Why are women earning less?

At the national conference of the Canadian Association of Corporate Counsel in April, it was widely touted that 52 per cent of members are now women. It confirmed what has been known for a while — there is basically a 50/50 split of women and men in the in-house bar.

So perhaps it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow when later in the conference it was revealed that women in the in-house bar are still earning significantly less than their male counterparts. A new survey from the CCCA and The Counsel Network shows that female in-house counsel are earning 15-per-cent less than their male peers.

The average male in-house counsel base salary is currently $178,700. That’s $26,700 more than the average female in-house counsel base salary of $152,000.

The survey stated that salaries of female in-house counsel tend to be clumped at the lower end of the pay scale. At the low end, five per cent of male in-house counsel earn less than $100,000 compared to 10 per cent of female in-house counsel. At the high end, 26 per cent of male in-house counsel earn more than $200,000 compared to only 15 per cent of female in-house counsel. As the survey stated: “For in-house counsel, the gender wage gap is real and it is not shrinking.”

Part of the answer is that there is a higher percentage of females in-house in government, Crown corporations, and not-for-profit organizations where salaries are typically lower than in privately owned and public companies. But it begs the question: What is happening in public companies?

We should be beyond the point where one could point to the suggestion that men have been in the workplace longer. In fact, the survey states men have fewer average years as both legal counsel and senior counsel, yet they still earn a higher base salary.

When I spoke to Sameera Sereda, managing partner of The Counsel Network, she suggested that, for public companies, the compensation discussion needs to happen at the board level. However, it seems to me there also needs to be advocacy at the in-house level. What are women leaders in-house doing to ensure female colleagues and new hires get paid on par with men?

I have written stories about the in-house counsel pay gap several times and I am often mystified at how few in-house women lawyers are willing to weigh in on this issue.

Last October, the Association of Corporate Counsel came out with a similar survey showing 69 per cent of women earned less than the weighted salary of $200,000, while only 56 per cent of men reported earnings below that level. The ACC Census included responses from more than 5,000 in-house lawyers in 73 countries, including 172 responses from Canada.

At the time, Cheryl Foy, general counsel at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, was one GC who was willing to comment and told me the issue is “complex” with many factors including the “systemic undervaluing of women’s work.”

“A need for flexibility is often wrongly perceived as a lower degree of commitment or contribution,” Foy said.

Women also often admit they aren’t good at negotiating for themselves and that can result in lower compensation. Long-term it can become difficult to catch up and lead to a pay equity issue.

It appears to be a multi-faceted issue that requires work on both sides and perhaps a larger discussion within the in-house bar.

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