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Influential Female CLOs Weigh in on the Industry Gender Gap


or chief legal officers, the differences between the genders are quantifiable. According to the ACC Chief Legal Officers 2015 Survey, male CLOs were more likely than female CLOs to report total compensation packages of US$600,000 or more (21 percent versus 14 percent). And women were seven percentage points more likely than men to report compensation packages of less than $200,000 (39 percent versus 33 percent). 

Higher compensation may influence overall career satisfaction. This analysis alone seems lacking considering the many inputs that determine satisfaction, including workplace flexibility and opportunities for advancement — two things that should not be mutually exclusive. Jennifer Venable, general counsel at Capital Broadcast Company in Raleigh, North Carolina, shared her perspective on how career trajectory can be shaped by gender: 

It's more likely that women will lean back as opposed to lean in when they have small children. They don't take on some of the additional roles that may get them recognized for promotion. That balancing of wanting to have time to be mother, wife, friend or daughter can often slow down a career. It's really hard to make that time back up.

Anny Tubbs, chief business integrity officer for Unilever (Belgium) since January, is fortunate to work for a company where pay disparities are not an issue. "We regularly monitor salaries to ensure there is no gap between male and female pay so any anomalies spotted are quickly corrected," she says. Certainly she recognizes that the issue exists. Part of the problem, as noted by Venable, is that women who attempt to carve out space in the 24/7 work–week in order to raise families are not always considered for important projects and promotions. In-house legal teams like the one at Unilever are attempting to show a way out of this cycle. Tubbs says: 

The fact that gender pay disparities (and indeed imbalances in promotion opportunities) in the legal field remain widespread needs to be tackled on multiple fronts — both institutionally as well as by helping women be more assertive in demanding equal treatment.

Finding the time

Seventy percent of female in-house counsel surveyed in 2014 for the ACC Global Work-Life Balance Report said being a caregiver had a negative impact on their career advancement. Women spend an average of 41 hours every week on caregiving and an average of 47 hours in the office. Decreasing hours is viewed as a deterrent to career mobility leading many in-house counsel in the gray when it comes to figuring out how to do it all while growing in the job. Venable, who spent many years working in the software industry and has been in her current role for two years, learned to navigate the complexities of balancing a demanding career with a young family by prioritizing her time. She explains:

I try to strike a balance in proactive and reactive work. If I can't be proactive about what I want to get done and fix that on my calendar, no one is going to do it for me and create that space for me. And I cannot get away from the reactive stuff. I can delegate some of it. It can be lower on my priority list. But there's always going to be fire drills.

As Venable progressed in her career and started to raise a family, she also had to figure out what type of work environment best suited her shifting needs and interests. "Prioritizing isn't just about what kind of work is going to get done today but also what kind of parent I'm going to be today. If all my energy can't go toward work, then what kind of work is going to be most meaningful or fun?" she says. She continues this line of inquiry by reflecting on her previous job and the communication skills she honed:

One of the software companies where I worked was very fast growing. I was one of the first lawyers. As it grew, we added people, including people above me. At the time I had two young children so the demands of a young family changed my perspective. Before I had children, I would stay until 7 pm. I was the go-to person to get things done. Once I had children, I had to work more efficiently during the day. I had to communicate my availability — I leave at 5:15 pm, or I can't look at this until after 8 pm once my children are asleep — and getting comfortable and confident in saying these things was a growing pain.

Tubbs, who has worked for Unilever since 2008 and served as the first general counsel, competition, also had to deal with a similar shift from being a person who was always available for work to having to reconcile professional expectations and parental responsibilities. 

You have to be flexible and creative, especially when both parents work. Ultimately becoming a parent kept me grounded and prompted me to explore alternatives to an ill-adapted linear career path. This was tough at times but turned out to be extremely liberating. It's encouraging to see attitudes changing in ways that benefit next generations. Working with Nordics when our kids were young was a blessing. My Norwegian boss actually promoted me while I was on maternity leave!

Armed with skills, primed for growth 

Both Venable and Tubbs stress the importance of ongoing personal and professional development for those primed to become leaders. According to the CLO survey, women were slightly more likely than men to report the desire to develop executive presence in department employees (55 percent versus 50 percent), and men were slightly less likely than women to report having identified at least one potential internal candidate to succeed them should they leave their current role (43 percent versus 46 percent). 

Unilever leverages its female talent and aims to bring more women into general management by working with individuals on career development, which is an integral part of succession planning. Female representation at the executive level has doubled over the last five years and is now 43 percent. Companies with more gender parity tend to perform better — women bring valuable skills and insight. Tubbs notes:

It's encouraging to see reputable studies showing that women fare well in comparative analyses of key competencies top leaders exemplify. Many of us contribute to some of the most successful and progressive organizations in the world — be they public or private, governmental or commercial, local or international.

As more and more women command top positions, avenues for sharing their channels of access are opening and this is changing attitudes and workplace cultures, Tubbs observes: 

There is more focus on gender balance today. We see male and female leaders who are very open about these issues and mindful of providing opportunities for women as well as men. There are more inspiring female role models, and fewer derogatory comments about professional women — all of which makes our jobs more rewarding. Finally younger women tend not to self-censor as much as older generations. They have a realistic mindset but express and fulfill their ambitions with less social baggage than their predecessors.

Passing the baton

The generational diversity in the workplace provides great opportunities for mentoring women. Both Venable and Tubbs acknowledge the joys of forming fellowships with other professionals, and the important role mentors have played in their growth. For Venable, mentoring is mostly informal. "There are four us that get together for lunch periodically. It's like group mentoring. To be able to poll different people I respect and ask 'Have you ever had this situation before?' and see what might work for me is just crucial," she says. 

Tubbs names a few mentors in her life, including Sylvia Denman CBE, the only lawyer she knew when starting to think about next steps after university. "Sylvia was originally from Barbados, a busy and highly respected lawyer (now retired) who authored a report on institutional racism in the United Kingdom, yet still found time to give me very sound advice over the years," she says. Tubbs continues:

After I started in-house, I had the pleasure of working closely with Anne Riley from Shell on International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) projects. Anne is a seasoned and more senior expert in-house counsel who works tirelessly and inclusively to foster constructive dialogue among stakeholders on key issues such as antitrust compliance.

Venable and Tubbs serve as mentors to the next generation of leaders. Venable offers some candid advice: "Take off the 'sent from my iPhone' signature. You never want people to know where you are; you just want people to know that you're responsive." Indeed, technology and the ability to work remotely has been important for Venable: "It allows me to go to a function at my child's school and still check email and communicate an expectation about my availability. I call it work-life integration. I don't mind if work intrudes on my life as long as life can intrude on work."

About the Author

Laurie Adamson is a freelance contributor to the Association of Corporate Counsel.

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