Pay for women CEOs rose 26% last year. But we’re still far from gender equity in top corporate roles

May 26, 2022, 9:38 PM UTC

Compensation for top female CEOs soared last year, providing a sign of progress toward more gender parity in corporate leadership. 

Women CEOs of S&P 500 companies were paid a median of $15.8 million in 2021, a 26.4% increase from the previous year, according to an annual CEO compensation report released Thursday by Equilar, a provider of corporate leadership data, and the Associated Press. 

The top-paid female CEO on the list was Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, who made $29.5 million in 2021. General Motors’ Mary Barra was No. 2 at $29.1 million, and General Dynamics’ Phebe Novakovic followed at $23.6 million.

Male CEOs of S&P companies, in contrast, made slightly less than their female counterparts—a median of $14.4 million, or 17.7% more than the prior year. 

The report is based on pay packages of 340 executives of S&P 500 companies. Of those executives, only 18 were women, an increase of two since last year’s report.

Lorraine Hariton, CEO of global nonprofit Catalyst, which advocates for better inclusion of women in the workplace, says the greater pay for women CEOs is an encouraging sign that the gender gap in C-suites is narrowing. 

“This increase in salaries of women CEOs in 2021 is a sign of intentionality and accountability at the board level to ensure pay equality,” she told Fortune. “However, we still have a long way to go to reach pay equity across organizations.”

Hariton said that companies are now being more visible in their commitments to advance women in the workplace and to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion goals overall. She added that the extra visibility includes regularly checking up on those goals. “Some companies have committed to pay equity audits to measure and ensure equal pay for equal work in their organizations,” Hariton said.

In another sign of change, a record number of women led companies on this year’s Fortune 500, which ranks the top U.S. companies by revenue. There were 44 women CEOs of companies on the list, three more than in the previous year.

Yet women still filled only a fraction of those jobs, accounting for just 8.8% of the CEO positions. And women of color, specifically, remain largely locked out of the country’s top leadership positions. 

There were just two Black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies this year: Walgreens Boots Alliance CEO Roz Brewer and TIAA CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett.

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