Several decades ago when she was a prosecuting attorney in the Alameda County district attorney's office in Oakland, Calif., M.J. Tocci started training other lawyers in trial skills.
For women lawyers at the time, few female role models could be found in courtrooms, so her students frequently asked, "How can I not be a [negative stereotype] and still be effective?"
Back then, Ms. Tocci's answer was that women worry too much about how they are perceived in professional roles, while men don't worry enough.
"That question has not gone away. We are still in a gendered world," said Ms. Tocci, who now lives in Pittsburgh and provides coaching and consulting to lawyers and other professionals, with a particular focus on women's leadership and advancement.
Her work on gender issues resulted in a collaboration with Linda Babcock, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who has conducted research and authored books about women's need to boost their negotiation skills. Now the two are spearheading the new Babcock Institute for Negotiation at CMU, with a goal of launching it in the spring of 2012.
Negotiation isn't merely about asking for a raise, said Ms. Tocci. "It's the thing you do all day every day to problem-solve and do the job well."
While many women have the right education and experience to advance within their organizations, she said, they lack negotiation skills that can mean the difference between getting a promotion or being passed over.
Much of the issue lies in workplace culture and networking, she said. One of the key components to the Babcock Institute will be assigning each participant a "strategic partner" at their business who can help them navigate their organization.
Ms. Tocci cited a new study by Catalyst, a New York City organization that tracks women in business, that found women are over-mentored and under-sponsored.
"A mentor gives you advice; a sponsor or strategic partner gives you social capital" and helps promote women and their skills to others in the workplace, she said. "Men have backup when they are negotiating for more. Women have to work a little harder to cultivate sponsorships."
Ms. Tocci, who will serve as director of the Babcock Institute, said each class will include about 25 women. Ideally, she hopes it attracts a range of individuals from "high-performing women in management ... to new law firm associates ... to women running small businesses."
The curriculum includes five, two-day sessions held two days per month for five months. Proposed topics include negotiating authority and leadership, negotiating conflict in teams and negotiating networks.
Another component of the institute will be a "girl power" retreat in which participants and their strategic partners accompany a girl between the ages of 8 and 18 to a one-day retreat on negotiating skills.
Tuition for the overall program is $15,000.
Ms. Tocci is trying to raise seed money of $250,000 to launch the institute and is looking for companies to be founding sponsors.
Ms. Tocci is scheduled to talk about negotiating at a breakfast event Friday at Chatham University.
For more information or to register, go to www.chatham.edu/cwe.
Joyce Gannon: email@example.com or 412-263-1580.