Asking For What You’re Worth With Julia Vax

by | Jun 2, 2022 | Podcasts

SWGR 110 | What You're Worth

 

Money is one of the most challenging negotiations in business. Especially when it comes to negotiating your salary. Many women find that self-doubt stops them for asking for equal pay. They don’t know how to calculate what they are worth. Helping overcome this dilemma, Elizabeth Bachman invites to the show Julia Vax, a business lawyer at Arnold & Porter. Julia talks about how women can negotiate the most important contract of all: their salary. She dives deeper and talks about the power of finding your personal worth, offering tips ranging from benchmarking to talking to recruiters. Take a business lawyer’s advice on asking for what you’re worth as you advance your career. Don’t miss out on this important conversation about empowering women in business and in the boardroom.

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Asking For What You’re Worth With Julia Vax

Advice From A Business Lawyer

My guest is Julia Vax, who is a business lawyer at Arnold and Porter. Before I get into the very interesting things that Julia talks about, let me invite you to see how your presentation skills are doing by taking our free four-minute assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where maybe a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve.

My guest is Julia Vax. As part of Pride Month, she’s an openly gay lawyer. She was talking about negotiations and deals with information for those of us who have to negotiate our deals about our own salaries because that’s one of the hardest ones you can ever do. The official bio is that Julia Vax is a partner at Arnold and Porter, and focuses her practice on corporate and securities laws in representing emerging growth and public companies, primarily in the life sciences and technology sectors from formation and early-stage capital raising to publicly traded entities.

Ms. Vax has advised clients in the biopharmaceutical genomics, medical device, diagnostics, internet, digital media, software, IP, telephony, telecommunications, and financial services sectors in all aspects of their corporate development and connection with a broad range of financing and strategic transactions. Ms. Vax has extensive experience in IPO’s Rule 144A transactions and many others, especially executive compensation and corporate governance.

She has been involved in numerous public and private financing transactions, representing companies, investors, underwriters, and placement agents. She’s a faculty member at the Center for International Legal Studies, and has taught US Corporate Securities Law at the University of Tartu, Estonia as a visiting professor in the fall of 2017. Julia Vax and I had many conversations about helping women get on boards. That is part of what we talked about, but most especially, how to find out your worth and negotiate to get more money. Here’s the conversation with Julia Vax.

Julia Vax, thank you so much for joining me on the show.

How are you?

I’m thrilled to have you here. Before I get into the many questions I have for you, let me ask you who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?

My dream interview person I would have loved to have met in person would be The Notorious R.B.G., Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The former Supreme Court Justice passed away. She was an incredible woman with an incredible personality. I would have loved to talk to her live, which unfortunately did not get a chance. I would have asked her whether she regretted anything in her life and anything that she has accomplished, whether she regretted missing something and not doing something in her life.

What makes you ask that?

I believe in facing your fears and spending your life challenging yourself. That was another famous person said that, “To live your life without fear, you must face it every day, and you should do something that scares you every day.” That was Eleanor Roosevelt, who said that, a wife of a former president of the United States. It is important to challenge yourself every day. I am wondering whether somebody like Ruth Bader Ginsburg has failed to face some fears that she wished she had done in her life.

SWGR 110 | What You're Worth

What You’re Worth: “To live your life without fear, you must face it every day, and you should do something that scares you every day.”

 

I’d be there. She loved opera. Several of my friends who have done a lot of things at Washington Opera were married by her. I have quite a few friends who are opera singers who say, “She married them. Isn’t that cool?” I wish I’d been around enough to do that. I never met her in person either. I would be there. Julia, we’ve known each other for several years, mostly in the context of helping women advance their careers and become more visible, which is the heart of what I do.

You said some interesting things in our preview conversation. First of all, as a lawyer, you’ve got all those wonderful books behind you. Many people think about the lawyers we see on TV, like Law & Order, everything works out perfectly, and you catch the murderer and so forth, which is not the kind of law you do. Can you talk a little bit about that? What is it that you do?

