The Canadian Corporate Counsel Association and The Counsel Network survey, conducted by Bramm Research, was presented at the CCCA national conference in Calgary April 5. The 2016 In-House Counsel Compensation & Career Survey, which also took place in 2012, 2010, and 2009, had 962 respondents this year from all major cities in Canada.
The results indicate that on average, female in-house counsel are earning 15-per-cent less than their male in-house peers. While there wasn’t a wage gap increase from 2012 to 2016, there wasn’t a decrease in the four-year period.
“We should, in fact, start to see that gap shrinking,” says Sameera Sereda, managing partner of The Counsel Network.
There is a higher percentage of female in-house counsel in government, Crown, and not-for-profit organizations compared to males, but in all sectors — except government where women have wage parity — male in-house lawyers earn a higher salary than women.
“Where you really see the difference is if you’re a general counsel in a public company and you’re a woman — you’re making less money than if you are a general counsel in a public company and you’re a man. That’s what’s key — in the business world where there aren’t standardized pay equity rules, we’re seeing that disparity and that’s where it’s even bigger,” says Sereda.
The average male in-house counsel base salary is currently $178,000. That’s $26,700 higher than the average female in-house counsel base salary of $152,000.
While some might suggest the discrepancy exists because “men have been in the workforce longer,” the reality is men have fewer average years as both legal counsel and senior counsel, yet they still earn a higher base salary, according to the survey.
So what’s being done to address the wage gap for women? Sereda says the next step is dealing with the compensation issue at the board level at public companies.
“It’s very much tied to the boards. There’s been a lot of discussion about board diversity and women on boards. The more women we have on boards, the more board influence there will be on hiring senior positions on companies,” she says.
The survey shows the average salary for in-house counsel has increased to $165,000 from $155,000 in 2012, but more respondents say they have had no or smaller salary increases in the past year than in 2012 when the last survey was done.
In 2016, the average base salary for government and Crown corporations was $142,000. In 2012, the equivalent base salary was $130,000.
By industry, in-house counsel in resources/mining/forestry ($207,000), real estate ($185,000), oil and gas ($181,000), and retail/hospitality ($178,000) have the highest average base salaries of all industries.
Sereda cautions that the numbers from the survey are not intended to be used by in-house counsel as a tool to leverage a pay hike but rather a more informed discussion.
“It’s a good starting point for a discussion and a really good way to look at trends like the wage gap trend and base salary numbers generally,” she says. “For example, the increase in base salary generally has been significantly less than what it was last time. “
Other interesting points from the survey include the fact there has been a noticeable shift in lawyers from Alberta looking to move to Ontario. There is also a slimmer difference between salaries in Alberta and Ontario. When the last survey came out in 2012, Calgary had surpassed Toronto in terms of what in-house counsel earn. Now the numbers have dipped down.
“Calgary lawyers tend to measure themselves against Toronto lawyers. We see a lot more similarity around billable hour rates and compensation generally between Calgary and Toronto and similarity between Vancouver and Edmonton,” says Sereda.
It is also the first year the survey shows in-house lawyers packing up and moving to Ontario from Alberta.
Other aspects of the survey:
• The average national base salary for in-house counsel is $165,000
• The average base salary for in-house counsel in Ontario is $172,000
• The average base salary for in-house counsel in Alberta is $171,000
• The average base salary for in-house counsel in Quebec is $159,000
• British Columbia in-house counsel on average earn $156,000
• In Atlantic Canada, the mean base salary for in-house counsel was $143,000 — the lowest of all six regions
• B .C. has seen the rise of Kelowna and Victoria as markets looking to hire in-house counsel
• Average base salaries in Saskatchewan have increased
• There has been an increase in in-house counsel returning to Saskatchewan from Alberta
Geographically, more than half of all respondents to the survey came from Ontario (32 per cent) and Alberta (27 per cent). The majority of respondents are found in large metropolitan centres — 70 per cent of in-house counsel live in the cities of Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Montreal.