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Women In Contracting: The Key To Sustainable Relationships?

April 11, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog on the topic of whether women are starting to dominate the fields of law and contract management. This was in response to a question raised by Ken Adams and my reply was that I think the position varies significantly between countries and also between roles. For example, it seems to me that there are relatively fewer women in the jobs where there is extensive negotiation and travel.

Something that I did not mention was the relatively low proportion of women who step forward when it comes to elections for the IACCM Board or for speaker roles at our conference. We are very sensitive to the issue of diversity and – as a multi-cultural association – encourage participation regardless of nationality or gender. Yet achieving a balance remains challenging.

I was reminded of this today when I read an article in The Economist “The Scarcer Sex”. It examined ‘the reluctance of women to enter politics’ in the US and drew from a study by academics Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox which confirmed that the issue is no longer one of relative opportunity, but rather one of choice.

However, we need to dig beneath this finding to examine why women may be making this choice. In part, it may well be because they do not like the ‘rules of the game’. By temperament and instinct, they may well be less aggressive, less competitive, less inclined to take risks, less willing to expose themselves to public scrutiny. But of course, those instincts may well not be wrong – so the problem is, the rules have been set by males.

In commentary on the findings of Lawless and Fox, other academics have observed that their research should be checked against the situation in other cultures – for example, Scandinavia has far higher participation by women in public office, so perhaps this gender bias can be overcome. I decided to check whether this holds true for the field of contracting. I am disappointed to report that my quick analysis of IACCM member data suggests that women in contracting in the US (around 40%) are outpacing those in Scandinavia (32%).

The attributes that turn women off politics are actually quite prevalent in the world of contracts, especially in negotiation – those are taking risks, being competitive and being convinced you are qualified to do the job. In other words, if you are full of bluster, economical with the truth and love to win, then contract negotiation is the place for you!

On the other hand, if we want better and more sustainable results from our negotiations, executives should be working to encourage far more women into the role. Perhaps that would be the fastest route to collaborative, relational contracting and put an end to the adversarial, transactional style of today.

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