Gender-Based Analysis Report

S&P 500 Companies. Pay and Composition of Senior Leadership

Gender pay equity proposals have become a focus for several institutional investors (Arjun Capital and Trillium Asset Management, in particular). Several large technology and financial companies; including Alphabet, Apple, Citigroup, EBay, Facebook and Intel, have submitted proposals seeking requirements for companies to disclose the ratio of pay for females as a percent of males.

In response to these proposals, companies typically ask to exclude them or voluntarily release their own gender pay analyses. Not surprisingly, the voluntary disclosures tend to show no significant differences (e.g., 99%) while shareholder proposals sometimes reference a difference.

In this report, we examine the compensation of Named Executive Officers (NEOs) at S&P 500 companies to assess the gap in pay for women compared to men at the top of the organization.

Using Aon Hewitt's CG Pro (Compensation and Governance Professional) database, we analyzed composition and pay and individual demographics on gender, age, and tenure of NEOS derived from company proxy and other publically available information sources. CC Pro is a powerful tool to extract proxy data quickly among your peer group for analyses such as these. Instead of researching these issues on your own, you can save valuable time and resources to address these benchmarking and governance requests with CC Pro.

NEOS are typically regarded as the "Top-5", consisting of the CEO and other C-Suite executives such as CFO, COO, and other Functional or Line roles. In our analysis, we group the executives as either the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Other NEOs comprised of the proxy reported executives other than the CEO.

Named Executive Officer Demographics

CEOs vs Other NEOs

Not surprisingly males hold a vast majority of the proxy reported roles. Females make up a larger percentage of Other NEOs than CEOs.

Gender by Function

The prevalence of females in Other NEO roles is driven in part by the type of roles that most often meet the criteria for inclusion in the proxy. The functional areas that are most commonly found among NEOs at S&P 500 companies are shown below. One-half (49%) of the Other NEO positions are filled by executives in a Business Leader role (e.g., Business Line Presidents or Chief Operating Officers). Another one-third are Chief Financial Officers. The remaining 20% come from a collection of staff support roles such as Legal, Strategy, Human Resources, etc.

The most populous positions are the most “male” thus contributing to the overall predominance of males in Other NEO roles. Functions such as Marketing and Legal have substantial, though not majority, female representation. Only in Human Resources are female NEOs a majority, but this role makes up only 4% of the NEO population.

Gender by Function

Gender by PayRank

Since the distribution of gender is not equal among roles and some roles and traditionally paid less than others – females are more likely to be the fifth highest paid than the second highest paid. The following chart shows the mix of gender by pay rank in the proxy.

Prevalence of by PayRank

Gender by Age

Although men hold the majority of NEO roles, when women do make it into the proxy, they tend to be younger. We found that 30% of all female NEOS are less than 50 years of age, compared to only 22% of males. This could be signs of what might be considered as "fast-tracking" females into NEO roles, which should provide for more CEO candidates in future years.

Comparisons of Pay between Male and Female NEOs

Compensation between men and women vary among the NEOS of a company. Our analysis shows that male other NEOS are paid about 12% more than female other NEOs; but female CEOs actually earn 14% more than their male peers.

Note that the median revenue for a female CEO is also higher and that revenue (as a proxy for size and scope) has historically been the main driver of executive pay. Is organization Size a potential source for the higher male pay and lower female pay? Our analysis suggests not. When pay is segmented by revenue, so that the median revenue for females and males is similar, the pay differences hold.

The table below shows the median pay for CEOs and other NEOS for selected revenue groupings. The median revenue in each grouping are similar, yet the pay for female CEOs is higher for each grouping and lower for each of the other NEO groupings.

Breakdown by Age

We also examined difference by age. In terms of compensation, female CEOs across all age groups are paid higher than males in the same role; conversely Other NEO females earn less than their similarly aged males. It is interesting to note that from an age perspective, the largest pay gap for other NEOs in the under 50 age group.

Breakdown by Pay Rank

Since the proportion of females increases as pay rank increases the results above may reflect the fact that females are more likely to be in lower paid roles. But as the chart below shows, when controlling for pay rank, women are still paid less at each pay rank except for pay rank 1 (most commonly the CEO).

Breakdown by Tenure

Overall, the majority of both male and female NEOs at S&P 500 companies have been employed with their firms of 15 years or less. Furthermore, female NEOs are far more likely to have been with the company for less than five years, another example of possible fast racking of females into NEO roles. As with age, this could be associated with increased awareness around gender equality, creating more opportunities for qualified women to fill executive level roles.

As with revenue and age, female CEOs are compensated higher than men across all groups of tenure. For other NEO roles, women are paid consistently lower at all tenure levels.

Board Membership and Pay

Does being a Board member impact the differences seen above? Other NEOs who are also a Board member see a lower difference in pay than Other NEOs overall. Male NEOs that are also a Board member earn 99% more than their female counterparts, slightly lower than NEOs as a whole.

Among other NEOs who sit on the Board, men are paid approximately 8% more than women.


Through this report, we have seen that although the situation of gender disparity among senior leadership of the top most companies is large, the pay gap among CEOs is favored towards women. This is an encouraging trend and shows that there has been progress towards gender equality in terms of pay. Going forward the future looks bright for those who manage to reach the top most positions.

The road to the top is still a lengthy journey for women and could be drawn-out further in terms of opportunities and talent to match it. The silver lining is that once there, they are generally compensated more generously in comparison with men in the same role.

The issue of gender pay disparity is growing in importance as organizations are increasingly asked to disclose and defend their compensation practices. CG Pro gives you the ability to quickly and easily extract position-specific competitive data into a simple Microsoft Excel or Word document. A wealth of rich, customizable data is readily available at your fingertips, saving valuable time and giving you everything you need to compare and evaluate compensation plans and produce actionable results that drive decision-making.

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