Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky discusses growing as a female executive with McDonald Hopkins panel

Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky joined McDonald Hopkins attorneys Christal Contini, Hayley Gladstone, and Benjamin Panter for a panel discussion on navigating growth as a female executive on Tuesday, June 11. The candid discussion covered a wide range of topics, including:
  • Negotiation considerations for professional women and executives
  • Important distinctions in negotiation approach between men and women
  • Negotiating for more than salary and the components of “total direct compensation
  • The importance of advocates and male allies
  • Non-compensatory issues such as board rights versus equity rights
Julie Smolyansky, who at 27 became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held company when she took over Lifeway Foods in 2002, offered her advice and experience to the full house at the 300 N LaSalle Conference Room in Chicago, Illinois.  
During the discussion, Smolyansky explained that even straight out of elite business schools, women make 93 cents to every dollar that their male counterparts are making at top levels. The discrepancy gets wider, down to 59 cents, as you move away from executive positions and toward entry-level positions. 
When asked if this discrepancy was in part due to poor negotiating strategy, Smolyansky said, “Women are wonderful negotiators. They are fierce when they are negotiation on behalf of their organization. They are fierce when they are negotiating on behalf of their children, on behalf of their elderly parents. Women tend to pull back when they are negotiating on behalf of themselves, and that is a cultural thing.” 

McDonald Hopkins’ Hayley Gladstone discussed the importance for women to negotiate for more than solely compensation and to keep total direct compensation in mind. She mentioned that cash negotiation can be the easy part of the negotiation process, but there is significant non-cash value that makes up the full scope of an employment negotiation – oftentimes for executives the majority of the value is held outside of the pure cash or salary componentsNavigating-Growth-in-Chicago-Julie-photo.JPG

Smolyansky’s suggestions for women when approaching a negotiation: Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. Be brave and be fearless. She pointed out that women look at negotiating with dread, comparable to going to the dentist, whereas men look at it like they are about to go play ball. 
The panel offered insight as to why including males in these discussions is crucial in advancing the conversation. Female professionals in their career will likely find themselves working with and negotiating across from males.  The evidence shows that when men are deliberately engaged in gender inclusionary programs,  it is much more likely to drive progress. 

Hayley Gladstone and Christal Contini added that having an advocate in your corner, whether that be legal counsel, a strong mentor, or even a positive support system around you, is something that is vastly underrated at all stages of your career. Advocates and your “support system” can often offer objective advice and unvarnished perspective that may help not only with negotiations, but for your professional development, as well.

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