Female GCs are out-earning men at top US companies, study finds

The expanding role of GCs in corporations has led to an overall boost in compensation

Female GCs are out-earning men at top US companies, study finds

Female GCs are out-earning their male counterparts at top US companies, a study conducted by US-based corporate leadership data provider Equilar and BarkerGilmore has found.

According to the recently published General Counsel Pay Trends report, female GCs at high-revenue companies received a median compensation of US$3m in 2020, while male GCs received only US$2.7m. Moreover, the number of women taking on GC roles has increased every year from 2016 to 2020.

The report indicates that the number of female GCs has gone up by about 50% in 2020 compared to 2016, which had men occupying over 75% of GC posts. 36.3% of the GCs at companies listed among the Equilar 500, which comprises the biggest US companies in terms of revenue, were women.

“Every year, approximately 10% of Fortune 500 companies appoint a new top legal executive. With most of America’s C-suite consisting of Caucasian males, CEOs and boards are looking at GC appointments as a means of diversification,” BarkerGilmore explained.

However, female GCs still face a glass ceiling in corporations, as the study revealed that men still make up 57% of internal promotions to GC.

Nonetheless, the expanded role of GCs, particularly in the current climate, has led to a boost in compensation for GCs as a whole. The General Counsel Pay Trends report revealed that many GCs are ranked among the five highest-compensated roles according to annual proxy statements.

2020 recorded a particularly significant increase, with total reported compensation ticking upwards by 7.5% compared to 2019. The top legal positions in companies with a revenue of over US$20bn received a median of US$4.9m in pay, while in companies with revenues of US$7bn-US$20bn, GC salary skyrocketed by the double digits.

GCs in the communication services sector recorded the highest median total compensation in 2020 at US$6m – a boost of 44.8% compared to 2019. Meanwhile, GCs in the tech sector reported a 50.2% jump in median pay to US$5m.

“With Baby Boomer GC reaching retirement age, individual net worth at new highs and the call to do more with leaner budgets, there is a higher level of turnover, resulting in a robust hiring market in 2021 for general counsel. Understandably so, interest in and competition for these positions have never been greater, regardless of the demands and expectations of the CEO and board,” said John Gilmore, BarkerGilmore’s co-founder and managing partner.

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