Although female general counsel have a base salary that is, on average, 6.3 percent lower than their male counterparts, it is in their bonuses that the real disparity comes to light. Male general counsel bonuses were 31 percent higher than those of their female counterparts, according to a 2017 survey on in-house compensation.
The way bonuses are evaluated and distributed often stacks the deck against women. Women tend to be more comfortable advocating for others than for themselves. Female general counsel may also face bias and discrimination based on preconceived opinions about their work-life balance. Some of the responsibility for fixing the problem will inevitably fall on female general counsel. The best tactic is leveraging objective data and metrics to drive performance improvement of the legal function. General counsel should seize any opportunity to demonstrate and increase the value of the legal department and its impact on the bottom line.
Companies committed to diversity of all types should step back and examine the way bonuses are meted out. More likely than not, even companies that have taken outward strides towards diversity in hiring and educating employees on operating in a diverse workplace have antiquated bonus structures that keep the same people at the very top. Sooner or later, businesses that drag their feet on the bonus issue will see excellent female general counsel leave for other, more equitable opportunities. Ultimately, it’s up to the CEO to foster a fair environment and structure a bonus system that measures value regardless of gender.