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The executive suite has long been dominated by white males.

Jennifer Dunkerley

Unleash Your PotentialA new survey examines the representation of women in CEO roles in the United States and their 2020 compensation packages

  • Of the 342 CEOs in the AP’s and Equilar’s compensation survey, only 16 were women.
  • Most of the female CEOs in the survey saw a raise in compensation: 81% of them, versus 60% of all male CEOs in the survey.
  • But the median pay saw a drop of 1.9% from the year before, while male CEO packages were up 5.2% YoY.

Women CEO’s of the biggest US companies saw their pay increase last year, even as the pandemic hammered the economy and many of their businesses. However the number in those key roles for equality fell 20% which means the average median pay has fallen 2%.

The average pay for female chief executives dropped in 2020, which is a depressing sign for those who bang the drum for diversity and equality in the workplace.

Already a dwindling group, several high-profile women such as as CEOs like IBM’s Virginia Rometty left key roles last year, which resulted in changes in pay for only a few skew the overall figures. This highlights just how poor diversity and equality really is in Corporate America’s boardroom.

Of the 342 CEOs in the AP’s and Equilar’s compensation survey of S&P 500 companies, only 16 were women. That’s a 20% drop down from 20 a year earlier.

The survey includes only CEOs who have served at least two full financial years at their companies.

However. Most of the female CEOs in the survey saw a raise in compensation: 81% of them (13 of 16), versus 60% of all male CEOs in the survey. However Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good saw a nearly 3% decline in compensation to $14.3 million. She’s right in the middle of the pay scale among the survey’s women CEOs, so that helped set the median pay for them last year at $13.6 million. Median means half made more than that level, and half made less.


That level marks a 1.9% drop from the median that those same female CEOs earned a year a before. And it compares with a median of $12.6 million for all male CEOs in this year’s survey, which is 5.2% higher than the median for them from a year earlier. The overall median for the survey was $12.7 million.

Lisa Su, CEO of chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices, topped the list with a compensation package worth $27.1 million. That included a base salary of just over $1 million, a cash bonus worth $2.5 million and stock and option awards worth nearly $23.5 million. AMD’s stock nearly doubled in 2020 after being the top-performing stock in the S&P 500 the prior two years.

A year ago, Su was the highest paid CEO in the Equilar analysis, man or woman, with a pay package worth $58.5 million, largely due to stock grants worth $53.2 million.

But women still have a way to go. Lorraine Hariton, President & CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit that aims to advance women in the workplace said: “But the reasons are we are still dealing with cultures embedded with unconscious bias and building the pipeline of women CEOs takes time.”

General Motors CEO Mary Bara ranked second among women with a compensation package worth $23.2 million. And Northrop Grumman’s CEO Kathy Warden was third with pay valued at $19.7 million.

Overall, many CEOs took a cut in salary last year because of the pandemic, but got more in stock awards and other compensation. Pay for female CEOs largely followed a similar pattern but because of the small sample size it is difficult to draw conclusions as any one minor adjustment can skew the results.

More women are appearing in top management, though. JPMorgan Chase recently placed two women in roles where they could potentially succeed CEO Jamie Dimon. And all research data shows that having a more diverse company leads to stronger business success.

Jane Stevenson, vice chair at organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry said: “It’s no longer a ‘Should more women be in business?’ More diverse pipelines produce better outcomes. As more businesses prove it can be done over time, then positive peer pressure kicks in.”

Don Lowman, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, expects the evolution will continue as well as new leadership with different attitudes and perspectives help shape companies moving forward. Lowman and Stevenson said this is true not just for women but for leaders of different races as well. The executive suite has long been dominated by white males.

“This is a law of supply and demand,” Stevenson said. “We have the demand side cultivated (in the boardroom), but now we need the supply side to be cultivated.”

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