Women CEOs take a pay cut

CEO pay, as a whole, is on the rise. But for the female CEOs of high-revenue companies, 2023 brought a "significant" drop in compensation, according to an April 18 report from Equilar. 

The report — published to Harvard Law School's Forum on Corporate Governance — analyzed proxy statements submitted by 163 Equilar 500 companies through March 15. Nearly 8% of the CEOs included in the data set were women. Joyce Chen, associate editor at Equilar, and Courtney Yu, its director of research, provided commentary on early trends gleaned from the proxy statements. 

Overall, Equilar 500 CEO pay increased 11.3% from 2022 to 2023, with median pay reaching $15.7 million (up from $12 million in 2020). Executive pay dipped slightly in 2020, but has been on the rise ever since; boards may still be rewarding CEOs for their leadership and performance during COVID-19, according to Ms. Chen and Ms. Yu. 

However, when pay was broken down by gender, female CEOs saw their compensation decrease 26.1% between 2022 and 2023 — from $15.7 million to $11.6 million. Their male counterparts saw their compensation increase 17.3% during this time period, from $13.9 million to $16.3 million. 

The proxy statements also showed a 9.3% decrease in compensation among median employees, who tend to be middle managers, professionals and skilled workers. This group is subject to salary reductions or limited bonus payouts "as companies adjust their cost structures or prioritize profitability amidst economic uncertainties," the authors wrote. They noted that it can be challenging to compare median employee pay growth to CEO pay growth, as stock awards are the largest component of CEO pay, and their value is not realized until a future date. 

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