It’s interesting. I went to law school, and it was the clear goal of never seeing the inside of a courtroom. I wanted to never be the kind of lawyer we see on TV, litigating cases and standing in front of the judge. I always wanted to be a business lawyer. Many people do not understand what business lawyers do. I often have my litigation colleagues come into my office and say, “What is it that you do exactly?” I get very angry about that. I tell them to leave my office immediately.

What business lawyers do varies broadly. They could be negotiating comprehensive and complicated contracts, representing public companies in connection with their obligations to report to the public and their disclosures, representing debt issuers or various banks, or doing merger and acquisition transactions.

There was a group of us that do what’s called emerging growth companies work. It’s basically what it sounds like. It’s companies that are just emerging, also known as startup companies. It’s early-stage companies where you primarily work with business people, inventors, and founders of companies with an idea. They want to make a company out of that idea. Many ideas don’t work out for companies. Many ideas are just an idea and never become a company, but there are other ideas you could create and develop into a product or a service.

What we do, the lawyers that practice in this particular area, is to help these early-stage companies figure out how to become a company and how you document relationships between the founders. Maybe there is one founder. Maybe there are five. How do you own this company? How do you retain each other? How do you stay friends over the years? The answer to that is to document everything upfront while you are still friends because, invariably, there is some disconnect, and people move on. Divorce is best-papered upfront.

Do a prenuptial agreement for your company before you launch.

That’s right because that’s when you can agree on what the right thing or a fair thing to do might be. Not unlike the marriage, but it is prudent to document your relationships, rights, and obligations upfront. We proceed to help these companies raise money. That’s a big part of what I do. That takes the form of any number of private financing. These are not stock issuances or debt issuances that are registered for sale to the public. These are private placements or privately negotiated transactions between the company and a small group of investors. That could be stock, debt, or a combination of things. There are successive rounds of that funding that typically comes in and do a small company.

It's important to be very direct in what you bring to the table and the value that you can bring to wherever it is you're going. Click To Tweet

As you do this, you’re not producing a thing. How do you see the results of what you’re doing? What does done look like for you?

It is interesting because that’s one of the reasons I like working with those companies because you get to touch the thing or whatever it is that this company might be producing or creating or developing, whether it be a widget, a website, or a cancer drug. What you see is this young company that started with 1, 2 or 3 people that grows. They accomplish milestones for their product for whatever the thing is. That company might eventually go public, or that company’s drug might get approved by the regulatory agencies.

Now you watch these people who you’ve known for sometimes 10, 15, 20 years ring the bell on the New York Stock Exchange because they have achieved a major accomplishment, but you were part of it, and you helped bring that drug to the market or that product or that driverless car, whatever that might be. As lawyers, we deal with a lot of paper, and we’re always in the background, but we get to be part of this invention of this new creation. That’s the most fascinating part.

That’s a fun way to describe it. Julia, it sounds like you make deals for a living. You negotiate contracts. What advice do you have for women negotiating the most important contract of all, which is their salary? You had some useful advice when we talked before.

Women have a tendency to sit back a little bit in their own negotiations. They are often much more willing to negotiate for others. In that sense, you often see a woman who may be representing the company negotiating aggressively and strongly on behalf of the company. When it comes to negotiating your own compensation or rights, it is something where we as women have a tendency to take a little bit of a backseat and maybe take the position that we don’t want to come across as too aggressive or greedy.

In my opinion, it’s important to be very direct in what you bring to the table and the value that you can bring to wherever it is you’re going, whether you being hired as a CEO or joining a board of directors of a company. Any number of positions you might be looking to take and being direct about the value and your personal worth should be are liberating.

How can we measure our personal worth? One thing I would say right away to anybody who’s been in this situation is to practice the negotiation with a friend before you go into the interview. Make sure the words and the numbers can come out of your mouth without getting confused. That took me years to learn that one.

SWGR 110 | What You're Worth

What You’re Worth: It is prudent to document your relationships, your rights, and your obligations upfront.

 

It is fascinating how important it is to have a script. When you come to a meeting, where are you going to negotiate anything? That should include your personal compensation and personal package. It is important to have a script to articulate those points of the value you bring to the table and the worth you have. You typically would benchmark it somewhere. You benchmark it against other positions.

For our international readers, what do you mean by benchmarking?

