Tag Archives: Women

Win The Debate: Hillary’s (Or The Smart Woman’s) Guide To Office Politics & Achieving Your Career Goals

“PRESIDENCY, n. The greased pig in the field game of American politics,” as defined by Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary.

This week, following the U.S. presidential candidate debates, all eyes are on the prized pig. Few people (except Winston Churchill) would deny that politics is a game. And that’s just what authors Avinash Dixit and David McAdams try to explain in their most recent Harvard Business Review article, “Applying Game Theory to the Supreme Court Confirmation Fight.”

The article attempts to explain why—almost a year later—we still have no Supreme Court nominee to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat.

“First, a quick reminder of how we got here. The death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February set off a political stalemate that has served as a sidebar to the presidential election campaign. Under the U.S. Constitution, the president nominates justices ‘by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.’”

“Yet within hours of Scalia’s passing, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell vowed not to consider any nominee while President Obama remains in office,” reports the authors in the HBR.

So, when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a judge considered moderate compared to others on the nation’s highest court, nothing happened. Garland has been in nominee limbo ever since.

Part of the reason—Dixit and McAdams go on to say—is that both sides, Democrat and Republican, are playing a political game of “who will win the Senate seats.”

However, if Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election, and the Democrats control the Senate, there is a chance the nominee will be a judge even more liberal than Garland. This—to the Republicans—is the worst outcome.

Nevertheless, Republicans are reticent to go back on their stance; they will not approve Garland. Part out of overconfidence in winning the Senate and part out of the “sunk” costs of disagreeing for so long, Republicans are standing by their stubborn position.

“If Clinton wins the presidency and Republicans keep Senate control, she might prefer that Obama leave Garland as his nominee during Congress’s ‘lame duck’ session—that way she can avoid a nasty Supreme Court fight at the start of her first term,” the authors conclude.

“Unfortunately, if recent history is any guide, Republicans may actually relish the thought of dragging out the Supreme Court confirmation process into Clinton’s first term. If so, Republicans would prefer to continue blocking Garland’s nomination even after a Clinton win.”

There you have it. Politics as game where nobody gets the greased pig and nobody wins.

But, your firm doesn’t have to simulate these tactics in the office.

When competent people vie for a professional promotion, usually the one with political savvy wins. And when conflicts arise, the politically astute reconcile those differences. Why? Because they know how to get things done, and they know what to say, when to say it, and to whom.

Take, for example, the subtle art of self-promotion. Self-promotion involves telling managers, not colleagues, about value you bring to the company. Bragging is exaggerating this value with the sole purpose of appearing superior.

Trump’s tweet, “Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest -and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure, it’s not your fault,” is shameless bragging.

But, one of the more memorable lines from Clinton during the debate with Trump was, ‘“You criticize me for preparing for this debate,” Clinton said.

“And, yes, I did. Do you know what else I prepared for? I also prepared to be president.”

Passionate and prepared self-promotion, done properly, is important.

Studies show men tend to be more involved in office politics and regard them as a natural and normal part of organizational life. Women, on the other hand, often think of office politics as manipulative plotting or blatant bragging.

So, if women want to be successful they must demonstrate political intelligence. In fact, by learning to practice positive politics you can avoid potential pitfalls, increase your personal influence, and develop a career-enhancing game plan.

Take C4CM’s “Smart Woman’s Guide to Office Politics: How to Increase Your Influence & Achieve Your Career Goals,” on Friday, October 14th, 2016 from 11:00am to 12:15pm Eastern.

You will learn:

  • How to survive and thrive in a power hierarchy
  • Handle five different management personalities
  • Know if you’re committing political suicide
  • Special strategies for successfully working with executives

Leave the debates and games to Hillary and Trump. Vote in the election. Win in your career.

