The gender split among the world’s most powerful CEOs

A study by Talentful explores how gender can affect the earning potential, success, and career growth.

The business case for achieving a gender balance at board level is growing, as shown time and again in the world’s most comprehensive studies. Increasing the number of women on boards is a business imperative, according to these studies. A good gender balance can improve decision-making and enhance company performance, and while the UK has seen some progress, it’s been slow, and in some cases, painful, fuelling frustration at a political level and among women who have the talent to make it to the top but lack the necessary opportunities.

But how do the numbers turn out? Does being a man or woman affect the success and standing of companies? A new study from recruitment specialists Talentful has looked into 108 Fortune 1000 companies to find out exactly that, reviewing the profiles of male and female CEOs of the biggest companies in the world.

What stood out from the research was the clear gender skew. In a list of 1000 CEOs, only 54 were women. According to the research, business culture has been slow to shift, and CEOs may stay in their position for a long time. For example, Warren Buffet has headed Berkshire Hathaway since 1970.

However, on a more positive note, there were only 51 female CEOs in the top 1000 companies in 2014, which suggests that either companies run by women are succeeding in the markets, or more women are stepping up into leadership roles.

Compensation: Men out-earn women, but the gap is narrowing

For each CEO, the study analysed several factors, including the company’s Fortune rank, and the CEO’s total compensation – the total financial gain from the business, made up of both salary and incentives.

Companies with male CEOs rank much higher in the Fortune 1000, by 480 places on average. Of the 54 female CEOs in the Fortune 1000, only three of them are in the top 50, and the average ranking for female-run companies is 509.

Monetary compensation however, is one aspect which (perhaps surprisingly, in view of the ranking differences) isn’t quite as male-dominated.

Overall, male CEOs receive more company compensation, by nearly $4,439,000. The Disney CEO Robert “Bob” Iger receives the most overall, at $43.5 million. The second best-paid overall is a woman– Safra Catz, of Oracle, with $40.9 million.

Some of the other best-compensated positions also belong to women. After Safra Catz, the next two who benefit the most financially are also women: Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo CEO ($36 million), and Mary Barra of General Motors, the highest-ranked female CEO in the Fortune 500 at #8, with $28.6 million.

The person with the lowest compensation found throughout the research is the CEO of Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Larry Page, at only $1. He shares this with several industry leaders, including his co-founder Sergey Brin. Of course, their stock holdings in Google is sufficient to earn them billions, making the actual compensation symbolic rather than practical.

Qualifications: Engineering degrees and MBAs rule the roost

The research includes what qualifications each CEO studied and received prior to becoming taking their current positions. There are two courses which are clearly the most popular across both genders – many men and women have pursued some form of engineering (electrical engineering in particular proved to be the most popular).

But there was an even bigger representation of MBAs (Master of Business Administration): 21 male and 25 female CEOs had MBAs.

There’s a greater marked gender difference when it comes to Ivy League graduates – former students of Brown University, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton, or Yale. 17 of the male CEOs attended one of these institutions, compared to only eight female CEOs.

Meanwhile, the average age for both genders was 51. Overall, it seems that despite the discrepancies in representation across genders, the type of person who ascends into a CEO role tends to have the same sort of background.

For more insights, take a look at the infographic by Talentful below.

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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