Written with Harvard Professor Francesca Gino.


How do we raise females to foster confidence, particularly in negotiation, by breaking cultural and societal stereotypes and leading lives and careers equally aligned with their male counterparts?


Boys and girls are informed early by their parents’ behaviors, with important consequences for their future attitudes and choices. For instance, research by HBS Professor Kathleen McKin and colleagues has found that women raised by working moms end up having higher incomes than women whose moms stayed at home full time as parents serve as role models and shape their children’s expectations about gender roles. And men raised by working mums have more egalitarian views in the workplace regarding gender.


The divergence of genders begins very early on, as outlined in Women Don’t Ask (2003). In general, men as “bosses” and women as “workers” is evident across many realms, like household work roles (type of task, overall workload), driving the car, paying for things outside the home, etc. This correlates with findings that show being male is more associated with opportunity and freedom while being female with constraint.


How parents inform children without saying a thing

While much has been written about the gender gap for adults (see also Giuseppe’s article on the Financial Times on How women can demand a higher salary) and differences among men and women in negotiation attitudes, very little focus has been directed toward parents of girls and young women. It is important to address the actions and behaviors which influence their adult daughters later on with regards to confidence and negotiation skills.


According to Lise Eliot, psychological differences early in life are relatively small across genders. It’s only later that these differences are amplified and exaggerated by “nurture” factors at home and wider environmental factors like culture and societal attitudes toward male and female archetypes.


These structures often show young girls that they lack power, lack a sense of what can and cannot be changed, rely more on external control in their lives, and rely more on a sense of societal fairness to handle their needs and wants, all of which relate directly to the concept of negotiating. These differences inform young boys’ and girls’ generalized gender schemes, which come into play over and over again throughout their lives.


The “real girl” role model

With girls specifically, there is a tendency to reward the “good girl” over the “bad girl”. The good girl is often a pleaser, a perfectionist, and generally not one to break or question rules, be self-interested and self-nurturing ahead of others, or deviate from the “correct path” that society has determined for her. However, with this comes a set of standards that diminishes the range of resilience capabilities a girl can develop. In other words, never failing or making a mistake may earn her lots of praise, but it doesn’t help her grow.


Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl (2009), recommends the “real girl” as a more appropriate model for young women. She is self-confident, can defend her opinions openly, accept error and failure openly, and has a core sense of self that isn’t damaged by risk-taking, criticism, or others’ opinions of her.


How can parents address this conflict of explicit and implicit differences that impact young women and their confident ability to be good negotiators and have a strong conviction?


General tips for steering clear of gender stereotypes


•      Early on, encourage unstructured play. Allow them to explore and decide which items they want to play with and how they want to play, from dolls to trucks to legos and dinosaurs, free from gender-specificity.

•      Pay attention to which types of chores you assign to yourself, your partner, and your girls and boys. Take an equal split attitude toward tasks around the house, or do a regular rotation of tasks.

•      Relating to extracurricular activities, offer the same activities and experiences to boys and girls (sports, dance, music, art, language, etc.), as lessons they take and as leisure activities. In school, encourage courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), areas traditionally dominated by male students and traditionally associated with high compensation in adulthood.

•      Have high expectations all around, for achievement. Support self-confidence and intellect more than superficial traits like “cuteness.” Push for independence in decision-making. And make sure they know it is normal to make mistakes and to learn and grow from them.


Interested in Negotiation?

You may want to join one of Giuseppe’s forthcoming workshops:



For other information on Conti Advanced Business Learning intensive workshops, visit http://bit.ly/CABLevents


Specific ways to raise confident negotiators


•      Create a home environment of open discussion. You may want to organize regular family meetings or just have rich exchanges at the dinner table. Encourage them to ask questions and be inquisitive.

•      Allow and encourage some risk-taking and help them face obstacles and fear with support and encouragement.

•      Later on, make sure they feel comfortable to say “no” or challenge others’ assertions, even if it means disappointing others

•      Practice negotiation, among child and parent or among brothers and sisters: try topics like mobile phone usage or pocket money as starting points for building negotiation skills.


Practice what you preach

You can address many of these tips by being a good role model and adjusting your own behaviors accordingly. This could mean: you and your partner adopt an equal division of roles and responsibilities or take turns with activities around the house, while outside the house, and with careers. It could also mean more openly negotiating among yourselves when making decisions for the family.


Show your girls and your boys you break stereotypes by being a partnership of equals, with strong confidence and negotiation skills on both sides, and they will learn this is their option and right as well. Within this environment, young girls will grow into young women who are accustomed to debate, comfortable with negotiation, and confident in their own opinions, feelings, and desires from life.


There is no much literature on this fascinating topic. We are interested to have your views. Please tell us about your own experience and opinions. We look forward to your comments


Giuseppe Conti, “The Creator of Master Negotiators”, is the founder of CABL (www.cabl.ch) , a firm that offers a range of customized workshops and services in the field of negotiation and influencing. Since 2006, he is an award-winning lecturer at leading business schools throughout Europe (Cambridge, ESADE, HEC Lausanne, HEC Paris, IESE, IMD, Imperial College, INSEAD, London Business School, Oxford, RSM, SDA Bocconi, University of Geneva and University of St Gallen), recognized for his lively and interactive training workshops. He runs negotiation workshops for corporate customers in four continents. Leaders from multinational corporations and individuals from over 90 different countries have attended his workshops. Giuseppe is an accomplished negotiator and integrates into his training over 20 years of executive-level experience at Blue Chip corporations (Procter & Gamble, Novartis, Firmenich, Merck). Please visit his website at www.cabl.ch for more information.


Francesca Gino is the Tandon Family Professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School, affiliated with the Program of Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Professor Gino’s research focuses on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, and productivity. Her studies have been featured in Harvard Business Review, PON Negotiation Newsletter, The Economist, The New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal. Professor Gino is the author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan (HBR Press, 2013). Professor Gino has won numerous awards for her teaching, including the HBS Faculty Award by Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2015. Francesca was also chosen in 2015 by Poets & Quants to be among their “40 under 40”, a listing of the world’s best business school professors under the age of 40. Please visit her website at www.francescagino.com for more information.