-WB

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Wage Gap Woes: The Smart Woman’s Guide To Confident, Assertive Leadership In Law Firms

Americans are told that for every dollar a man earns, a woman in the same job earns just 77 cents. But, a new bill signed in Massachusetts this year is paving the way for better female wages.

In August, Republican Governor Charlie Baker promoted equal pay for men and women doing substantially similar work by signing a law that prevents employers from requiring applicants to disclose salary history “as a condition of being interviewed, or as a condition of continuing to be considered for an offer of employment,” according to The Atlantic.

Imagine that—in the past—an employer asked you to disclose how much your earned at your previous job. If that salary was significantly below what the new employer was willing to pay, the employer might reconsider and offer a lower wage.

For women stuck in the wage gap, this type of strategic scenario would maintain income inequality between the sexes.

“Women can be tethered to past salaries in a way that cements lower wages in place,” said Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at think-tank, the Center for American Progress, to The Atlantic.

“This bill tries to eliminate that problem and get employers to think about what an equitable salary is for the job based on the value of the job, not what someone made in the past.”

Although this is a giant step forward in equality efforts for women, the nation as a whole, unfortunately, remains unconcerned.

The Senate continues to eschew the Paycheck Fairness Act. Why? Republicans argued that discrimination based on gender is already illegal, and feel their hands are tied to do anything more.

Nevertheless, cases of discrimination or sexual harassment are not declining.

Bloomberg Businessweek admitted that an unpaid intern that is not legally considered an employee, and thus cannot sue for sexual harassment in the workplace:

“This discrepancy’s not new: Unpaid interns aren’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and while local laws can protect them, New York’s state and city laws do not.” In many states, it seems the law does not favor female subordinate employees. But, life’s even harder on female bosses.

Only 4.6 percent of public companies have female CEOs.

“The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list,” writes Michelle Patterson, Founder and President of The California Women’s Conference and President and CEO of Women Network.

An astounding 46 percent of Russia’s leadership roles are held by women, 24 percent in Europe, and 31 percent in Turkey. These numbers are significantly higher than North America’s mere 18 percent, according to Career Bright’s article on the marginalization of professional women.

On a list of 200 companies with a workforce of over 1,000 employees, a survey by Glassdoor found only 2 companies with female bosses ranked high on employee approval of CEOs. Forbes, who reported on the survey, asks pertinently: “Do We Hate Female Bosses?”

Well, do we?

Some blame confidence. Men are just more confident in leadership roles.

If that’s true, it’s not at all surprising why—given all the legal cards stacked against a women: Don’t look too attractive, don’t look too ugly. Look like a woman, act like a man… How could any woman balance such a heavy double standard?

But, if there’s one thing a woman in the workplace can do to be taken seriously, it’s speak up—more often and more assertively. Like this blog post. Like today at work.

Are you too nice, too modest or way too quiet when it comes to saying and getting what you want in the workplace? Do you assume the blame when things go wrong? And what about when things go right? Do you credit other people, good luck or circumstances for your success?

You’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey found that half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31 percent of men reported the same.

Condescending colleagues, gender bias, and stereotypes can make it hard for women to take credit when it’s due, or steer the company ship with confidence. But a woman’s actions, assertiveness and communication skills—or lack thereof—could also be sabotaging her career.

So, take The Center For Competitive Management’s webinar, “The Smart Woman’s Guide to Confident, Assertive Leadership.”

While it will likely take more time to convince lawmakers that effort and work ethic, not aesthetics and salary history, should take priority in the workplace, it doesn’t take much for a woman to ask for promotions, initiate salary negotiations, speak up at meetings, manage subordinates productively and successful manager, and master guiltless self-promotion with gusto.

-WB

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Are Your Associates Exiting BigLaw For Jobs In-House? Diversity, Salary & Leadership Opportunities May Be Why.

Minority women are exiting BigLaw. According to some reports, eighty-five percent of minority female attorneys in the U.S. will quit large firms within seven years of starting their practice.

