Gender pay gap persists even at executive level, new study finds

Women in the C-suite are not compensated the same as men.

February 17, 2021, 5:34 PM

Even women who climb their way to corporate America's highest ranks are paid less than their male counterparts, new research confirms.

The highest-paid senior executive women earned 84.6 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2019, according to a study of corporate disclosures released Wednesday by Morningstar Inc., a financial services research firm.

This is an incremental increase compared to 2015, when that figure was 81.5 cents for every dollar earned by male counterparts, the study noted.

In addition to being paid less, women also remain vastly underrepresented in the upper C-suite, where they were outnumbered 7 to 1 in 2019, according to the study. Among CEO positions, women are outnumbered 17 to 1.

PHOTO: A woman executive works in an office.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

Jackie Cook, the study's author and the director of investment stewardship research at Morningstar, told ABC News that "the upper C-suite" refers to "these named executive officers whose pay is disclosed in companies' proxy materials."

The study looked at senior executive pay data from Morningstar's database that was compiled from compensation disclosures made annually in corporate proxy materials. In total, the study looked at five years of these disclosures (pay data from 2015 to 2019) from 2,384 companies on the Russell 3000 index. More than half of companies looked at in the study did not have a single woman executive officer.

"What we're seeing at the top is really the tip of the iceberg," Cook told ABC News. "There's two gaps here, one is the pay gap and one is the representation gap, and the representation gap, according to other research, gets more and more pronounced the further up the corporate ladder we go."

Meanwhile, Cook said that the pay gap for women at lower levels of their careers is likely higher than the gap within the C-suite, where there is much more visibility.

Women who work full time in the U.S. are typically paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts, according to an October 2020 fact sheet released by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).

The NWLC said this gap translates into $10,157 less per year in median earnings -- and the gender pay gap widens significantly for women of color.

Black women working full time typically make 63 cents for every dollar paid to their white, male counterparts. For Latinas, that figure drops to 55 cents.

"It has been incrementally improving, but it's taking a long time," Cook said of the gender pay gap.

Cook's study called for more public disclosures on gender pay data, saying the reasons for this are two-fold.

"One is investors need to know," Cook said. "These gaps do investors no good. There's plenty of evidence that companies that are able to close these gaps do better. They're a less risky investment."

In addition, Cook quoted the business adage, "what gets measured gets managed."

"Disclosing itself can become a catalyst for change within an organization," she said. "And the only way to fully understand this is to measure it properly."