Negotiate Your Career Growth

From "Thermonuclear" to Negotiating Fair Pay with Carla Varriale-Barker

February 08, 2024 Jamie Lee, Carla Varriale-Barker Episode 54
Negotiate Your Career Growth
From "Thermonuclear" to Negotiating Fair Pay with Carla Varriale-Barker
Show Notes Transcript

As a woman or a minority in the workplace, if you've ever felt the heat of anger from being overlooked or underpaid... you are far from alone. 

In this riveting interview, law firm partner Carla Varriale-Barker spills the beans on how she once went "thermonuclear" after learning she was underpaid because she didn't have a "wife and mortgage" like her male colleague. 

Listen in to learn how she channeled her righteous indignation into a series of productive business conversations that led to her getting what she wanted. 

What you'll learn: 

  • How to stand up for yourself and advocate for fair pay: Learn the piece of advice that helped Carla to effectively channel her anger and close her gender pay gap 
  • What effective negotiation process looks like vs. what many think it's "supposed to be" 
  • Why overcoming discrimination can fuel your professional growth and how it impacts your confidence 
  • How to challenge gender socialization that leads women to suppress their justified anger even at their own expense 
  • What building a strong personal brand can do for your career 
  • What ambitious women in the legal field can do to best advance their careers

Featured in this interview: 

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Jamie Lee (00:01):
Welcome to Negotiate your Career growth. I'm Jamie Lee, and I teach you how to blend the best of negotiation strategies with feminist coaching so you get promoted and better paid without burning bridges or burning out in the process. Let's get started.

Jamie Lee (00:14):
We have with us a dynamo. We have Carla Vela Barker. Carla is a partner at law firm, Siegel McCambridge. She's also a great personal friend of mine, and as an attorney, Carla represents a portfolio of clients in the sports, recreation, amusement and hospitality industries with a client-centered practice focusing on tort discrimination, contract insurance, and premises liability matters, including the defense of claims arising from alcohol service, security, lapses, discrimination in places of public accommodation, sexual abuse and molestation. Carla's an awesome lawyer. Basically she's the lawyer you want to have on your side if something goes wrong at a sports arena. Is that right?

Carla Varriale-Barker (01:04):
Yes, A sports arena among other places. But I heard that list and it made me think, no wonder I'm tired.

Jamie Lee (01:16):
Carla was one of the people who inspired me into pursuing the work that I do now. And 13 years ago, Carla was part of a panel discussion that I organized even before I had the dream of becoming an executive coach for women. I thought, women, we need to talk about salary negotiation. We need to talk about how to advocate for ourselves and let's go get some of the smartest, most badass women I know. Let's put them on a panel. Let's hear their stories. And Carla told the story that was explosive. Carla, do you want to tell us about it?

Carla Varriale-Barker (01:59):
Yes. It was something that happened to me when I was an up and coming lawyer. I had the opportunity to talk to our compensation committee at a firm that I was with, and I had learned that there was another lawyer who was a man who was at the same level as I was. Our performance metrics were a bit different. I had an independent book of business. I thought at least that I checked all of the boxes and I learned that he was given considerably more money than I was. And when I confronted the people from the compensation committee about the justification for that, given the metrics, now I want you to keep in mind this is going back. It's got to be almost 20 years. I was told that he had a wife and a mortgage and that I did not, and that he needed the money more than I did.

And even just telling that story makes my blood pressure spike because it was so fundamentally inequitable and troubling because it didn't recognize what I brought to the table. And I think that the people from my firm were quite surprised by my reaction to it. And they told me, and I think I use this as a quote with you, they said, well, there's no reason for you to be angry. And I said, I am not angry. What you see is righteous indignation. And I think the emphasis was on the word righteous. And that story is for me, really the turning point in how I approach compensation and negotiation on my own behalf because you must advocate on your own behalf because chances are there are things and attributes that you bring to the table that are overlooked perhaps because of unconscious or conscious biases. But you must be your own best advocate because, and Jamie, I think this is something that you taught me. When you lose money over time, the compounding effect of that, let's forget about the emotional or psychological, is devastating. And I think that point needs to be underscored aside from your emotional and holistic wellbeing over time, that shortchanging has a profound effect on your life.

Jamie Lee (05:13):

Carla Varriale-Barker (05:16):
Totally. And I think I have a couple of explosive stories, but I think that is the one where you and I really connected about these issues.

