By Dow Jones NewswiresPublished May 31, 2017
In an unusual reversal of the gender pay gap, female chief executives at some of the largest U.S. companies repeatedly outearn their male counterparts. Last year, 21 female CEOs received a median compensation package of $13.8 million, compared with the $11.6 million median for 382 male chiefs, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of S&P 500 leaders who held the job a full year.
Women in the corner office at the biggest American firms made more money than men in six of the past seven years, though the gap has narrowed since 2014. The trend reflects strong performances by S&P 500 businesses run by women — and the fact that superstar women tend to land such top jobs, according to executive-pay and leadership experts.
“Boards don’t want to shortchange their female CEO in today’s environment, when pay equality is such an issue,” said Robin Ferracone, head of Farient Advisors LLC, which advises board compensation committees. So, they “err on the side of being generous.”
The total number of women running S&P 500 companies held steady from the previous year’s analysis at 28, including seven women who retired or held the job less than a year, and remains at roughly 5% of the total. But for the first time in The Journal study’s 28-year history, three of the 10 highest paid executives in the overall sample are women.
They are Meg Whitman at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., Virginia “Ginni” Rometty at International Business Machines Corp. and Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo Inc.
Most of the 21 female leaders advanced into their roles within a company rather than getting recruited. “These women must be exceptional” because so few reach the corner office, said Heidi Hartman, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
S&P 500 businesses now run by women generated a median total shareholder return of 18.4% in 2016, compared with 15.7% for those commanded by men. Returns at female-led firms outperformed male-run companies in three of the previous five years. Total shareholder return measures changes in a company’s stock price and dividend payments.
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