These days, the image of an all-white, male partnership at a law firm, sitting behind mahogany desks with a nautical office motif is so far from reality, it’s laughable. Or is it?

According to a November NALP press release, at just 2.55 percent of partners in 2015, minority women “continue to be the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level, a pattern that holds across all firm sizes and most jurisdictions,” reports the ABA Journal.

There is a variety of reasons minority women are disappearing from BigLaw, and one of those reasons is competition from in-house counsel positions.

Tiffany Harper, esquire, transitioned from law firm life to a post as associate counsel for Grant Thornton in Chicago, for example. She co-founded Uncolorblind, a diversity blog and consulting company after having worked in corporate bankruptcy and restructuring at Schiff Hardin. Her last position was at Polsinelli as in-house counsel, where she looked to broaden her skill set.

“I didn’t see a path for me to partnership at a large law firm. For women of color, there has to be a synergy for you to make partner,” said Harper to the ABA Journal.

“You have to have everything working in your favor at the time you go up for a vote: a practice group that is thriving, the billable hours, people singing your praises, a client base. That has to all come together for you in a way it doesn’t have to for other people.”

But a power shift from large law firms to in-house counsel departments is on the rise for everyone, not just minority women.

“From demands for discounts, using online auctions to select firms, hiring law grads straight out of school, or simply moving more legal work in house, general counsel are pushing back on their outside lawyers,” reports the WSJ Law Blog.

Surprisingly, where salaries for lawyers have generally declined with the economy, compensation of in-house counsel has increased. Where BigLaw is dominated by the same type of person, in-house positions are more diverse in their human resources.

In one survey, 22 percent of in-house counsel are earning more than $300,000 per year in salary, bonus, and other compensation, which is a rise of 16 percent from the previous year, and 57 percent since the previous decade (via WSJ Law Blog).

Casey Flaherty, former in-house counsel at Kia Motors America, says that “in a data-rich world, there’s no reason law departments can’t track diversity using their standard outside counsel management software to establish baselines and measure improvement, just as a law department might track a firm’s efficiency and cost-effectiveness.” That’s why hiring decisions for in-house counsel positions are base don something more:

“Diversity is certainly one of the primary factors you should be considering,” said Flaherty to Law360.

“If you’re not, then it isn’t a priority, and who cares what’s in your policy statement? Who cares if you’ve formed a task force? … To me the diversity discussion and the metrics discussion are the same discussion: What are we prioritizing, and how are we measuring?”

So, if you’re planning a career shift (or have already taken advantage of the recent trend) toward in-house, below you’ll find a few tips for success.

If you’ve changed from a large law firm to corporate counsel, ViXS Systems Inc. general counsel Cheryl Foy emphasizes the importance of learning about the culture of the company you’re working for, including a comprehensive understanding of the needs and challenges of its business.

“Figure out who you’re working with. It’s folly to go in with the idea that ‘I’m the lawyer’—people will argue with your legal opinion. You have to build credibility so assess the culture first,” says Foy (via Canadian Lawyer Magazine). 

In addition, don’t let a power shift in industry dynamics translate to a shift in power at your new position.

When Foy found herself in a situation in a previous in-house job where she wanted to be part of the executive team but wasn’t regarded as such, she received this advice: “You need to be acting like you’re at the table already,” (via Canadian Lawyer Magazine).

Make it clear on hire that a position as in-house counsel is one of management and decision-making. Act like a leader from the outset and you’ll be considered one in-house.

Finally, to fully understand the ins and outs of in-house counsel, remember there’s a big difference between big law practice and a position as in-house corporate counsel.

“Adapt a communication style that reflects that your audience has changed,” advises David Allgood, executive vice president and general counsel with the Royal Bank of Canada (via Canadian Lawyer Magazine).

“Remember it’s the enterprise who is your client now.”

And, with a new 40-60 hour workweek (instead of 60-80 in BigLaw), who can complain about that?