Jamie Lee (05:30):
Yes. Because you had your own book of business, you were knocking it out of the park, bringing your own book of business, is that you went out there and you closed those deals, right? Not only are you litigating and winning trials, you're going and getting clients, you're bringing money into the firm. And it sort of boggles my mind, right? This was 20 years ago. So norms and gender and cultural expectations have all shifted. But 20 years ago, early two thousands, right, being told that, oh yeah, you're just going to get paid less because you are not a man. Right? This

Carla Varriale-Barker (06:10):

Jamie Lee (06:11):
Gender discrimination from one of the most brightest minds, right? Lawyers who know the law,

Carla Varriale-Barker (06:19):
Right? Right. Who do not. But that was a bias. He needed the money. I did not. And that seemed like a rationalization to them. That made sense. I agree with you. And let's also note this was before, there are now pay equity and pay transparency laws that are on the books that did not exist then, but are very helpful in achieving equal standing and pay equity.

Jamie Lee (06:52):
What I love about the story is that so often when we allow those little dings, those million paper cuts is how one of my mentors described it, right? Getting paid less or being promoted less or being overlooked for speaking or hot job opportunities and that it eats into your confidence. And then when it eats into your confidence, then you start second guessing. Do I even have a stand to make? Can I even speak up for myself? Because what if people get upset that I got upset that I got righteously, that I had the righteous indignation. And so what I love about your story is that you stood your ground as a great trial lawyer would.

Carla Varriale-Barker (07:39):
When I was thinking about our conversation today, there was something else that I wanted to bring up, especially the 20, the me of 20 years ago was a super people pleaser. I thrived on praise. It was so important to me to be liked. And I realized that you can do both. You can both be liked and admired by people and advocate for yourself. And this is such an important concept for women. For other people who may be marginalized in the workplace, who are afraid of feeling invisible, you can do both things. You can both advocate for yourself and still be liked, respected, and thought highly of by your peers that desire to be liked and to people please prevented me from advocating for myself until this very raw, very blatantly wrong situation.

Jamie Lee (08:55):
Yeah. I recall 13 years ago when I first heard the story, you said you went thermonuclear,

Carla Varriale-Barker (09:04):
I think until very recently. I still turned red when I told the story.

Jamie Lee (09:10):
So I want to hear more about that and I want to acknowledge, yes, I really appreciate what you said because you can still be light or I think of it this way, you can choose respect over prioritizing other people's emotional comfort. And I think that's what I'm hearing. What I'm hearing is that because you stood your ground, even as you were going thermonuclear because you stood your ground and you stood up for yourself, and you showed the compensation committee that I believe in my value, this is very logical conversation that we should be having about the value I'm bringing to the firm. And so tell us more about how you advocated for yourself with self-respect and what was the outcome of that conversation?

Carla Varriale-Barker (10:06):
So I can't tell you that for that particular situation, I was calm, rational, and collected. It was just so raw and so wrong to me that I know I reacted. I shocked them because the people pleaser was angry. And I raised my voice and I am sure I was pointing my finger at people when we met afterwards, after a day or two and the dust settled. And I had a wonderful mentor at the time, and he told me, show them that you have the numbers. This is not an emotional irrational issue. You have the numbers to show here their feedback aside from the question of your colleague needed the money because he had a wife and a mortgage, get some feedback about your own performance and how to write the ship. And you can do that, but at the same time, you have data and information that needs to be highlighted. And he worked with me to go through that and there was a rational business explanation to correct the mistake that they did. And I'm not going to tell you it happened immediately, but it happened.

Jamie Lee (11:39):
It happened eventually that the ship got righted or it was,

Carla Varriale-Barker (11:44):
Yeah. And I got what I had been asking for. It didn't happen in a meeting. It happened in a few meetings. It didn't happen in a day. It might've been a matter of or possibly even spanned out to months. But it is a long game. And I am very grateful that I had somebody to guide me because the emotional me would have continued on a high rate. I would've been very negative. I wouldn't have made that bad situation. Turned out to be a very valuable lesson to me that I use to this day, to this day.

Jamie Lee (12:25):
And here are the things that I'm taking away from this, which is that it's okay to be angry. I have coached myself and several women clients who almost feel like, oh, if I'm angry, oh no, this is not good. This is dangerous. Or

Carla Varriale-Barker (12:42):

Jamie Lee (12:42):
Will be turned off. I'm not supposed to express anger, but it's okay to be angry. And what you did with the help of your mentor is that you channeled that anger into action, into let's refocus this conversation into a business conversation about revenue, about numbers. And another thing that I'm taking away is that something I tell my clients again and again, negotiation is never just a one-off conversation. It's a series of conversations. It's a process. And so you engage, you stuck it out, and you engaged in that process and in the end you got what you wanted. So that is a win.

