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More Women Than Ever Before in General Counsel Role at Fortune 500 Cos.

Alongside improvements to the candidate pool, the increased focus on diversity and inclusion means we are set to see a continuation of the trend of women being hired into the top legal job.


Corporate Counsel | July 25, 2018


Corporate Counsel published a bylined article, “More Women Than Ever Before in General Counsel Role at Fortune 500 Cos.,” authored by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Cynthia Dow. She looks at the trend of more women taking on the General Counsel role at Fortune 500 companies. The article is excerpted below.

For several years, Russell Reynolds Associates has been collecting and examining data relating to prior experience and path taken for Fortune 500 general counsels, with a particular focus on women and their representation at the top of the legal profession.

The number of female general counsels in the Fortune 500 continues to grow, with women now holding the top legal job in 28 percent of companies, up from 26 percent last year. This is particularly poignant against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, with workplace diversity issues taking center stage and receiving more attention than ever before. Typically, underrepresentation of women is never more apparent than at the very top. Women now hold just over a quarter of general counsel positions among the Fortune 500, but when viewed together with other C-suite roles (5 percent of CEOs and 13 percent of CFOs are women), we realize that the underrepresentation of women in the top legal position is part and parcel of a broader issue.

It is increasingly a source of frustration to companies, boards and shareholders that the percentage of women holding C-suite roles remains intractably low. Meanwhile, it is well accepted that having diverse perspectives, experiences and leadership styles—which women often bring to a team—strengthens that team’s ability to problem-solve and create high-performance organizations.

With that being said, the rise in female general counsel appointments is promising, and the upward trend paints an optimistic picture for the years to come. In 2013, just 28 percent of Fortune 500 companies with open general counsel positions filled them with female candidates. In 2017, that figure was 38 percent, and for 2018 to date, it looks similarly promising so far at 36 percent (nine out of 25 new hires so far this year)—a significant increase over the last five years.

The proportion of women promoted internally into the top legal spot has remained relatively consistent when comparing the years since (and including) 2015 with years previous. Arguably, one of the best ways of improving diversity at the top of organizations is to focus on the leadership pipeline. As organizations increasingly think about and prioritize succession planning, the proportion of women promoted internally will likely increase.

Comparatively, the external picture is more positive. The proportion of women hired externally has nearly doubled in recent years. Now, more women are being hired into the GC role from outside than are being promoted internally.

To read the full article, click here.

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More Women Than Ever Before in General Counsel Role at Fortune 500 Cos.