same time, some male leaders may become more reluctant to mentor and sponsor women for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviors (akin to Vice President Mike Pence’s stated policy of refusing to dine alone with any woman other than his wife, Parker 2017). Exclusion from networks has many potential consequences, but an important one is that exclusion, can hamper a negotiator’s effectiveness (Seidel, Polzer, and Stewart 2000), particularly if it deprives women of critical information they can use in their negotiations (Bowles and McGinn 2008).

So, we are left with a mixed assessment about how the Trump era will affect a woman’s place at the negotiating table. Will we have more empowered women leaders, supported by their male and female colleagues, who take it upon themselves to ‘lean in’ and so pave the way for other women to do so? Will they be supported by their organizations to focus, not on “fixing women,” but on fixing the conditions that have undermined women (McKinsey, 2018; Tinsley and Ely 2018)? Let’s hope so. Let’s hope that Trump’s enactment of hyper masculinity might have the paradoxical effect of actually benefitting women negotiators.  We have evidence of this effect from the 2018 midterm elections, where a record number of women ran for office and were elected.  From this we can see the power of women to make themselves heard – to assert their legitimate place at the table.