By Robert A. Adelson
The way to the top for women is full of challenges.
If you have shattered the glass ceiling and made it there to a C-level or senior executive position, congratulations!
Now you want to survive, thrive, and get rewarded like your male counterparts. Female executives, however, face many challenges: limits to compensation and career, work-life balance, and gender discrimination.
This article discusses how a well-crafted job offer or executive employment contract can aid you in addressing these important issues you may face:
- equal pay, and severance protections,
- work-life balance,
- change of control at the company,
- gender discrimination and termination.
☑️ Achieving Equal Pay, Severance Protections
Female CEOs and senior executives are often offered less compensation and benefits for the same work as their male counterparts.
If that happens to you, you should employ the same negotiation skills you use negotiating for your company to get the appropriate market rate base salary, bonus, and equity for yourself. Furthermore, with expert help, you want to structure your compensation package using tax-favored equity and merit terms to maximize your total compensation. Thus, if you do succeed, you will receive a reward comparable to or even higher than a male executive for the same work.
Where the company has had few or no prior female senior executives, you want to negotiate for critical downward protections. This means severance terms in your job offer to make you whole if you are not allowed to succeed.
You want clarity on your role and authority and severance to trigger not only if the company fires you without cause but if the company fails to live up to its bargain. Severance terms, too, are not plain vanilla: not just length of severance but making you whole on bonus, benefits, and equity as well.
☑️ Work-life balance
As a woman CEO or senior executive, you may have your own set of issues that men don’t always have.
These often concern your family, maternity, or child care. Men are not expected to choose job over family. Neither should you be. Thus, key terms on maternity leave, child care, family vacations, and working hours can be negotiated, and if later the company fails in its commitment to enable you to continue your family role as promised, you can trigger exit and severance as needed.
☑️ Change of Control Circumstances
After hiring and having been on the job for a period of time, there sometimes comes the issue of women C-suite executives being taken advantage of in a change of control circumstance.
In a change of control, the male CEO or chairman may choose to take care of his male cronies and not provide the same benefits and protections to female senior executives in the belief that they will accept less. This has happened in some circumstances where the female executives were critical to the venture’s success, which led to the potentially lucrative success event.
When you find yourself in one of those change of control circumstances, it is wise to have expert counsel to counteract those who try to diminish the importance of your role and your accomplishments.
The council would then leverage that past success and role in a successful closing of the transaction and transition, ensuring that you fully participate in the benefits of the successful exit for which your contributions were equally as important as the male members of the executive team.
Gender-Based Harassment, Employment Termination
Sometimes, despite their achievements, women executives face skepticism, and as women are held to a much higher standard than their male counterparts.
Worse, female executives sometimes face harassment in a hostile work environment and even humiliation from male colleagues. Then, despite their resilience and achievements, the deck is stacked against them, and it is not the perpetrators of discrimination who are punished, but rather the victim, the woman executive, who is asked to leave to restore “order” to the management team. All too often, despite stellar careers and great results, female CEOs and senior executives have been given notice of termination, been put on a “performance plan,” or faced with other onerous demands by their company.
There are in place Federal and State laws that bar gender discrimination in the workplace and prohibit an employer from permitting the creation of a hostile workplace in which the female executive must perform her job. The standards for success in court are high, but success has been achieved in some cases.
Another action that is more commonly taken is to have an executive employment attorney write a letter to the employer citing the achievement of the female executive, instances of discrimination, the evidence of a hostile work environment, and the evidence that termination or the threat of termination is based on a pretext rather true inferior performance.
These letters and the following negotiations often achieve a level of vindication for the wronged woman executive client.
Until laws render such contract provisions redundant, you’re well served to incorporate these terms (and any others you deem necessary) into your employment agreement, whether in hiring, change of control, or severance/separation agreement.
The comfort they will provide during your employment will pale in comparison to the remedies you’ll be afforded should you need to enforce them. Hiring an executive employment attorney can help to buttress your position in your employment contract negotiations and achieve the equal treatment that you deserve.