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Female executives only control 1% of shares at America’s biggest companies—and sometimes less, depending on the day

June 7, 2022, 5:36 PM UTC

While women are slowly filling the ranks of America’s largest companies, their presence doesn’t mean that big business is anywhere near achieving gender parity—especially when it comes to pay.

Women own only about 1% of total shares at S&P 500 companies even though they account for nearly 25% of total top executives, according to new data from ExecuShe, a gender data company based in Sweden.

“But depending on share price, that can also be below 1%,” says Andreas Hoepner, the company’s scientific adviser and professor of operational risk, banking, and finance at University College Dublin.

ExecuShe gathered its data from three sources: U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, annual reports, and company websites. Wherever a company displayed an employee as a top executive to investors, ExecuShe counted the person in its report, Hoepner says.

The company’s report comes at a time when women CEOs of S&P 500 companies are paradoxically seeing massive increases in compensation. Last year, those executives were paid a median of $15.8 million—a 26.4% increase from 2020, according to an annual CEO compensation report released last month by corporate leadership data provider Equilar.

If pay packages for CEOs are increasing, why do female executives not own more than 1% total equity in S&P 500 companies? Hoepner says it’s because most women executives aren’t CEOs, and the positions they do hold, like chief HR officer, pay less on average. 

“The discrepancy between just being an executive and being CEO is huge,” Hoepner says.

Another factor pushing down the representation of women shareholders is the presence of S&P companies still run by their founders—none of whom, Hoepner says, are female. Among those CEOs skewing the results is Elon Musk, head of Tesla. “But even if you exclude founders, CEOs, and CFOs, the ratio still doesn’t get much better,” he says. 

Some industries fared better than others in terms of gender diversity. Household and personal products and pharmaceuticals showed the highest levels of equity owned by women executives, while energy and semiconductors showed the lowest.

In 2021, the top-paid female CEO of a S&P 500 company was Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, who made $29.5 million in 2021. In contrast, Expedia’s Peter Kern, the highest paid CEO in 2021, made nearly $300 million.

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