 

-WB

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Is The Law At Odds With Women In The Workplace? How Women Can Become Better Bosses

Some days it’s hard to be a woman and appreciate the law.

Let’s take a recent incident in Iowa, for example.

For an entire decade a man enjoyed the hard work of his female subordinate. Ten years the two worked side-by-side in a dental office without incident. But, following a midlife crisis, failure in his own marriage, or some other unprovoked change of heart, the boss suddenly finds his assistant too attractive to be around. He promptly fires her.

“Dr. Knight said I couldn’t work in the office, because he was becoming attracted to me, and not able to focus on his family, and his family life… I instantly broke down in tears. All I remember is just sitting there, and not able to get up, telling him that I love my job,” explains Melissa Nelson in an interview with “20/20” correspondent Paula Faris, reports ABC News.

A lawsuit was filed on the grounds of wrongful termination due to gender.

Dr. James Knight, the dentist in question, doesn’t agree with Nelson’s claims. Although he doesn’t deny the sexual advances through text message or other incidents, his attorney told ABC News: “… she was not terminated because of her gender, but to preserve the best interest of his marriage.”

Sadly, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Knight. The most sympathy they could utter was that Nelson’s one month’s severance pay was “ungenerous” but his actions, legal.

This outcome is less surprising when we consider the justices, David, Daryl, Brent, Bruce, Edward, Thomas, and Chief Justice Mark. More than their verdict, there’s another commonality among these lawmakers—they’re all men.

See, it’s hard to keep track of the whims of men these days.

For every dollar men earn, women still earn just 77 cents. Nonetheless, the majority of Congress is unconcerned.

The Senate was six votes shy of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year. Why? Republicans argued that discrimination based on gender is already illegal, and feel their hands are tied to do anything more. If those laws worked for women like Nelson, then that would be true.

What’s sad is that these unjust cases of discrimination or sexual harassment are not new.

Bloomberg Businessweek admitted that an unpaid intern that is not legally considered an employee, and thus cannot sue for sexual harassment in the workplace:

“This discrepancy’s not new: Unpaid interns aren’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and while local laws can protect them, New York’s state and city laws do not.” In many states, it seems the law does not favor female subordinate employees. But, life’s even harder on female bosses.

Only 4.6 percent of public companies have female CEOs.

“The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list,” writes Michelle Patterson, Founder and President of The California Women’s Conference and President and CEO of Women Network.

An astounding 46 percent of Russia’s leadership roles are held by women, 24 percent in Europe, and 31 percent in Turkey. These numbers are significantly higher than North America’s mere 18 percent, according to Career Bright’s article on the marginalization of professional women.

On a list of 200 companies with a workforce of over 1,000 employees, a survey by Glassdoor found only 2 companies with female bosses ranked high on employee approval of CEOs. Forbes, who reported on the survey, asks pertinently: “Do We Hate Female Bosses?

Well, do we?

Some blame confidence. Men are just more confident in leadership roles.

If that’s true, it’s not at all surprising why—given all the legal cards stacked against a women: Don’t look too attractive, don’t look too ugly, don’t be “bossy” or “bitchy” yet still command your subordinates with authority…

How could any woman balance such a heavy double standard?

If there’s one thing a woman in the workplace can do to be taken seriously, it’s speak up—more often and more assertively. Like this blog post. Like today at work.

Are you too nice, too modest or way too quiet when it comes to saying and getting what you want in the workplace? Do you assume the blame when things go wrong? And what about when things go right? Do you credit other people, good luck or circumstances for your success?

You’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey found that half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31 percent of men reported the same.

Condescending colleagues, gender bias, and stereotypes can make it hard for women to take credit when it’s due, or steer the company ship with confidence. But a woman’s actions, assertiveness and communication skills—or lack thereof—could also be sabotaging her career.

So, take The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course Friday, July 11, 2014 from 11AM to 12:15pm EST: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Confident, Assertive Leadership.

