Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that the average American woman makes 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that gap is tenacious, affecting women even as they climb to the very top of the corporate ranks: Women account for only 17 of the 200 CEOs in Bloomberg’s Pay Index, which ranks the highest-paid executives.
There does, however, appear to be an exception.
According to professional services firm Thelander Consulting’s 2016 Private Company Compensation Report—which gathered data on 978 private companies—median base pay for male and female biotech CEOs was identical in 2016 (155 men and 19 women were included in the analysis, says Jody Thelander, the company’s president and CEO).
Thelander looked at CEOs in four sectors: Biotech, clean tech, medical devices and other tech. Overall, they found an average CEO pay gap of $25,000 between men and women. The largest wage differential was among medical device CEOs, where the male chiefs out-earn their female counterparts by an average $34,500. Biotech was the only industry where the researchers did not find a gender gap.
What differentiates biotech from the rest of Silicon Valley? “It is almost impossible to be a biotech CEO unless you have advanced education,” says Thelander. “In biotech, [men and women] have the same training, the same exposure…so they start to get to a same level of skill,” she says. “Education is the great equalizer.”
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Yet while she may be on to something, a look at the biotech CEOs backgrounds reveals an interesting trend: Women in the industry are actually more educated than men. According to industry database PitchBook, which Thelander worked with on the study, 88.8% of female CEOs in biotech have a master’s degree or higher, compared to 84.7% of men, while 51% of female biotech CEOs hold a PhD degree or higher, compared to 36% of men. So, while education may play a role in closing the CEO pay gap, it appears that in order to be equal, women must actually go above and beyond.