Editor's Note: This article is part of WCPO's annual analysis of executive pay. You can watch a summary of this article in 90 seconds in the video player above.
CINCINNATI – Few women are among the highest-paid executives at Greater Cincinnati’s public companies.
Of the 166 top-earning executives listed in the companies’ most recent proxies, only 15 were women. That represents 9 percent.
That’s barely enough women to field a soccer team. They couldn’t even fill up The Racer’s red train at Kings Island. The number is almost small enough that all the women listed among the region’s highest-paid executives could squeeze into one elevator.
“I do have to say I’m surprised,” said Vanessa Freytag, executive director of The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. “Saddened and surprised.”
The Women’s Fund studied the issue in 2007 and found similar results. That study noted there were no women among the region’s public company CEOs. Today there is one – Convergys CEO Andrea Ayers. There were few women among the Tri-State’s top wage-earners back then, and the same holds true now.
“It does look to me like the numbers haven’t really changed much in seven years,” she said. “I think you’d be hard pressed to find any woman who would say that there hasn’t been adequate time” for more progress.
Spending Decades On Corporate Ladder
It only took 39 years for Vicki March to climb to the top of the pay charts at United Community Bancorp. March is a senior vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer at the Lawrenceburg, Ind., bank, the region’s second-smallest public company, with $54 million in market capitalization, which is the total value of its publicly traded stock.
The bank’s 2013 proxy statement to shareholders marked the first time March was disclosed among the bank’s highest-paid executives
“Smaller towns tend to have more males on board in upper positions just because it’s always been that way,” March said. “In fact, that is the answer to a lot of questions I’ve asked: It’s always been that way.”
March started as a teller at age 19 and rose through the ranks after securing a business management degree from the College of Mount St. Joseph in Delhi Township. She was named CFO in 1999 but quips that she’d actually been doing the job for 15 years before she got the title.
“I will be retiring in a few years and hope to make sure my job is taken by a female,” she added.
March is one of five women working as CFOs for Cincinnati-area companies. Her $185,367 in total compensation was the third highest in her company, but well below the region’s average for CFOs. The region’s five female CFOs averaged $815,000 in 2013 compensation, while the 27 men who hold the job averaged $1.5 million.
March is “absolutely” an advocate for gender equity and describes her own company as “pretty gender blind.” To her, it’s an issue of fairness.
“Anybody that possesses the skills and ability to do the job they should get the job and be paid for it,” she said.
Pay Gaps – Even At Highest Levels
A WCPO analysis found women tend to make less than men in similar roles and at comparably sized companies:
• Combined, the 15 women make, on average, about $991,000 less than their male counterparts.
• The larger the corporation, the larger the average compensation gap. For companies with less than $300 million in market capitalization, the gap is about $67,000. But for companies with $10 billion or more in market capitalization, the gap is about $2.2 million
• The gap varies by position. For CFOs, it’s $729,000. For the two women serving as general counsel, the pay gap is $548,000. And Convergys Corp. pays CEO Andrea Ayers $287,000 less than the $3.4 million average for other Tri-State CEOs.
Those gaps puzzle Freytag of The Women’s Fund.
“In my experience dealing with men and women at those levels and what it takes to get there, you have to have all the components,” she said. “Rarely, at least in my eyes, is there a difference in what their history has been or what their skill set is.”
That leads Freytag to wonder, why is there such a difference in pay?
‘Penalized’ For Potential?
Research conducted by Catalyst, a global nonprofit that promotes the advancement of women in business, shows pay disparities happen at key points in career development. It starts with a $4,600 gap between what “high-performing women” earn in their first job and continues with how men and women executives are evaluated, promoted and compensated throughout their careers.
“Men, our research shows, are paid for potential,” said Deborah Soon, senior vice president for strategy and management at Catalyst. “Women, on the other hand, are penalized for it. They must prove their performance before they’re given the opportunity to get ahead.”
Catalyst has conducted studies showing companies with a higher percentage of women in senior management achieved better returns on investment before, during and after the recession. In May, it published a six-nation study that concluded companies with
more inclusion boast better innovation.
And yet Catalyst’s annual surveys on female inclusion in management and corporate boards show companies hit a plateau in recent years. Women held 16.9 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies at the end of last year. That figure that hasn’t changed much in eight years. Women held 8.1 percent of the “top earner slots” within their companies, unchanged from last year.
“We believe there is a little bit of gender fatigue” at work in U.S. companies, as inclusion advocates shift their focus to gay rights and racial diversity, Soon said. “Just so many other things that people have on their minds. We’ve talked about women so long that people say, ‘We took care of that one. We’re moving on to something else.’”
Still, Soon is hopeful that a decade of effort on gender equity has created “champions of women” in the workplace who see pay disparities as simply wrong.
“We’ve done research on male champions,” she said. “It wasn’t the logical argument that made them convert. Numbers get your attention, but commitment and sustainability comes from the heart.”
Reason For Optimism Here
There is some reason for optimism in Cincinnati, if you review the senior management rosters on the web sites of local public companies.
AK Steel, for example, lists no women among its highest-paid employees. But of the 10 executives who are responsible for running the company, two are women.
And Macy’s listed only one woman, Chief Financial Officer Karen Hoguet, among its highest-paid executives. But the retailer has two more women on its executive management committee, or 27 percent of the 11-person group .
In fact, 11 of the region’s public companies have management teams where women represent at least 25 percent, according to WCPO’s analysis.
Batesville-based Hillenbrand Inc. has 17 executives listed as part of the company management team on its website. The executive management team, however, is made up of nine senior vice presidents, and four of them are women, a company spokesman told WCPO.
One of them is Kim Ryan, a senior vice president and president of Batesville Casket Co., Inc., who also is one of the company’s highest-paid executives listed on its 2013 proxy.
Ryan started at Batesville 25 years ago right out of college. She figured she would stay a few years and then go back home to Iowa. But she kept getting opportunities to advance her career with Hillenbrand, so she stayed.
“Clearly, when I came to the company in 1989, the number of women at different levels of the organization would continue to decline as you would naturally move up, but I never felt like I was gated,” she said. “I still remember going to my first logistics national meeting. It was one other woman and I and 100 men.”
Still, Ryan said, she never once felt like the company withheld an opportunity from her because she was a woman. And she never shied away from an opportunity because she was going to be one of a few women in the room.
Being willing to take professional risks has been critical to progressing in her career at Hillenbrand, Ryan said, adding that she urges other young women to take professional risks, too.
“The diversity in the room has been very valuable to Hillenbrand Industries. We don’t sit down and say, ‘We need one of these and one of these and one of these.’ But we’re very good at recognizing the skills and capabilities we need in the room,” she said. “Only after we’ve made that match do we worry about what restrooms they walk into, frankly.”
Dig deeper in the WCPO interactive database of executive pay:
For more stories by Dan Monk, go to www.wcpo.com/monk . Follow him on Twitter @DanMonk9.
For more stories by Lucy May, go to www.wcpo.com/may . Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.