Bonnie Pfister
MJ Tocci at Negotiation Academy preview, July 2012

MJ Tocci received the 2011 Greater Pittsburgh ATHENA Award for her mentorship of other women, through both her community involvement and work as a prosecutor and later a coach for fellow attorneys at Trial Run.

Now she has co-founded what is believed to be the first program in the country to look at critical leadership skills through a negotiation lens. Applications are being accepted now for the Heinz Negotiation Academy for Women,  which begins training its first cohort of women in January 2013. You can watch a brief video below in which Tocci and Academy co-founder Linda Babcock (economist and author of the groundbreaking Women Don’t Ask) talk about why these skills are especially important for women.

And further down, read an excerpt from an interview with Tocci that appeared in the 2012 ATHENA Awards Program earlier this fall. You can find photos from the academy’s preview in July on our Flickr page.

MJ Tocci and Linda Babcock on Why Negotiation Matters for Women

MJ Tocci Discusses the ATHENA Award, Mentors and Mad Men By Catherine V. Wadhwani for the ATHENA Awards 2012 program

Has winning the ATHENA Award impacted your life?

Yes, greatly. For the first time, I felt like a Pittsburgh insider. I’ve only lived here for about 18 years, so I’m still a “newcomer.” Winning was a shot of local validation from a community that I really respect.

Is community involvement important?

It’s critical. Community involvement grounds you and teaches you new skills. The hardest part is figuring out what you care about and how to channel your resources.

Did you have any special mentors?

Boyd Hines from my first professional job with a neighborhood civil rights organization. I was just out of college and he taught me the value of advocacy.

Carol Carrigan and Bill McGinnis both are now judges in California. I knew them from the DA’s office. They believed in me as a trial lawyer when some people didn’t think women could try serious cases.

Early on, it’s helpful to know that someone whose opinion you value believes in you. It anchors you. But you can’t have “reflected confidence” your whole life. You have to develop inner confidence because the challenges get harder as the stakes get higher.

Also my father. He felt that I could do anything. My mother wanted me to marry and not have a career, but eventually “My daughter the lawyer” became one word.

Linda Babcock, co-founder of the Negotiation Academy for Women

Who inspires you now?

Linda Babcock, who is brilliant and so caring about empowering women. My husband who is very brave and creative. He completely changed careers from being a doctor to being a film director. He is an equal partner in parenting and running our household, which makes a big difference.

My kids. 17-year-old Sam thinks I’m really smart and Zoe, who is 15, cuts me off at the knees. But when people ask Zoe what I do, she tells them I try to make the world a better place for women and girls like her.

Anything that you wish you’d realized sooner?

It’s OK to say no. My generation was sold bill of goods that we can have it all. You can, but not necessarily at the same time.

So what about  “Mad Men”?

I watched the first five episodes in a fetal position. I was young in the ‘60s, but I remember that time well enough. I read an article that said flirting is essential for women’s negotiation skills, using Joan as the example. It’s bad advice.

Peggy knows what it’s like to be one of a few. She’s courageous. She formed an alliance with Don Draper and he had her back. It was brilliant when she finally left the firm because it was time for her to move on. She shows us that even though it looks hard, some risks are truly worth taking.

What advice would you give to men?

Men are part of the change process. We’ll never see gender equality without men being on board. For all of the men out there, we need you. We appreciate you. Look long and hard at the talent around you to make sure you don’t miss anyone.

And for women?
Be careful not to divide yourselves between career women and non-career women. We are all working hard.

Form alliances with men and women. There are influential people who will sponsor you when something important happens, so be purposeful about creating career-enhancing relationships. Those ahead of you can help you meet people who can help you, but you have to ask. Cultivate and manage your visibility. Just being a hard worker is not the visibility you desire. We are teaching women in the negotiation academy how to create and further a brand and how to manage visibility.

Favorite Quotes?

”Never allow a person to tell you ‘no’ who doesn’t have the power to say ‘yes.’ ”  And, “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Both by Eleanor Roosevelt.

Wadhwani is a partner in the Pittsburgh office of Fox Rothschild LLP and a member of the ATHENA Awards Program of Greater Pittsburgh Host Committee.

Phil Cynar
Renaissance City Choirs in concert

Uniquely bonded and allied by their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) identity and a love of singing, women and men from the region raise their voices in concert this Sunday evening, Dec. 9, filling Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall with seasonal song that’s as diverse as the choir itself – joyful, campy, soulful and sassy.

Jeffry Blake Johnson, D.M.A.  is artistic director of the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC), an organization now in its 27th year of providing the region’s LGBT community – as well as a number of choral music-loving heterosexual neighbors – with an outlet for artistic expression and the advancement and appreciation of sexual diversity.

