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Female GCs Worse Off than Female Equity Partners

Vivia Chen

September 11, 2013

Shocked © OSTILL via iStockMy first reaction was "duh—like this is news?" But after looking at the numbers a bit more closely, I'm not quite so blasé. I'm actually angry. So I'm taking back the "duh" and replacing it with "WTF!"

What am I getting so steamed about? Sibling publication Corporate Counsel just released its 2013 Law Department Compensation Benchmarking Survey and this is the deal: Women who hold the top legal position in the company are compensated less—quite a bit less—than their male counterparts. 

Rebekah Mintzer of Corporate Counsel reports:

The women in the ALM/Corporate Counsel survey who held the top positions in their law departments—chief legal officers and general counsel—reported an average total cash compensation of $575,200, while their male counterparts pocketed an average of $723,700.

Let's just stop right here and think about that $148,500 difference. That means female GCs are making barely 80 percent of what male GCs make—which is even worse than the pay gap for female equity partners (according to National Association of Women Lawyers, female equity partners make 89 percent of what their male counterparts do).

Shocked that corporations are even less fair to women than law firms? I am.

In some ways, the in-house pay gap between the sexes is much more puzzling. The rationale for paying male partners more in a firm is that they usually have a bigger book of business. In the in-house context, where portable business is irrelevant, men and women should be on equal footing. Plus, we're talking about those who occupy the very top in-house spots—chief legal officers and GC—which are inherently demanding jobs. I mean, I think it's highly unlikely anyone in those positions are working reduced schedules that might justify reduced pay.

So how is it that women are taking home substantially less money? The difference isn't their base salary, but the bonus. Reports CC:

Smaller bonuses for women accounted for a large part of the disparity between the numbers for top-level men and women corporate counsel. The survey indicated that GC and CLO women and their deputies made around 40 percent less in bonus payouts than men in the same roles.

I don't know about you, but I think a 40 percent difference is huge. What could possibly justify this gap? The most benevolent explanation is that more women are working for smaller, less lucrative companies—either because that's what they want or that's the only choice they have. The less benevolent reason: When compensation is subjective, management will find a reason to pay women less.

Any way you look it, women are getting royally screwed.


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Though I am annoyed by the pay discrepancy between the sexes, especially since I was one woman ( in-house counsel for a municipal corporation) who never stopped to have kids and never took a sick day in 23 years, I am floored at the amount of salary mentioned. I was recently forced to retire (due to politics) from a career as a very successful litigator for a large FL city. I have been searching for a new position for over a month and the only interview I have been given is with a state agency where the pay is $39K. This is $4000 more than what I was earning when I left that same agency (different division) 23 years ago! Please tell me where I can earn even $200,000 as an in-house counsel. I would be grateful. And the company would get a tough litigator.


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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