You would look in the industry and the space you are going to enter, and you will find comparable positions that would be similar to the position you’re applying and interviewing for. You would see whether a compensation package is publicly available for that particular position. For US public companies, it’s very easy to find. You can locate them in the public disclosures that the company makes about the compensation of its executives. You would be able to find some information about what a position like that brings in terms of compensation.

It would often be a position occupied by a man. The difficult argument that we still face these days is all women worth as much as the man. It’s interesting because you have to set that aside, in my opinion. There should not be any distinction between what a woman or a man brings to the table. In fact, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had said that women should be present everywhere where important decisions are made.

You said something about being told to take the call from the recruiter. Talk about that a little bit because that was an interesting tip. I thought that was useful information.

In the legal world, we get hounded by recruiters. We get calls and emails, if not every day, certainly once a week. Somebody is looking to build out their practice, and they hired a recruiting agency to look around and find appropriate candidates and then start reaching out. Some come by way of introduction. Some come just cold calls. You get an email out of the blue that say, “I have this great position for you.”

Most of the time, lawyers ignore those. It’s like flies. We would swat them away and delete those messages. Somebody said to me one time, “You should take that call. You should have a conversation. It doesn’t mean you need to leave the place where you are. You should take the call to do a market check. See what you are worth. See what third parties are offering. How do you determine the value? It’s what the party is willing to pay. Do a market check by talking to these recruiters. Find out what they’re offering and what their compensation package might be.”

It happened to me one time. This was years ago. I was recruited by another firm. I had a package, and I didn’t want to leave my firm. I came back to my firm and said, “I have a market check. This is what the other people are offering. If you match that for me, I will stay because I want to stay. I love people around me. I love working with my colleagues, but now I’m told that I’m grossly underpaid.” I brought that to the management, and the management came back and said, “We’ll match.” This was more than a decade ago. It’s important to do that to determine your own worth.

Women bring a different perspective to the table just by virtue of being women. Click To Tweet

It’s to determine what the market thinks you should be paid. That’s interesting. Another thing that you do a lot of is advising women in the effort to get women on corporate boards. Why is board representation important for women and the company?

For the company, it’s important to have diverse opinions and views from different perspectives. Dare I say that women bring a different perspective to the table by virtue of being women, setting aside even the specific expertise that particular women might have in the industry. Why is it important for women? It’s because the boardroom is where the decisions are made. The boardroom is what drives the company, the industry, and the market. That’s where the big decisions are made. For many years, I would walk into a boardroom as a lawyer and see men only, and primarily White men only. Now things are slowly changing, but it’s still a long way to go.

Talk a little bit about the pushback that women face in the boardroom.

It’s the same pushback that women face pretty much everywhere, “Don’t be too loud. Don’t voice your opinion. You should just listen and learn from others who have been there before.” I had a woman joining the board of one of my companies. She asked me. She said, “It’s all men. Do you think they’re going to have a negative reaction if I speak my mind because I speak my mind? Do you think I will have people think that I’m too aggressive and don’t know what I’m talking about?”

I try to assure her that my position and view is that women should speak their minds. Other women, if they’re present, should amplify their voices. How often do you sit in the room in the meeting? Not just the board meeting, but any meeting. A woman says something, expresses an idea, they nod and don’t say much, and then a man next to her says virtually exactly the same thing and suddenly, “What a great plan we should go with that.” It happens all the time.

The virtue of that woman being the only woman in the room, it’s difficult to have a circumstance where another woman could step in and say, “That was Julia’s idea. Let’s talk about that.” It is important to speak up. It’s important to know what you’re talking about. We all work as hard and often harder than men to be experts in our particular industry, be very knowledgeable, and stay on top of the latest developments. It’s important, but then we often don’t say and express it. I urge all women, especially in the boardroom, to engage in the conversation.

Recruit other women. If you’re the only woman, do everything you can to get more women. Once you’re there, hold the door open for other women, people of color, and other diverse ideas.

What often happens is the environment stops resisting. When you engage in the direct and open debate about the values you bring to the table that other women or other diverse candidates could bring, the environment often stops resisting. It is amazing to see when somebody walks into the room and articulates a particular idea, and suddenly all those men around the table realize that was a different perspective that they didn’t think about because it didn’t occur to them. It’s just not something that comes to their mind.

