How to Channel Your Inner Barbie When Negotiating Compensation


I closed out 2022 seeing Adele in concert during her residency in Las Vegas. She was amazing.

I was awed, inspired and re-energized by her raw talent, confidence, authenticity and, of course, her voice.

She filled the Colosseum at Caesars Palace every night for months on end — a force of nature. 

As we moved into 2023, women continued to dominate the conversation — Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka were among them. 

These women are shattering records and demonstrating that the power of the female should not be underestimated.

According to some reports, Taylor Swift has added as much as $5 billion to the U.S. economy through consumer spending with her Eras Tour. By all accounts, it is indeed the year of the woman.

And of course, we cannot forget our most recent female star — Barbie (who we must acknowledge has been loved and hated throughout the years).

In the first three weeks after the release of her movie, directed by Greta Gerwig, Barbie surpassed $1 billion in ticket sales — a record for a female director.

Although skeptical at first, I could not help but love the movie. In Barbie’s perfect world, women dominate the discourse and can do and be whoever they want with no glass ceiling — embracing and achieving their dreams and potential.

However, reality is not perfect, which made one of the movie’s monologues so striking.

One character named Gloria, played by America Ferrera, states perfectly the contradiction and, in many ways, the double standard of being a woman — balancing society’s expectations while also advocating for yourself, one of the hardest things we are required to do every day.

“You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas.”

Upon hearing this contradiction put so plainly, I couldn’t help but resonate with these specific lines, given what I do every day placing in-house attorneys, and, of course, being a woman.

Too often, I see women being paid less than men. For example, male general counsel and chief legal officers made roughly 15% more than their female counterparts in total actual cash compensation in 2021, according to Major Lindsey & Africa’s 2022 Global In-House Compensation Survey.

While there are many factors that contribute to the gender pay gap, salary negotiations and the perception of womanhood stick out to me as one of the issues.

A natural connection can be made with how women approach advocating for themselves when it comes to their compensation. After seeing Barbie, I started to wonder how she might approach a compensation negotiation, and although I cannot say for sure, my strong sense is she would embrace the role of being her own best advocate.

Here are some key tips to remember when you’re engaging in a compensation negotiation:

Do your research

First and foremost, it is essential to do your research when approaching a compensation negotiation, whether it is for a new position or in your current role.

That means having the benchmarking data at your fingertips.

A number of sources publish detailed compensation reports, analyzing specific roles, geographic locations and company size, among other many factors. This data is key for a successful compensation discussion.

If you are working with a public company, check the proxy statement and other publicly available information.

Talk with your similarly situated peers — for many years it seemed taboo to share compensation information, but no longer. 

It is the best way to determine if you are paid in the right range; additionally, you will find your peers and colleagues will want to help.

Schedule a call with a search consultant you know who manages compensation negotiations every day. They may offer highly relevant anecdotal information that will only enhance your negotiating position. Go into these discussions prepared!

Make your asks at one time

To enhance your position, do not approach a compensation negotiation piecemeal. 

Organize your thoughts, determine your most important points, understand your floor and ceiling before you consider walking away and respond with your asks in a clear, concise manner. This will be different for everyone, as it’s not always about the dollars.

Remember, this is your future employer, so you want to start out on the right foot.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of reasonableness. If you are working with a search consultant, look to them for guidance as you’ve likely already shared your compensation expectations.

The fastest way for a negotiation to break down is to arrive at an agreement and then say, “Oh wait … one more thing!”

Don’t treat the negotiation the way you treat outside counsel on a contentious deal

Many lawyers mistakenly believe that a future employer wants to see their negotiation skills at the offer stage. This is false.

Remember, this is the start of what hopefully will be a long and fruitful partnership, so tone and approach matter. 

It is not necessary to negotiate every last detail in an offer letter. There is a leap of faith required and some trust must go into the offer process. Each party gives up something they want during a good negotiation.

Also, if an offer is strong and you have no points to negotiate, it’s ok to just sign. You don’t always have to negotiate if there isn’t anything to negotiate.

Talk to an executive compensation expert (and a financial advisor)

This tip is particularly important for those looking at general counsel positions with public companies, private companies where compensation information may be difficult to ascertain and in roles where compensation may be heavy on the equity component.

These negotiations can be complex, and the expertise of an executive compensation attorney are critical to ensure you make the right asks and end up with the package you expect.

Don’t wait until the end to understand the compensation range

To ensure a successful negotiation if you are offered a position you are interviewing for, it is important to understand the range early in the process and be transparent about your expectations, as well as the money you will leave behind.

This will go a long way towards getting to yes at the offer stage.

Concluding thoughts

When negotiating with your current employer, many of these same tips apply. 

The timing of your request, bringing research to the table and knowing your position if your compensation increase proposal is denied are all critical elements that will allow you to advocate for yourself and hopefully see the results you seek.

Compensation negotiations are not easy and often can create anxiety, self-doubt, and sometimes fear. These tips are a starting point to allow you to successfully advocate for your position.

So channel your inner Barbie, or whoever your star may be, and go for it!


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