While it will likely take more time to convince lawmakers that effort and work ethic, not the sexual desires and whims of men, should take priority in the workplace, it doesn’t take much for a woman to ask for promotions, initiate salary negotiations, speak up at meetings, manage subordinates productively and successful manager, and master guiltless self-promotion with gusto.

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The Smart Woman’s Guide To Winning Office Politics

“It’s seen as sneaky, but it doesn’t have to be. And whether you like it or not, politics are important in any office culture,” said Kari Reston, founder and CEO of Boredom to Boardroom, a company that helps young professionals with their careers, to Ruchika Tulshyan at Forbes.

It’s time women become comfortable with office politics.

Office politics is a game. When people discuss office politics, they’re usually talking about underhanded dealings, backdoor deals, and favoritism. But, office politics is also—put more simply—socially networking within a company.

At your law firm—as well as law firms around the world—there are groups of cliques, people who prefer to interact with one another exclusively in and out of the office. These relationships may form between colleagues, clients, or vendors.

To play the game, you need to know the players. So, admit that social networking and office politics are important. Then, make sure you know who are the lynchpin players in managing and manipulating professional relationships.

When you know the players, it will easier to play and—most importantly—win.

Promotion is a politics game. So, now you know who is responsible for professional promotions or bonuses. The question is, how well do you know them? Do you get along? How often do you interact?

Cultivating a relationship to win a promotion, at first glance, seems sneaky. However, cultivating relationships with superiors or people in important positions just helps you bring to their attention your hard work and accomplishments.

“One of the very best ways to connect with people is to offer to assist them in some way. Especially in these challenging economic times, there is no shortage of people who feel overwhelmed and could use some assistance,” said Nina Simosko from Nike, Inc., to Jo Miller for Women’s Leadership Coaching.

“If you are able to authentically connect with and assist folks with things of importance to them, then they will want to repay the favor and will be available to you when needed.”

Were you the senior associate on that high-profile case win? Waiting for somebody to hand you your promotion? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. People in a position of power are not always apprised of the inter-workings of a case matter.

An equity partner may recognize your name without realizing your critical role on his legal team. When you cultivate relationships with the people in power, they will know, first-hand, how many nights you spent at the office, how little sleep you obtained due to work, or how important your contribution was in winning the suit, settlement, or client.

Leadership is a politics game. Be vocal. Ask for assignments, promotions, or leadership roles. Take credit for your wins. You’ll only be viewed as a leader at your firm if you are already acting like one.

“You might be cheery, friendly, fun and likable at work, which is great. But is that the brand that’s going to get you to senior management? Maybe credibility, great analytic skills and strong communication abilities are what you actually want to be known for,” explains Reston.

Women tend to be afraid to “talk themselves up” for fear of looking like brown-nosers. But, their male counterparts are doing exactly that.

As a result, women tend to stay in firms where they’re likely underappreciated and underpromoted. “In my experience, women tend to stay longer than they should in a culture that is not a match, or in positions where a manager is putting a lid on their career development,” concludes Simosko.

“Building relationships and getting to know people better can do a lot to build appreciation of diverse of values and perspectives, so give that a genuine effort for at least a few months.”

For more information, attend C4CM’s online audio conference, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Winning at Office Politics on Friday, April 4, 2014, from 11:00 Am To 12:15 Pm Eastern time, featuring Kari Reston.

This power-packed session will explore the political challenges women face in the workplace, and will identify the attitudes and skills needed to address them successfully, including:

  • How to change your perception of office politics (it’s not a bad thing)
  • Tips to identify the types of power at play in your workplace
  • Communication techniques to help you gain allies, influence others, and build relationships (even with the most difficult people) ·
  • Important lessons on how to actively take the credit you deserve, and create an impactful personal brand · How and why to build a strong network

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Five Reasons To Relax Maternity Leave Policy

Increasing the amount of paid and unpaid maternity or paternity leave is great for working parents. But, what about the firm?

