Helping women to become better negotiators for themselves is something of a calling for MJ Tocci. A prosecutor for the Alameda County (Calif.) district attorney’s office for 15 years, Tocci early on became intrigued by the way gender issues can play out in a courtroom. In 1994 she designed the nation’s first training program to address gender in persuasion and advocacy for lawyers, going on to create specialized in-house training for leading firms and government agencies. Upon moving to Pittsburgh in 1996, she taught at Duquesne University’s School of Law, and also founded Fulcrum Advisors, which helps organizations recruit, retain and promote talented women. Through another start-up, Trial Run, she coaches clients ranging from the U.S. Navy to international law firms on effective persuasion, negotiation and litigation skills.

Tocci is now turning her attention full-time to directing the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women at Carnegie Mellon University, which will offer its first executive education classes in January. Along with academy co-founder Linda Babcock — a CMU professor, co-author of the ground-breaking book Women Don’t Ask and creator of PROGRESS (Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society) — Tocci will offer a by-invitation preview of the academy on July 20. (Check out photos here.)  She spoke with about her plans.

MJ Tocci

How was the idea launched? Why is a negotiation academy for women needed?
Since moving to Pittsburgh I have been teaching in women’s leadership programs all over the country. There are many wonderful programs, but none look at things specifically through a negotiation lens. That’s what brought me in contact with Linda Babcock and Ayana Ledford (executive director at PROGRESS). We all decided that this academy filled a critical need and it was up to us to start it.

Having adept negotiation skills is the single most important intervention to change women’s progress in the workplace. Research shows that failing to negotiate your first salary – which many women don’t do – means that by age 60, you’ve taken home $500,000 less than you might otherwise have earned.

But it’s not just about asking for a raise. Negotiation is a high-level skill that you can – and should — use every day. It’s about reframing your interactions and more accurately evaluating – and taking advantage of – the opportunities around you. It’s about negotiating for resources to do your job to the best of your abilities and to help you be a better manager.

Explain a bit more about what the academy will offer.
When you teach women to negotiate, you’re asking them to break stereotypes. There’s documented backlash: when women negotiate for themselves, especially around money, they are perceived to be less likeable – by both men and other women. It’s uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. We need to do it smartly and strategically. Part of that is having someone in your organization who will have your back. Women don’t have as many of these as men do.

A Catalyst study found that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored. A mentor gives you advice; a sponsor exercises social capital on your behalf and says “I endorse her. I will go bat for her, and risk my reputation and social capital because I believe in her.” Sponsors don’t come under the Christmas tree. You have to cultivate them and ask them to do things for you; it’s all a negotiation.

That’s part of what we’ll be teaching through the academy. Our students will be paired with an outside coach as well as someone significant in her own organization. We will work with that sponsor as well as with the student, so that she can grow her networking ties, and that the sponsor will learn alongside the student.

What’s going to happen on July 20?
We are seeking participants, people who will send participants and financial sponsors for the academy, and will offer a preview of what kind of things we’ll be doing. Everyone will get an exercise describing a dilemma. The faculty will lead a discussion and participants will explore it from multiple perspectives, decide what a woman would need to do to negotiate through it, and determine how she should prepare. Denise Rousseau and David Krackhardt, (professors of organizational behavior and management at CMU’s Tepper School of Business) will be among the faculty weighing in. Attendees will get to be academy students for a few hours and, I hope, walk out saying, “I just learned something important today.”

Who will be your students? What kind of investment of time and money is involved?
Organizations tell us there are three types of employees who need this training: the women just below C-level; women just a few years on the job who need these skills as soon as possible; and women who have been in an organization for a decade or so, and are most prone to leave when they can’t – or don’t – negotiate to expand their professional scope. (Many women find it easier to negotiate externally.) So it’s up to each organization to make the best decision about who to send.

Optimal class size will be between 29 and 34 students, meeting two days a month (one on weekends) for five months. Tuition is $15,000, which is standard for executive education programs, although I’m working hard to get sponsorships that might offset cost for participants from nonprofits.

Any final thoughts?
Many of us think that if we just do really, really good work, it’s all going to work out. People will recognize our skills and our value, and reward us with opportunities. As I tell my daughter, “Not in my lifetime, and not in yours.”

I really think this is going to change the world. The Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women will be the only program of its kind in the country, and I’m thrilled that it’s in Pittsburgh. CMU is an incredible school, and Pittsburgh is ready for something like this.

To learn more about the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women, contact Rachel Koch at 412-925-6741 or You can also check out’s Flickr photostream from the July 20 preview below.