Johnson has been busy – up to the tip of his conductor’s baton – with preparations for the 2012 concert, entitled “Warm by the Fire,” but he shared the following reflections to better acquaint people with the special ensembles composing the RCC and a performance that aims banish winter’s chill with song while affirming, through music, the worth and dignity of sexual minorities.

ImaginePittsburghNow: In brief, how did the Renaissance City Choirs (RCC) get its start?

Jeffry Blake Johnson: In 1985, the Renaissance City Choir/Pittsburgh Gay Chorus Inc. was established as a gay male chorus, and in 1987, it became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That same year, RCC joined the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA) – an international organization with more than 180 LGBT choruses.

To celebrate the choir’s 10th anniversary, RCC hosted a 10th anniversary concert at the Benedum Center and invited nearby GALA choruses – Columbus Gay Men’s Chorus, North Coast Men’s Chorus and Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus – to perform. It was also the debut performance for the Renaissance City Women’s Choir formed in January 1995.

IPN:  What does the RCC uniquely bring to the LGBT community in the Pittsburgh area, as well as to the community at large?  What does this special choir have the power to do with its music – both within the group and outside in the community?

RCC Artistic Director Jeffry Blake Johnson

JBJ: The RCC is a microcosm of American society: LGBT men and women living alongside our openly heterosexual brothers and sisters. We work for greater understanding between people of different backgrounds and identities, as well as the advancement of equality. And more simply, we work to create beautiful art and moments of music that are shared with each other and with our audiences. As a true rainbow community we work on living and cooperating in peace and respect, and we try to share those values within our own LGBT community and the wider community. As an organization, we seek to build bridges within our community and with the community at large.

IPN:  How did you land your job as artistic director of the RCC?  As a transplant to Pittsburgh what has struck a chord (pardon the pun) with you?

JBJ: Since I began living in Pittsburgh in 1996 and working at East Liberty Presbyterian Church (2000 – 2007), which is the home base of RCC, I knew about the choirs and had heard them in many concerts through the years. A friend of mine, who has friends in the choirs, mentioned that she thought the position was open and referred me to the choirs’ website where I learned all about the job opening. I went through a series of interviews with a search committee and an audition in a choir rehearsal. RCC is truly a family, and the people in the choirs very much love each other. That wonderful bond was apparent to me from the beginning. Individually, the singers are funny, wise, silly, talented and vivacious, and they bring all of those qualities to their music-making and advocacy.

Pittsburgh’s amazing diversity of communities throughout the city, and of course, it’s beautiful rolling hills, rivers and bridges struck a chord with me.

IPN:  What one thing, in your opinion, that would improve Pittsburgh for its LGBT residents?

JBJ: Marriage equality would be one of the most meaningful things for the LGBT community in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. We need this, not only for those of us who wish to be married, but as a symbol of respect to demonstrate that we are not second-class citizens in our society. There are 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in federal law. Until we have full marriage equality, we will be paid less, and our families will be treated as inferior in comparison with our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

IPN:  Silly question, but is everyone in the choir a bona fide LGBT individual? If not, tell us about what’s likely to be the RCC’s “one percent.”

JBJ: There are approximately 65 plus members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies singing with the Renaissance City Choirs. Although no one has been polled specifically, we do have a number of openly heterosexual folk singing with us. And, we love that!

IPN:  If a reader has time for just one seasonal concert, why should it yours?

JBJ: “Warm by the Fire” will provide a multi-faceted experience. Our audience will hear beautiful classic holiday music, as well as a sassy new composition from composer Jake Heggie (composer of the opera Dead Man Walking) and lyricist Mark Campbell (lyricist for the opera Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music). We’ll sing holiday tunes with the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra and enjoy the performance of the LGBTA youth performance troupe Dreams of Hope. And, for many people, one of the most anticipated traditions of the holiday season will be taking part in our annual singing of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” replete with rowdiness. If you have not experienced “The Twelve Days” with the RCC, you don’t know what fun you’re missing.

Watch a preview video of the 2012 RCC holiday concert here.


The “Warm by the Fire” concert begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9 at Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave. in Oakland (15213). Click here for more information or to purchase tickets (general admission: $25 advance,  $30 at door; premius seats: $50; students: $10.)

Pittsburgh’s got a happening LGBT community. Click here to read more about it and some of its people.

In 2011, highlighted the sustainability of some of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions. This year we’re calling attention to a few of our favorite seasonal things, with a bit of a twist toward greater diversity or international flair. Send your suggestions to us at, or

Bonnie Pfister

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.