3 Questions For A Leadership Coach For Women (Part II)

This week, we continue our written interview with Worthmore Strategies’ Kathryn Valentine. Last week, Kathryn shared her views on how law firms and corporate legal departments can more effectively retain female and minority talent. In particular, she stressed the importance of “bottoms-up programming,” where empowered employees and committed employers can work together to implement positive change — one lawyer at a time. That focus, coupled with the significant and admirable efforts by leading law firms and corporate legal departments to offer various types of employee support programs in a top-down manner, is quite promising as we navigate through 2022 and beyond as a profession.

Now to the remainder of my interview with Kathryn. As usual, I have added some brief commentary to the answers below but have otherwise presented her answers to my questions as she provided them.

Gaston Kroub: Why is it important for female lawyers, whether they work in-house or for outside firms, to learn effective negotiation skills?

Kathryn Valentine: Top-down DEI programming instituted by firms has helped make a significant change in equity, but the results have slowed. The next tranche is bottom-up interventions. It’s equipping women to identify what they need to be successful at work and learning how to ask for those things without igniting backlash. When companies do this, we see a significant change in retention — one company cut the number of women saying they were “highly likely” or “likely” to leave in the next two years in half, saving themselves over a million dollars in recruitment costs. This is great for them, their employees, and our economy.

The ideal situation is corporate-level programming. However, you do not have to wait for your employer to catch up to this thinking in order to enjoy the benefits.  Learning to advocate effectively for yourself enables you to be more successful, less stressed and happier at work. There is a surprising amount of research on this topic, going back over a decade, that shows HOW you ask is much more important than WHAT you ask for. If you ask the “traditional” way — i.e., “I deserve X,” there is a high risk of backlash as a woman.  However, if you ask using a relational account — explaining what the impact of your ask is on others like the clients, firm, team, etc. — the risk of backlash is virtually eliminated. This means you can freely ask for whatever will help you be more successful.

Learning to negotiate specifically as a woman is a powerful professional tool — much like networking or communication — that enables individual women to truly reach their potential.

GK: At a basic level, Kathryn is proposing that female lawyers demonstrate the same level of considered advocacy for their career prospects as they do for their clients. Because law firms and corporate legal departments can be slow to adopt a bottoms-up approach that considers the specific needs of their female employees, it thereby behooves those very same employees to push the conversation in productive directions. How one approaches negotiation can of course have significant impact on the outcome — and it seems to me that if an expert like Kathryn advocates a more inclusive relational approach by employees making demands of employers, then there is a substantial likelihood that female lawyers who really do consider how best to present their case will do better in the long run than colleagues that adopt a more adversarial, entitled, approach. What is important to remember is that law firm owners and corporate legal departments are very much aware of the costs of replacing talent, which commands that they take reasonable requests from productive employees seriously.

GK: How can law firms work with consultants like you to increase job satisfaction levels for female lawyers?

KV: My company, Worthmore Strategies, is a consulting firm focused on achieving gender parity in the workplace by empowering women to ask for what they need to be happy, productive, and successful in their careers. Companies engage with us in two ways. The first is as a consultant, where we talk confidentially with women who have left and women who are still there to understand what your flight risk is, and what factors are driving that specifically for your company. Secondly, we customize our advocacy training to fit those specific factors. This training equips women to identify and ask for what they need to be successful — and therefore to stay — at your company. We also provide leadership training so that everyone — not just women — are informed on the issues that are driving women to leave and equipped to productively handle those conversations. We’ve found that by training both parties to the conversation we are able to deliver significant reductions in attrition, reducing recruitment costs and improving culture. You can learn more at www.worthmorenegotiations.com. 

GK: Even the most forward-thinking law firms can benefit from periodic review of their retention and employee satisfaction metrics. And it is clear that an expert like Kathryn has a lot to offer in terms of understanding the drivers of female employee satisfaction, as well as the roadblocks that employers might face in terms of improving in this all-important area. Moreover, every lawyer can benefit from leadership and negotiation training, which at bottom involves committing to becoming better listeners and communicators, along with a mutual commitment to the success of the institution as a whole. I am not saying it is easy to get there, but it does seem like open communication in an effort to do so is a lot better than letting things fester to the point where parting ways makes more sense than working things out. Having someone like Kathryn involved can only help focus things on a positive track.

My thanks to Kathryn for the insights and cooperation, especially for her willingness to think through how her work can be of benefit to female lawyers. I wish her the best of luck in 2022 with Worthmore Strategies and hope it is a year of growth for her practice. There is no doubt that Kathryn has insights to share that are worthy of our attention, especially for law firms and corporate legal departments fed up with seeing promising talent walk away despite their best efforts at retention. Voices from outside our profession, like Kathryn’s, can surely enrich our understanding of what we can do personally and collectively to improve the experiences of our female and minority colleagues.

I am always open to conducting interviews of this type with other IP thought leaders, so feel free to reach out if you have a compelling perspective to offer.

Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at [email protected] or via Twitter: @gkroub. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.

Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique, and Markman Advisors LLC, a leading consultancy on patent issues for the investment community. Gaston’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @gkroub.