The image of the corporate chief executive with the huge compensation package is usually that of an alpha male in a pin stripe suit. You might want to change that mental image to one of an alpha female.
Bloomberg News reports that several women chief executives have entered the rarefied realm of stratospherically high pay. Not only have they matched their male counterparts, they've surpassed them.
Boosted by a $47.2 million package for Carol Bartz of Yahoo! Inc. and $26.3 million for Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods Inc., compensation for woman CEOs at the biggest U.S. companies is booming.
Sixteen women heading companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index averaged earnings of $14.2 million in their latest fiscal years, 43 percent more than the male average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News from proxy filings. The women who were also CEOs in 2008 got a 19 percent raise in 2009 -- while the men took a 5 percent cut.
"When you see numbers like this, one can truly say that the glass ceiling in corporate America has been shattered," said Frank Glassner, CEO of San Francisco-based Veritas Executive Compensation Consultants LLC. "I don't remember seeing women ever getting paid more than men."
Graef Crystal, a pay expert who analyzed the data for Bloomberg News, said that "compensation committees are saying we don't want to have any trouble" over underpaying women, "so if we err, let's err on the side of giving them too much."
Darwinian competition is also playing a role, said Sheila Wellington, a professor of management and organizations at New York University who studies women business leaders.
"These are the strongest, fittest and toughest who survive," according to Wellington, who said she was offered half the salary of male peers for her first job at a mental health facility in 1968. "They've had to negotiate all the way up the ladder."
Using survival of the fittest to explain their success seems fairly retro. It doesn't account for factors like the importance of mentors. Or timing. Or luck. Or a supportive family.
It's important not to lose sight of the fact, however, that even as a few women at the top of the corporate food chain bolt past similarly situated males in terms of compensation, the situation for many women in the work force is substantially different. They still earn less, sometimes significantly so, for equal work.
A snippet from the National Committee on Pay Equity web site:
Latest Census statistics show that the gap between men's and women's earnings widened slightly between 2007 and 2008, from 77.8 (generally rounded to 78 percent) to 77 percent. Based on the median earnings of full-time, year-round workers, women's earnings were $35,745 and men's earnings were $46,367. Median earnings for most women of color are even lower. In 2008, the earnings for African American women were $31,489, 67.9 percent of men's earnings (a drop from 68.7 percent in 2007), and Latinas' earnings were $26,846, 58 percent of men's earnings (a drop from 59 percent in 2007). Asian American women's earnings in 2008 were $42,215 -- 91 percent of men's earnings, an increase from 89.5 percent in 2007. The National Committee on Pay Equity's The Wage Gap Over Time table shows how little the wage gap has changed in this century. (See also the fact sheet from the Institute for Women's Policy Research: The Gender Wage Gap 2008.)