Carla Varriale-Barker (13:25):
Yes, that is absolutely right. Now, I will tell you, for me, I believe that when I get in a situation like that, like the 20 year older me, I would have kept my voice and demeanor much more steady. I would've worked my emotion out outside of that room because I think it would have undermined what I did. And you are so right. There is value and you are validated in feeling upset and angry. You don't need to stuff it, but it is better to channel it.

Jamie Lee (14:09):
That's right. That's right. Because what you just described, it's still happening in this day and age. And so we want to help as many women as possible know, okay, if this happens to you here, here's what you can do. Here's how Carla achieved the win. Even through feeling that thermonuclear anger channeling into positive action, refocusing the conversation to here are the numbers. And so when you are delivering value, you can more confidently advocate for that value, even if you're feeling upset about the injustice. So tell us a little bit more now that 20 years have passed and you are the future. There was that past you who got super angry, but now you're the future you. And what advice do you have for women attorneys or women legal professionals who want to advance their careers, who want to become partners like you or who want to overcome those injustices they see, they experience?

Carla Varriale-Barker (15:25):
So a few things. As I mentioned, there are of course now pay transparency requirements in certain states including New York. So that's helpful. Know your data, know your metrics. I was very, very good with my metrics because I used to look at the monthly reports and feel a sense of pride and satisfaction. I could see every month what I was delivering. So know your metrics, know your intangibles too. What other value add do you bring to the organization? Are you somebody who speaks? Are you sitting on bar associations? Are you active in your community? What value add? Because that's also increasingly important to clients and therefore increasingly important to firms. I think those are great suggestions. I get asked, and I am part of a committee at my firm that is my current firm, of course, not the former firm that was the thermonuclear firm, but I get asked this question a lot and we deal with it in this program that I am the co-chair of called Forward Together where we're trying to attract, retain, and let's put a footnote on retention because that's a big issue for women and other underrepresented populations in law firms and promotion of lawyers at my firm.

And I think some of the key information that I give to my mentees is don't expect full results putting in half measures, like don't expect the maximum. If you put in the minimum, law firms are a business like any other business, they look at your metrics. There are certain requirements in terms of billing or client development, and you should meet the expectations as a minimum. Then I am a big believer in build your brand market yourself, because in marketing yourself, you are also growing the business and the profile of the firm and be a good citizen of the firm. Reach out to other people who are coming up the pipeline and be a good mentor, be a good teacher. And that to me is very important. Your citizenship, your production, your productivity, and I love to tell my up and coming lawyers, show me that you can manage yourself. Then I will give you other people on my team to manage, and that is a huge benefit to me. I need to train the next generation. Show me the skills you have that you can do that.

Jamie Lee (18:41):
Excellent, excellent. This coincides with what I share in this podcast and in my coaching practice, which is that when you advocate, when you articulate your vision, when you market yourself, and when you add value and clearly communicate the impact of that, it's an act of service.

Carla Varriale-Barker (19:01):
Yeah. Oh, I like that.

Jamie Lee (19:03):
Yeah. Your managers will like, they will commend you. They will say, thank you for letting me know because this helps me do my job better. This helps me plan my succession, the planning, the strategy, and this helps me understand what's happening at the ground level or at your level. This helps inform my decision making. Thank you for being communicative clear and being, like you said, it's like being a good citizen within the organization. So I think what you just shared can apply to many people across different industries beyond the legal profession as well. So thank you

Carla Varriale-Barker (19:41):
For sharing. Yeah, well, you're welcome. I also, for me, it is, I don't want to say it's a value because after around your sixth or seventh year at a law firm, things may be different. In house, the number of women drop considerably. It's a really hard profession for women to juggle home, family life, or if you have another passion, like if you're a creative person and you have, let's say a music career or you want to write or you want to open a restaurant, you can't do both at a law firm. It is your spouse and your job on many occasions. So it's a hard job to have, whether you're man or a woman, it's just a hard job, a demanding job. I think Abraham Lincoln said, law is a demanding mistress, meaning it demands all of your time. And that's hard for people. And we see many women drop out around the sixth or seventh year because of perhaps family raising a family or it's just a hard job and people want to explore other things to do that are not so demanding of time. So I try to do everything I can to keep my fellow female lawyers in the profession. And it might mean accommodating childcare schedule. It might mean now, of course, post pandemic. My firm is still largely remote. I mean, we call ourselves hybrid. People are only in the office maybe once a week. I don't know. It's too early to tell if that is something that will retain people.

