A recent survey released by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) says more women than ever served as GCs in the Fortune 500 in 2011. Women now hold 21 percent of the top legal positions in Fortune 500 companies—that’s 108 women GCs and CLOs.

The Survey of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 Women and Minority General Counsel  revealed some other interesting stats about women in top legal department positions:

  • The number of women general counsel has accelerated in recent years, and 23 have been added since 2009.
  • About 16 percent of the 2011 top legal officers identified themselves as minorities, the most diverse in the survey’s history. They included 90 whites/Caucasians, 11 African Americans, four Hispanics, two Asian/Pacific Islanders and one of Middle Eastern origin.
  • Although women GCs are based at Fortune 500 companies across the country, only six states comprise 50 percent of them. They include California with 12 companies, New York with 11, Texas with 10, Illinois with eight, New Jersey with seven and Virginia with seven.
  • Among Fortune 1000 companies (those ranked 501 to 1000 in revenue), there were 78 women general counsel, down by four since 2011. (According to the report, the cause of this was six companies leaving the Fortune 1000 to join the Fortune 500.) The number of general counsel women of color at these companies remained steady at five.

“The representation of women general counsel at Fortune 500 companies has grown steadily since MCCA began tracking this information in 1999,” Joseph K. West, MCCA President and CEO, said in the press release. “We see this trend continuing as more companies recognize the outstanding legal and leadership skills of these professional women.”

The MCCA report is good news for Project 5/165, InsideCounsel’s joint effort with DLA Piper Partner Stasia Kelly, a former Fortune 500 GC, to reach the day when one-third—or 165—of Fortune 500 general counsel are women. 

“Women have the numbers; now is the time for action,” Kelly said in a recent InsideCounsel column. “The conditions are ripe, if not immensely favorable, for women to help other women. Think about the current life spans for GCs and CEOs—on average, between five and seven years. That translates into movement and fluidity—and opportunities galore for women to mobilize, in terms of those who have already arrived helping those who are still on the way up.” 

MCCA’s full survey will appear in the September/October issue of Diversity & the Bar, the organization’s bi-monthly publication.