Here are five reasons why relaxing your current maternity or paternity leave policy will benefit your law firm:

1. Retain qualified employees

“In all parts of the world, working women who become pregnant are faced with the threat of job loss, suspended earnings and increased health risks due to inadequate safeguards for their employment,” says F. J. Dy-Hammar, Chief, ILO Conditions of Work Branch, who oversaw the report, Maternity Protection at Work, reports the ILO.

This threat is intensified in law, as women are already underrepresented in the industry.

This is why it is even more important to show female associates that your law firm supports them. In fact, women make law firms more profitable by making teamwork more productive.

“According to [a study conducted by] Professor [Anita] Woolley of Carnegie Mellon, teams that include women would score higher on tasks than a team of all men because they possess the sensitivity chip necessary to communicate and relate to others more effectively,” reports the Levo League and C4CM.

In addition, female partners are vastly undervalued. This means, for the same level of work, a firm pays women less. Economists will tell you, women provide great bang for your buck. Although the reasoning may be crude, retaining female employees will help maintain your firm’s bottom line. That’s the bottom line.

2. Maintain diversity

Diversity is key to success. When your firm desperately needs new ideas to make or break a case, innovation will emerge out of teams of diverse size and organization.

“Creating a diverse environment of both men and women from different geographic regions, ethnic groups, age groups, and from a variety of functions will offer greater insight. This type of crowdsourcing opens the arena for new ideas within the organization,” writes Robert F. Brands for the Huffington Post.

Not only does cultivating diversity among teams grow the idea-generating legal machine, but they also increase the competitive edge of your firm by introducing new products and idea. If you keep losing female associates as a result of deficient maternity leave policy, your firm and its earnings from creativity will suffer.

3. Retract work-from-home

Innovation and change can be a good thing. But, not all firms should look alike. Although flexible schedules is a fad these days, it may not suit the needs of your particular law practice.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that women benefit the most from telecommuting policies. Young female associates look for firms that offer work-from-home policies so that they can look forward to starting a family in the future.

However, if you’re a company like Yahoo who values face-to-face interaction between colleagues, work-from-home policies may not be the best choice for your firm. If this is the case, how can such firms continue to attract and retain successful female employees?

The answer is superior maternity and paternity leave. By allowing working parents ample time off once per child, you will ease the concerns of soon-to-be parents without having to resort to ill-fitted Flex scheduling on a permanent basis for all employees.

4. What comes around goes around

It may seem like a nuisance to provide a valued female attorney with six or more months of maternity leave. But, when it’s your pregnancy or your spouse’s, what comes around goes around. The policy you implement today will affect how you take advantage of it tomorrow.

So, help others and help yourself.

5. …. Or else!

If your firm doesn’t support working mothers, then working mothers will find innovative ways to support themselves.

“A period away from work,” an article in Stylist explains, “can be hugely positive–time to learn a language, take up a hobby.” In fact, this is why there’s a rise in a new type of entrepreneur, the “mumpreneur.”

If your firm doesn’t work to retain its female associates, the firm will miss out on the innovative ideas and brainpower of this important half of society. These mumpreneurs may even open a law practice down the street from your own. Your firm loses by losing its female employees.

Over 120 countries already provide paid maternity leave. Qualified working mothers have plenty of choices for work these days, both in terms of other firms or other nations.

Furthermore, if your firm provides scant time off, you may find your law practice has turned into a medical practice. Just yesterday a Labor lawyer gave birth in her office.

“The action took place inside a law firm’s office after a fellow attorney in the employee benefits practice started giving birth, presumably while redlining some rider for the umpteen-millionth time,” reports Above The Law.

“The mother, we hear, was due in the next week or so. According to our tipster, mom was hoping to maximize her hours before having to go on leave. Well, she succeeded.”

