GC Roles at Large Banks Went Mostly to Women in 2017

The ranks of women general counsel in the Fortune 500 continued to grow in 2017, particularly in the financial services industry, though it remains more male-dominated than other sectors.

Of the 86 financial services companies in the Fortune 500, 11 hired new general counsel in 2017. Six of those were women, according to Cynthia Dow, head of the legal officers practice at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates.

“It moved the needle quite significantly,” Dow told Big Law Business. She’s been recording data on new GC appointments since 2011.

The six women who took over financial services legal departments in 2017 are Lucy Fato of AIG, Karen Wilson Thissen of Ameriprise Financial, Carey S. Roberts of Assurant, Jelena McWilliams of Fifth Third Bancorp, Laura O’Hara of M&T Bank Corp., and Caroline Tsai of of Western Union.

Despite the significant bump in 2017, women still lag behind in Fortune 500 financial services GC roles, making up only 22 percent, according to Dow.

Across the Fortune 500, women remain underrepresented as GCs. But they have seen significant gains in the past few years, as Big Law Business reported last summer.

In 2017, 12 percent of the Fortune 500 general counsel roles turned over, and 38 percent of the new appointees were women. This marks an increase from 2016, when 35 percent of the new GC jobs went to women.

In total, the number of women in Fortune 500 GC positions has increased to 124. Women now making up 25% of current Fortune 500 GCs, according to Dow.

“One of the huge appointments was Kate Adams being appointed to be general counsel of Apple,” said Dow. “Of the Fortune 100 appointments, there were 7 appointments and three out of the seven were women.” Katherine Adams, formerly senior vice president and general counsel of Honeywell, joined Apple in October. Suzette Long was appointed general counsel of Caterpillar in August and Lucy Fato joined AIG in October.

Dow attributes the increases to a “concerted effort” among large corporations to find and promote women into top lawyer roles.

“It feels like it’s been a priority,” she said. “It’s not been just by chance.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com.

To contact the editor on this story: Casey Sullivan at csullivan@bloomberglaw.com and Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com.