SWGR 110 | What You're Worth

What You’re Worth: When you engage in the direct and open debate about the values you bring to the table that other women or other diversity candidates could, the environment often stops resisting.

 

I have to say that it happens in groups of women too. I’ve been in plenty of groups of women, where everybody comes from the same background, and we all reinforce what we’re thinking, which is not necessarily what the rest of the world thinks.

I’m known to be a contrarian. Somebody says, “You’re just a lawyer. You always argue.” Not at all.

Julia, have you ever faced pushback as a gay woman?

Not at all. I have been lucky, but I also believe that it is the attitude that I have. I have been openly gay my whole life, in law school and practicing law. In fact, when our small firm in San Francisco at the time made 6 partners that year, there were 3 litigators and 3 business lawyers, and 4 of us were gay. It’s quite an accomplishment. We felt proud of our firm. It is also important to face that and be who you are. If you are who you are, you will find the environment that is receptive to who you are and doesn’t care whether you’re gay or straight, or green or brown. It doesn’t matter if they accept you as a person.

You also don’t have any skeletons in your closet. It’s one of those things that you don’t need to fear that somebody will find out, and there could be repercussions. If you are direct and open about who you are, you naturally will end up in an environment that is receptive and appreciative of who you are in your own diversity.

Being gay is self-identified diversity. We often don’t know if our colleagues might be gay unless they tell us. It’s important to tell. Do tell and do ask because it is something that makes all of us better to appreciate the diversity among us, whether it’s racial diversity, sexual orientation diversity, or national origin diversity. It does improve everyone’s perspective, and it opens avenues for a better future for all of us. I believe in being openly out and never making it a secret.

Let me go to a final thought. If someone was curious about stepping up into a board position, and I know you do a lot of training around this, where should you start?

I would right away look at the How Women Lead website and think about why it is that you want to join the board. If you think you want to join a corporate board because you think you’re going to make a lot of money, that is not a good reason. In fact, small accompanies hardly pay their directives. They may pay a little bit in the form of stock that may be completely worthless if the company is not successful. It’s not about money. Think about, what is your passion? What is it that you want to accomplish in life?

If you are who you are, you will find an environment that is receptive to who you are. Click To Tweet

That’s what should be the driving force for your joining the board because joining a company that you don’t understand, the industry you’re not familiar with, or something that is not of personal interest to you, would be boring and complicated engagement. You will work pretty hard, and you probably are not going to achieve as much satisfaction. If your dream is to cure cancer, then find the company working on the next thing for cancer. Help that company accomplish it. Work hard with them to bring that idea, that dream of yours, together with that company to become a reality.

That’s a great line to end on. Julia Vax, thank you so much for coming to the show. It’s been fun to know all your stories and have you share your wisdom with us. Let me remind you that if you’re curious about how your presentation skills are doing, you can take our free four-minute assessment at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com.

That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where maybe a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve. If you enjoyed this, please leave us a good review, whatever app you’re listening to, subscribe, and tell your friends. I’ll see you at the next one.

 

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About Julia Vax

SWGR 110 | What You're WorthJulia Vax is a partner at Arnold & Porter and focuses her practice on corporate and securities laws in representing emerging growth and public companies, primarily in the life sciences and technology sectors, from formation and early-stage capital raising to publicly traded entities.

Ms. Vax has advised clients in the biopharmaceutical, genomics, medical device, diagnostics, Internet and digital media, software, IP telephony, telecommunications and financial services sectors in all aspects of their corporate development and in connection with a broad range of financing and strategic transactions.

Ms. Vax has extensive experience in IPOs, Rule 144A transactions, shelf registrations, private placements, including PIPE transactions and venture capital financings, as well as in executive compensation, corporate governance and SEC reporting and compliance for public companies.

She has been involved in numerous public and private financing transactions representing companies, investors, underwriters and placement agents. Ms. Vax is a faculty member at the Center for International Legal Studies and has taught US corporate securities laws at the University of Tartu, Estonia, School of Law, as a Visiting Professor in the Fall 2017.