For Women in Law By Women in Law

Dear LiL: I often find myself hearing that the gender wage gap is a thing of the past. Is this true or am I right in seeing this as wishful thinking? Signed ~ Doubtful

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In May of 2020 the Globe and Mail published an article indicating that female in-house corporate lawyers earn less than men and declared that the gap was not closing. The article titled, “Female in-house corporate lawyers earn less than men and the gap is not closing, study shows” relied on the report authored by The Counsel Network entitled “In-House Counsel Compensation & Career Report 2020”. (Please note, you will have to register to gain access to the report).

Sadly, the findings are not surprising. We hear these types of statistics seemingly weekly, not only in the legal sector, but across industries. We have become, dare we say, desensitized to the data. Personally, we are, quite frankly, exasperated by this ongoing discrepancy and lack of progress. We all agree that something must be done. What that something is, and how we go about doing it, however, have been top of mind for the last two decades and, still, here we are.

The report was the sixth edition, The Counsel Network first published the report in 2009, and is based on a survey conducted to “benchmark compensation and career-related topics for Canada’s in-house counsel community”. The survey was comprised of about 100 questions covering topics from compensation, stock options and benefits to hours of work and work-life balance. The results of the survey tell us we, as women, still have a long way to go to reach equitable compensation. This is true despite the fact that women make up slightly more than 50% of in-house counsel positions and no matter their job title they generally make less than men. The average male base salary in 2020 was said to be $177,000 and the base salary for women was an average of $158,000. Apparently this gap was the same as it was in 2018. This gap remained intact even at the senior level and unfortunately at the GC executive level widened even further from $19,000 to 23,000, a wider gap than seen in 2018.

It is difficult to know the driving factors behind the wage disparity. At first blush one might ask if there were more women working reduced hours. According to the report that is not so. 96% of those surveyed worked full time. One might have thought there would be more work-life balance working in-house but according to those surveyed only 34% were satisfied with the work-life balance while 40% reported to be somewhat satisfied. One factor referenced in the report as an explanation is related to the employment sector. Base salaries are lowest in government, Crown corporations and not for profit organizations. These sectors also employ a higher number of females in comparison to private corporations and publicly-quoted companies. While that provides some explanation it does not provide a complete answer given that women in those three sectors were still paid less than their counterparts.

In considering a way forward we find ourselves reflecting on five strategies that could potentially help close the gap.

1.Corporations should be required to publicly share what their C-suite and professional employees, such as in-house counsel, earn. In my view, transparency drives equity. Knowing what your male counterpart makes next door (and within your organization) is powerful information when you negotiate your compensation.

2. There should be a requirement for female (and minority) representation on executive committees, boards, and other power centers of an organization.

3. There should be corporation-wide recognition of pay equity as a key goal.

4. There should be regular (annual, at a minimum) internal assessments of pay equity within the organization, using both internal and external data.

5. And perhaps most important, those executives who can show that their departments/sectors etc. have effectively narrowed or closed the pay equity gap should be meaningfully rewarded.

In the end it comes down to transparency and communication. We need to ensure we continue to converse about the inequity that exists because if we don’t we become, as we note in our opening statement, desensitized to it and let’s not let that happen.

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