I don't know. I have mixed feelings about how good that is. I think one day is too little. I think five or four days is too much. But anything that helps to keep women feeling encouraged and invested in being a lawyer, I am happy to explore.

Jamie Lee (22:10):
Love it. Love it. And I have also heard from many of my clients that work-life balance is so important. What you just shared, the female cliff, that's something that we also see in the tech field, we also see in the medical field. So it's not just law, it's sort of universal where it's a demanding job. It takes all of your focus. Sometimes you have to work long hours. And I think the greater flexibility the employer can offer, like hybrid or remote work option, it definitely helps

Carla Varriale-Barker (22:47):

Jamie Lee (22:48):
All of my women clients, I mean, I coach only women, and they all tell me that's really important that they can work remotely or in a hybrid way. I appreciate you. I appreciate you taking the lead, not just advocating for fair pay, but hoping to pave a better way for more women to enter the leadership.

Carla Varriale-Barker (23:12):
Thank you. I appreciate you too. I learned so much from you over time, and some of my best lessons come from words of wisdom from you.

Jamie Lee (23:25):
Oh, I really appreciate that. This is a long,

Carla Varriale-Barker (23:27):
It's really true. It's really true.

Jamie Lee (23:31):
Thank you. Well, where can folks go to learn more about you, about the work that you're doing at the law firm in the legal profession? Can they follow you on LinkedIn?

Carla Varriale-Barker (23:44):
Yes. It's under Carla Ole Barker. That's my handle on LinkedIn. And my firm, Siegel McCambridge is very easy to find. It is the letter S as in Sam, the letter M as in Mary, S as in Sam, M as in So it's just and you will see me and there's even a video about our Forward Together program that is geared towards women in the legal profession.

Jamie Lee (24:19):
Yes, amazingly great organization. And is there anything else that I haven't yet asked that you want to make sure people who are listening to this podcast do know?

Carla Varriale-Barker (24:32):
Well, I think we covered most of what I would consider my values, but I'll just share a piece of advice that's evaluation season. So a piece of advice I have for anyone in the workplace is if you can't advocate and speak up on your own behalf, who can start with yourself, your work and abilities and what you've produced better than anyone. So let's start there with being able to have a team of advocates for you, because from there you can build out to a supervisor, a manager, or a partner, et cetera. But it starts with you. You can't skip that.

Jamie Lee (25:19):
Love it, love it. And for anyone who is struggling with that or feels like, oh, too much anxiety comes up. Here's a mental hack that I have used. Ask yourself, what would someone like Carla do? Or what might Jamie say? Right? It's called modeling. So ask yourself, what might Carla say or what might Jamie say? And you can internalize the people or other women or other people who really inspire you in terms of how outspoken or articulate they are. And then just try to mimic that in your own mind. What are your thoughts? Have you tried anything like that, Carla?

Carla Varriale-Barker (26:02):
I do go back to my mentor and say, what would Stanley say about this? I mean, even to this day, that shows you the power. He was not just a mentor, he was also a sponsor. He was very involved in getting me elected as partner at my first firm. But that is the power of good mentorship because to this day, I will say to myself, what would Stanley say about this? Or how would Stanley think that I handled this? It's a good check.

Jamie Lee (26:38):
Beautiful, beautiful. And when you've received great mentorship, support, sponsorship, then you can go and give it forward as you are doing Carla. So again, thank you so much for your valuable time and your really valuable lessons and story. I appreciate you and I'll see you soon.

Carla Varriale-Barker (27:00):
Yes, you will. And I appreciate you. Thank you for the lessons you have taught me and the support you have given me. I am thrilled to spend time with you, so thank you.

Jamie Lee (27:13):
As an executive coach for women, I'm super passionate about helping smart women who hate office politics get promoted and better paid. I do this through my unique combination of number one, self-directed neuroplasticity tools backed by science. Number two, negotiation strategies proven to work for women by academic research. And number three, intersectional feminist lens that honors women's lived experiences. To learn more about my one-on-one coaching series, and to book your free hour long consultation with me, come on over to jamie lee It's jamie lee, Talk soon.