As two female attorneys engaged in solo practices (a professional space dense with men), we find ourselves in a unique position with respect to our female clients. Women tend to confide in us about their insecurities and other concerns, which they might be less comfortable expressing to male attorneys.
In discussing this, we’ve observed a striking commonality. There is a difference in the negotiation style between our male and female clients. The women we represent tend to express discomfort in asking for what they want and effectively negotiating for themselves in business transactions.
We frequently represent female clients willing to accept an early or an easy-to-grab offer, rather than risk losing an otherwise “good” deal. The result is often disappointment and frustration. The reality is, these clients would likely be successful in negotiating better terms for themselves. Shoulda, woulda, coulda…
Of course, balance is essential. Negotiating endlessly and unreasonably is not conducive to fostering a positive professional relationship or to closing a deal. And that’s precisely where a skilled lawyer can help. In our role as trusted advisors, we leverage our experience negotiating deals and settlements in advising our clients on how far to push back. We are also emotionally removed from the transaction, which provides a convenient buffer between the client and the negotiation.
Contract negotiation is a dance. In the male-dominated professional world, this dance is expected and understood. Men generally seem to have the stomach for it, while many women we have encountered do not. Business is business, and no reasonable business person should get upset or personally offended by a demand for better contract terms.
In fact, one’s ability to demand a better deal serves as a powerful indicator to potential employers that an applicant is a formidable candidate for the position at hand. In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg drove this point home by describing the negotiation of her own employment agreement when leaving Google to become the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. She realized that if she failed to negotiate firmly and confidently on behalf of herself before taking the job, how could the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world expect her to negotiate powerfully on behalf of Facebook after she had the job?