Female in-house counsel earn an average of $19,000 less than male counterparts, study finds

The gender pay gap has not narrowed since 2018

Female in-house counsel earn an average of $19,000 less than male counterparts, study finds

Women in-house lawyers continue to earn less than male peers, according to a new study by The Counsel Network in partnership with the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association. The survey of 1,141 in-house counsel respondents across Canada revealed that the average  base salary for male in-house lawyers stands at $177,000, which is $19,000 higher than the average female base salary of $158,000. This gap has not changed since the previous study in 2018.

An analysis of gender and sector may partly explain the wage gap. When comparing the difference in base salary across the five sectors studied, it can be seen that the base salaries are lowest for government, Crown corporation and not-for-profits – sectors which employ the highest proportion of females. The other sectors examined were privately-owned and publicly quoted.

The gender discrepancy is more noticeable at the general counsel executive level with male GCs earning $23,000 more on average than females – a wider gap than in 2018. In addition, the study found that 30 per cent of males now have a mean salary of over $200,000 compared to 19 per cent of females who earn that amount.

“One of the reasons I believe this gap occurs is that there’s a tendency for organizations, when they are hiring, to look at the compensation that a candidate has in their current role and use it as a benchmark to decide what to offer for the new role,” says Dal Bhathal, managing partner at The Counsel Network. “If there is a disparity between men and women at the lower level, the increase might be the same for women as it is for men, but because women were earning less at the lower level, they can never catch up.

“There is a lot of work that still needs to be done and the first step is to highlight the fact that as much as we are all trying to do, there is still a problem,” she adds.

Bhathal suggests that organizations should be taking practical steps to address the wage gap through allocation of work and exposure to different client groups, so women are given more opportunities for promotion and advancement.

Commenting from her perspective as corporate counsel at Canadian Dental Services Corporation, Barbara de Dios is disheartened to see that the disparity has not changed in the past two years.

“I understand that structural changes to organizational practices may take time, but I think it’s tempting to consider the gender wage gap at length, largely when studies like these come out, to resurrect it as a ‘current’ topic of discussion but with limited consistency in follow-ups as competing priorities at our organizations are (understandably) raised in the months following,” says de Dios. “Perhaps the consistency of following up on practical, meaningful organizational changes in the weeks and months following the release of these studies, when they aren’t sitting on top of our news feeds, are just as important.”

The report also indicates that the 23 per cent of respondents who identify as racialized in-house lawyers are earning an average of $12,000 less than the income reported by their non-racialized peers. This may be partially explained by the small sample size and the fact that racialized respondents reported a lower number of years in practice on average  - 10.6 years, versus 15.5 years for non-racialized lawyers – which would normally equate to lower compensation, Bhathal says.

“This is the first year that we have reported on compensation for racialized lawyers so this is something we will monitor moving forward, to see if that gap is closing,” says Bhathal. The five per cent of respondents who reported a disability earn a mean salary that is $18,500 less than peers who did not report a disability.

Bramm Research conducted the In-house Counsel Compensation and Career survey on behalf of The Counsel Network and the CCCA from January 14 to February 28, 2020. It is the sixth report of its kind. The first study took place in 2009.

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