An increasing number of women are taking roles as in-house lawyers across Asia and the Middle East, according to a new study released by In-House Community. The results highlight that many women in the sector feel they can better advance their careers and reach top positions in-house when compared to private practice.

Key findings:

  • Survey of more than 2,700 conducted in Asia and Middle East reveals that women now outrank men in general counsel in-house roles
  • The proportion of women to men holding in-house roles is higher across the majority of Asian locations, while men still dominate the majority of these roles in the Middle East, India and Korea
  • However, in Shenzhen, where technology and new in-house teams converge, men dominate in the general counsel role

Research also shows that women are not receiving the same levels of compensation as their male counterparts in private practice roles. According to the report: Gender Dynamics in China’s Legal System: Comparative Analysis with the United States, at the higher end of the income distribution, female lawyers’ median incomes are between US$3,000 to US$5,000 lower than male lawyers’. This is echoed in markets throughout the world, with female partners earning up to 80% of the compensation earned by the typical male partner in 200 largest firms in the US.

doreen16_128“Hughes-Castell’s own research, based on our own placement data, shows that women general counsel in China are paid on average 15% less than their male counterparts and in the start-up tech industry, the general counsel are predominantly men,” says Doreen Jaeger-Soong, Managing Director, Hughes-Castell Hong Kong. “This is similar to the US, where we have seen that women are under-represented in tech generally, from seed investor stage through to start-up, which has a slew of consequences- fewer women in GC, CEO and Board level roles.”

“The results are shocking that in this day and age, unequal compensation is still an issue,” adds Hanim Hamzah, Regional Managing Partner, ZICO Law Network. “At ZICO Law, where 54% of women are in senior leadership positions, we try to address these problems such as advocating and supporting better work-life integration.”

As a result, many women in the legal profession across the region are turning to in-house roles. According to the survey, 57% of in-house roles in the region are now held by women, an increase of 5% since 2015. In addition, more women are reaching senior positions, with 52% of in-house General Counsel roles being held by females, up 11% since 2015, when men still held the majority of these positions.

“In addition to sharp legal and business acumen, in-house roles also require skills in building bridges and busting silos,” says Valerie Velasco, Head of Legal, APAC, NetApp. “Women are generally naturals in this space.”

The in-house community in Asia is relatively new, with a history of about 25 years, and for the moment at least, women are in the majority in the role of in-house counsel. At this relatively early stage of the profession in the region, in-house lawyers can aspire to top positions, hopeful that family responsibilities and gender are unlikely to be a barrier to advancement based on merit. However, a historical comparison to other ‘greenfield’ industries bears scrutiny.

“Through the 1980s, over 40% of computer science degrees were awarded to women, and computing looked like something of a women’s success story,” says Patrick Dransfield, Director, In-House Community. “However, today’s tech industry is widely accused of misogyny. When one compares the general counsel gender statistics between more established Shanghai (72% female) to new tech kid on the block Shenzhen (45% female), there is evidently no room for complacency.”

“From my own experience, I can certainly attest to private practice offering a rewarding career,” adds Denise Jong, Managing Partner Asia-Pacific at Reed Smith. “However, I recognise that the numbers of women in in-house roles are certainly on the rise, and this is to be welcomed by the profession as a whole. Female general counsel have a position of power: they can demand diverse legal teams and they can create real change in the profession.”

“From my experience, people decide to make the move in-house for a variety of reasons and those reasons generally apply to both men and women,” Corinne Katz, Senior Director – Group Legal Affairs for CLP Holdings. “For women, choosing the right company is key. At CLP there is an active focus on improving gender diversity and management’s priorities include increasing the number of women in leadership positions and ensuring equal pay for work of equal value is maintained in all our businesses. An organisation with the right focus provides a better opportunity for women in all roles, including in-house legal roles.”

Other key findings include:

  • Beijing has the highest proportion of female lawyers serving in-house roles (72.2%), followed by Ho Chi Minh City (72%) and Shanghai (71.8%)
  • Dubai has seen the greatest increase in women holding in-house roles, followed by Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur
  • Meanwhile, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, have all seen large declines in the number of women holding these roles

Download the survey results

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