When it comes to supporting working parents (and still profiting), ask yourself, has your firm succeeded?

-WB

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Why Law Firms Should Give Employees A “Safe Space” To Discuss Salary & Benefits

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and are not intended as legal or financial advice.

Does this look familiar?

For businessmen or law firm professionals, the number of disclaimers, italicized provisos, or policy clarifications read on an average day can’t be counted on a single hand.

Sadly, employees learn to ignore the fine print. But, when it comes to understanding (or writing) a productive employee manual, it’s time to put on your reading glasses and pay attention.

Consider the following sample section, “Confidentiality of Salary and Benefit Information.

“Employees are prohibited from discussing their salary or wage levels and company benefits with other employees. Such information is confidential and may not be discussed in the workplace. Any employee violating this policy will be considered to have committed a breach of confidentiality and will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and possibly including termination of employment.”

Most employment contracts or manuals have similar language that’s embedded—somewhere—in type 8 font or smaller.

In fact, it’s likely that most associates already assume discussing and comparing salary and benefits packages among one another is against firm policy.

Some argue that this violates National Labor Relations Act. Read Section 7 and 8(a)(1) of the NLRA and decide for yourself.

For now, the more important questions for employers and employees are (1) Why do employers feel this salary confidentiality clause is necessary? And (2) Why are employees tempted to violate it?

The first question is easy to answer. Employers must protect their competitive advantage.

If all wages, salaries, time cards, benefits packages, etc., are kept confidential, then employees are unable to leverage this information to their benefit, to–say–secure higher year-end bonuses.

“Well, if Bob put in less hours, won less cases, and contributed undeniably inferior work product this year, then why is he being paid more?”

Law firms would be hard pressed to address every issue involving salary comparison. Mostly because Bob is an equity partner’s son. Or, because Bob has some subtle skill unseen by other associates. Or, most likely, because Bob was hired years ago and provided a salary commensurate with better economic times.

Whatever the reason, employee financial information is best kept close to the (three-piece suit) vest.

The answer to the second question is more nuanced.

First, employees are apt to ask one another about salary and benefits numbers for the exact same reason as mentioned above—employees need leverage and perspective when negotiating higher financial packages with firm managers.

However, this is not the only reason for policy-violating discussions.

A second reason employees discuss salary and benefits with one another is because law firms rarely provide a safe space to ask about retirement, financial planning, childcare, or health benefits.

Sure, employees can call the insurance agents. Yes, employees are able to discuss retirement options with their supervisor. But, what about more sensitive topics, like the possibility of expanding medical coverage to mental health, or the average bonus for first-years?

At law firms, where women are already marginalized in top positions, female attorneys are not going to ask about their options post-pregnancy for fear firm managers are already writing them out of the partnership track.

To keep associates from discussing salary and benefits with one another, managers must provide a forum to do so—without threat of repercussion—within the firm.

So, here are a few ways to obtain a balanced competitive advantage between firm employers and employees:

  1. When it comes to rewarding performance or allocating bonuses, make sure employee evaluations are level, honest, and regular.
  2. Invite insurance representatives to the firm to speak about benefits. Organize small groups of similarly-ranked employees to attend at various times throughout the day. Individuals of similar ages will have similar questions and issues. Also, small groups will help employees feel more at ease to ask questions. Finally, make these round-table meetings mandatory.
  3. Create an anonymous feedback box where employees can request additional benefits or suggest ideas for office improvements. Ensure that this box is indeed kept anonymous.
  4. Implement suggested changes at least once a year to send the message to your employees that they are heard and respected.
  5. Whatever the method, newly hired, mid-career, and soon-to-retire employees should each be give an opportunity to ask controlversial questions about salary and benefits. The forum should be frequent and safe, i.e., without fear of reprisal or any assumption by the firm.

Don’t attach a disclaimer to the respect your firm gives its employees and its remuneration for their hard work.

-WB

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