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The Growing Gender Pay Gap for Top GCs


December 2, 2016

In connection with the recent report, General Counsel Pay Trends 2016, featuring commentary from BarkerGilmore, Equilar conducted additional research on the breakdown of females serving in the highest legal positions at public companies.

Equilar recently detailed the highest-paid legal professionals at public companies, finding that among the top 20 highest-paid GCs, four are women, accounting for exactly 20%. This is slightly higher than the overall prevalence of females serving in the top legal position at public companies. According to Equilar data, 18.5% of GCs at all public companies were women in 2015—a total of 211 out of the 1,142 executives named as one of the five highest-paid employees at their respective companies. That figure is the same—18.5%—for the S&P 500 as well, as females accounted for 30 of the 162 proxy-disclosed general counsel positions in 2015.

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On the highest-paid GCs list, there was only one woman ranking in the top 10—Laureen Seeger at American Express Company, who was awarded $7.5 million in 2015. Across the public sector, males earned a median $1.2 million, up from $884,048 in 2011—an increase of 33.7%. Meanwhile, female GCs saw a 27.9% gain in median total compensation during that time frame, increasing from $854,977 to about $1.1 million. Though growth rates for both males and females were high, the pay gap increased in the last five years. In 2015, there was an $88,390 difference at the median between males and females, up from a $29,071 difference in 2011.

In the S&P 500, there is an even more stark contrast. The median overall gap between males and females was $302,788 in 2015, increasing from $38,998 at the median in 2011. In that time frame, median total compensation for males reported in S&P 500 proxies increased 19% to $2.5 million, compared to a 6.7% gain to $2.2 million for females.

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There’s often more than meets the eye than can be seen in broad summary statistics. Since the number of females is so much lower, fewer data points mean a higher likelihood to influence greater movement year over year if individuals move in and out of the sample set.

That said, the five-year trend lines show consistent growth in the number of females taking on GC roles, which theoretically could increase overall pay levels, as new hires often receive large equity grants in their first year, potentially bolstering median pay. While median pay levels have increased steadily for both males and females, they have done so at a more rapid pace for men. The explanation why is not clear from the data since each of these cases are individual unto themselves, but the fact remains that there is a growing gender pay gap at the GC level. Professionals who set compensation levels for these roles owe it to themselves to investigate further.


For more information or additional statistics from this study, please contact researchservices@equilar.com.

For more information on Equilar research and data analysis, please contact Dan Marcec, Director of Content & Communications at dmarcec@equilar.com.

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