By SARAH SKIDMORE SELL
Female CEOs remain scarce at the biggest publicly traded companies but those who hold the top job receive pay competitive with male peers. Women make up only 5 percent of the CEO ranks at S&P 500 companies. Yet median compensation for a female CEO was valued at $13.5 million for the 2017 fiscal year, versus $11.5 million for their male counterparts, according to an analysis by executive data firm Equilar done for The Associated Press.
Topping the list of highest-paid female CEOs is Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, whose compensation was $25.9 million. Debra Cafaro, CEO of real estate investment trust Ventas came in second at $25.3 million. And Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, wrapped up the top three at $21.9 million. Median pay for female CEOs rose 15.4 percent from the prior year, while for men it increased 8.2 percent. But Nooyi, the top paid female CEO, didn’t even crack the top 10 list overall. She’s number 18.
The analysis by Equilar looked at pay trends for 339 CEOs who have been in their position for at least two full years at S&P 500 companies that filed proxy statements between January 1 and April 30. Some companies with highly paid CEOs do not fit these criteria, such as Oracle. Of the companies in the analysis, only 17 were women. Looking at the full S&P 500, there were 27 female CEOs as of the end of 2017, up from 24 at the end of 2016. “The inability to push seasoned females up the ranks is tragic in my mind,” said Josh Crist, managing director at executive search firm Crist Kolder Associates.
The situation could get even more attention after the recent departures of female CEOs from Campbell Soup and Mattel. Both were replaced by men. A Pew Research Center study found that women held only about 10 percent of top executive positions at publicly traded companies in the much larger Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500. Of that group, the women tended to be in finance or legal positions that research shows are less likely to lead to the CEO office. There is a bright spot, though: female representation on boards is improving, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit that works with companies to build a diverse workforce. And that, over time, leads to more women in executive leadership positions.
Companies are seeking diversity, both in gender and ethnicity, for their leadership, Crist said. But getting diverse talent at the top takes time because of the change needed throughout the organization. Part of the problem is that big companies can be slow-moving, said Drew Silver, a researcher at Pew. The female CEOs in charge now have been in their careers for 20 or 30 years, so their rise reflects the corporate culture of the 1980s. He worries real change will take years. Brande Stellings, senior vice president of advisory services at Catalyst disagrees. She said companies that make the decision to change have been able to do so quickly.
“The differentiator is not generation or time, but it’s how much does it matter to the leader or organization,” she said. “When someone asks to make the business case for diversity, that case is out of the gate. They are more into the how.”