Breakthrough: More women running banks’ legal departments
The American Banker article, “Breakthrough: More women running banks’ legal departments," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Cynthia Dow about the rising number of women General Counsels in financial services. The article is excerpted below.
The numbers suggest he’s onto something, too. According to the search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, women accounted for 16% of all general counsel appointments at Fortune 500 financial services firms between 1992 and 2012.
Over the last five years, women have made up 27% of those appointments. In 2017 alone, six of 11 appointments, or 55%, in the financial services sector were women. Taken altogether, women now occupy 22% of general counsel positions at financial services firms in the Fortune 500, a little less than the 26% across all Fortune 500 firms.
Lawyers and legal recruiters attribute the rise of women to general counsel positions to more than simply an increasing emphasis on diversity in hiring.
It starts with the numbers. In 2016, women surpassed men as the majority of law students for the first time ever, making up 51.3% of all law students enrolled in the United States.
“The supply of female lawyers is quite robust, but now you also have a supply of 15- to 20-year female lawyers who have real leadership skills, gravitas and experience, and they are all ready for the role now,” said Cynthia Dow, who leads the legal officers’ practice at Russell Reynolds. “When you’re hiring a general counsel, you can have a slate that is really gender diverse.”
The way companies have hired general counsels has also changed. Citing an analysis Russell Reynolds conducted of hiring trends at Fortune 500 companies, Dow said that companies across a range of industries are increasingly hiring external candidates from in-house positions at other corporations, as opposed to recruiting them from law firms.
Dow said she thinks that’s because the general counsel role has become more complex and more important in a tighter regulatory environment, so companies seeking a new general counsel may be more inclined to consider candidates who have previous in-house legal experience.
That matters for women’s advancement in the field because women have been particularly successful in moving up to general counsel positions from in-house legal departments, either at the hiring company or from another organization. It also matters because law firms are often still male-dominated.
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