Do women make better negotiators than men – Susanna Mason speaks

The CIPS Fellows events programme, overseen by Shirley Cooper and her committee, has become the single best reason for becoming a CIPS Fellow. It is an excellent programme, and the latest event was a presentation and discussion titled, “Are women more effective at negotiation”?

You might well ask – more effective than what? Wildebeest? A table lamp? Marmalade? I think we can safely say the unsaid end of that question was “than men”.

Susanna Mason, Director General Commercial in the Ministry of Defence, presented and there was then a lively debate, although it didn’t get as heated as I hoped it might. That was probably because she presented such a rational balanced view, it never got into the “yes we are “ / “no you’re not” argument I thought it might! Along with Sally Collier, Mason must be the most senior woman in the UK public sector procurement / commercial world, and it is the first time I have really had a chance to meet her – and she was certainly impressive.

Her argument started with the observation that we all negotiate all the time in real life – woman at least as much as men. She then touched on a definition of what negotiation is all about, and raised the possibility that perhaps the female psyche sometimes find it easier than men to seek compromise and look for different options – the lack of enthusiasm of men to ask for directions when lost being a sign that sometimes our sex is not as open as it should be to input and new ideas!

“Having the confidence to walk away” was another of her secrets of negotiating success; I agree, but that of course depends on the strength of your BATNA, as we’ve commented before.

I thought she might get more into the male / female dimension but she didn’t push that – rather, she looked at how different negotiation situations require different approaches. Indeed, the most interesting part of her session came from her own experience of negotiating some very large contracts (defence exports being part of her brief) in different parts of the world. The tendency of Japanese negotiators to assume the man in her team must be the more senior (even when he wasn’t), and the positive acceptance of her by Middle Eastern negotiators for example were based on real-life experience.

Using emotion in negotiation was another theme – but be careful. Based on another incident in her career, she advised us that if you are going to storm out of the room during the negotiation, (all carefully planned of course), make sure you know which door is the exit, not the cupboard!

During questions, the session moved on to generally encouraging women into procurement, but then also to stick with it and develop their careers. Mason suggested that she sees the late 20s / early 30s as the time when women don’t progress as well as they should – not just those going off to have families but generally. Is it a lack of ambition perhaps? But some in the audience thought that the young generation of women coming through now were just as tough and ambitious as any man, so perhaps things will change.

Mason also (very acutely) identified that young men needed support too. Indeed, there are more women than men on many key professional degree courses these days and they are often more mature in those first working years than the young men. So supporting people of both sexes, making sure they develop in their early career years, is a responsibility all of us older / more experienced managers should accept.

Thanks to Sue Moffatt as lead organiser, Procserve for hosting and of course to Mason for an interesting and enjoyable evening. And if anyone is thinking about becoming a CIPS Fellow, happy to speak– drop me an email (psmith (at)

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  1. Trevor Black:

    I’m sorry to have missed it. Having once worked in an environment where at times you were involved in one negotiation after another, I learnt to leave my negotiating head at the factory gates, otherwise you would find people avoiding you. Not long ago I went on a negotiation course in order to ascertain if I had not “lost it” and was very disappointed as the focus was if you couldn’t screw the supplier into the ground then you weren’t up to it. I wonder if those who passed the course are now working for Tesco?

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