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18 July 2008

Her place at the table – in conversation with Carol Frohlinger, negotiating skills expert

I was immensely cheered at the weekend to read an article in my Sunday paper, which suggested that both of the US Presidential hopefuls are likely to select a woman as their running mate, as Hillary Clinton’s -

“… groundbreaking campaign has paved the way for a number of other women … As the Clinton-Obama battle demonstrated, mobilising female voters with a strong woman candidate can be a powerful political tool.” 

This observation, from a political scientist at the University of Iowa, really resonated with me:

“The more women run for high office, then the more normal it becomes.” 

I think the same is true of women in business; that point was made in 2007’s McKinsey report, “Women Matter”, where they referenced the occurrence of three women on the board of an organisation as being the tipping point to make the presence of women at the top level of the firm feel like business as usual. Here’s to the power of three, four and beyond.


As mentioned last week, in June I caught up with Carol Frohlinger, a busy woman by anyone’s standards.  We first connected through Carol’s involvement with The Thin Pink Line but Carol is also an attorney, consultant, coach, and co-author of the book “Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success”.  She works with companies to advise them on how to retain and advance female talent, and she also coaches individual women. I asked her to tell me a little about her company and how she came to set it up. 

“I’m a lawyer by training, and I then spent a number of years in financial services as a consultant working with men and women, helping them to improve their negotiation skills. I started to notice gender correlated differences in the way in which men and women approached issues. Women would get good outcomes, but they didn’t seem to take credit for their success in the same way as the men did. In around 2000, I decided that there was a book in this observation, so I started to do some research and I began working with Deborah Kolb, a Professor of Management at the Simmons Graduate School of Management.  “Her Place at the Table” was published in 2004.

My strong belief is that knowing how to negotiate effectively is the critical career issue for women and is the key to their success.”

What challenges do you believe that women face that men do not?

“There are second generation gender issues, and by that I mean the behavioural double standards which arise now that women are accepted as having a place in the workforce. For many people, women can lack credibility and there are stereotypes held around male and female behaviours. Here’s an example - women are “supposed to be collaborative” – but there’s a bell curve, with varying degrees of collaborative skills on display. And women who are assertive are seen to be “aggressive”. If you’re collaborative, can you be seen as a leader, and able to handle a client? 

The main thing that is empowering for women is to be aware of the fact that there are stereotypes out there.  Recognise that this is what you’re dealing with and find ways to overcome the stereotypes. Learn to be more strategic about how you handle things.

Ask yourself what expectations people have of you. And recognise that there are different types of negotiation: the big ones on things like prices, money, promotions and so on. But there are also the smaller ones – who will run a project? It’s difficult sometimes to even know that it’s a negotiation, but yet these kinds of situations, and their outcomes, can make a huge difference to the success and direction of your career.”

How do you suggest that women can overcome these hurdles?

“Recognition and acknowledgement of the issues is the first step. Then, ask yourself how you are contributing to the situation and what you can do to change and improve things. Do you even ask to be included in a project or on a client pitch?  Acknowledge that nobody’s going to manage your career for you and recognise that you yourself may be contributing to career stalemate.  At that point, you can begin to think strategically.

Start by thinking about what you want from the scenario but also about what the other person needs and how you can help them achieve whatever that is. Have an internal dialogue around how they will benefit from the work that you do.”

What do you believe are the conditions for leadership success?

“Actively negotiate for support from the people who put you in the role. Those people may not recognise that just having you in the role is enough – ask them to give you credentials and support you, publicly, by saying that “you’re the right person for the job because …”

Women are often so delighted to have the opportunity that they omit to negotiate for buy-in and support – and that’s crucial for success.  It’s not just about having the job. Make sure that they understand what your need is.”

What one tip on negotiating would you pass on to women in PwC, in whatever country?

“My best tip is to prepare.  Don’t go into a negotiation without thinking it through.  Be very clear on what your goals are.  Be very clear on what their goals and needs are.  Try to anticipate what kind of challenges they face and how you will respond. Practice for important conversations – engage with a colleague and undertake some role play.  There’s a big difference between knowing what you’re going to say and actually delivering your message.

Prepare and practice!

Even if the firm has great policies, there are still difficult conversations to be held.  Other people’s concerns are legitimate and you need to anticipate these and work out how you will respond and set their mind at ease.”


My conversation with Carol concluded with her recommending Deborah Kolb’s book “Every Day Negotiation: Navigating the Hidden Agendas in Bargaining” for a great overview of the informal conversations which can really shape and influence your career.

Carol has very kindly given me a signed copy of her book “Her Place at the Table”, and, as before, I would like to offer it to the person who writes a blog entry in which they share their personal tips for career success with the readers of the Gender Agenda.  Please email me your contribution by the middle of August and I will publish the best entry on here and send the author a copy of the book. And many thanks to Carol for taking the time to share her views and tips with us all. Remember to visit The Thin Pink Line at www.thethinpinkline.com for great blog entries and coaching tips.

In other news – many congratulations to two of our former Gender Agenda blog contributors.  My favourite Czech mate, Blanka Dubrokova from PwC in Prague, has been promoted to Director (next stop – Partner) and PwC UK’s Paula Holt has given birth to her fourth son, whom she has named Rik.

As usual, if you would like to be automatically updated whenever I update my blog, send me an email to join my mailing list.

Until next time


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