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Study Finds Narrowing Compensation Gap Among Female Executives

Catherine Tinsley

Working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Georgetown professor Catherine Tinsley found that women are closing the gender pay gap in some industries in which they are well represented.

April 11, 2012 – Industries in which women comprise more than 10 percent of leadership positions often earn more than their male counterparts – at least in mid-cap companies, according to a new study by Georgetown and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business professor Catherine Tinsley teamed up with the Chamber’s Center for Women in Business for the study, recently presented as part of a “Women in Business: Redefining the Game” conference hosted by the Center for Women in Business.

But it wasn’t all good news.

The research, titled Women in Leadership: A Look at Companies in the S&P MidCap 400 Index, 2000-2010, also noted that representation of women in leadership positions is less promising – with only 5 percent of executives being female in mid-sized companies.

Surprising Results

“There really were two surprising findings in this report,” says Tinsley, who also serves as executive director of the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Initiative. “The first was that in industries where women are relatively well represented in top management, those women have closed the gender pay gap and actually, for 2010, made more than their male counterparts.”

She said the second surprise was how few women are represented at the top of these mid-cap companies.

“I had hoped that since these companies were smaller than the typical Fortune 500 companies that they would have offered more opportunities for women’s advancement,” the professor notes.

Three Industries

The study was commissioned by the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to complement the extensive existing research on female executive representation in Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies.

It showed that in three industries – media, life sciences and retail – women were represented in more than 10 percent of executive positions. On the other end of the spectrum, the automobile and components industry had no female executives at all.

In the media, life sciences and retail industries, companies reported that their most highly paid female executives made more than their most highly paid male counterparts.

Location, Location, Location

Location matters. Breaking the country into four regions and looking at data from 2006 to 2010, female CEOs fared best in the West (3.9 percent) and the Northeast (3.6 percent), with lower representation in the South (2.2 percent) and Midwest (0 percent).

“Location findings may be related to industry,” Tinsley says. “For example, we found no female representation in the auto industry, which tends to be located in the Midwest. “

The survey also noted that the slow and steady climb of female executives came to a halt at the start of the global economic contraction in 2008. This affected younger female executives (between 27 and 39 years old) most acutely, with a decline in their ranks starting as early as 2006.

“We found it very interesting that the last recession differentially hurt women’s representation at this top level,” the professor says. “I had read various articles about this last recession being a “man-cession,” in which companies lay off men more than women. But our data showed that women were not particularly recession-proof – at least at the executive level.”

Culture, Gender and Reputations

Tinsley studies how such factors as culture, gender, reputations and stereotypes influence how people negotiate and manage conflict.

The recipient of several grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Army Research Office, she has conducted numerous training seminars for companies around the globe.

She also collaborated with the White House and U.S. State Department in 2002 to execute a woman-to-woman mentorship summit, and partnered with the U.S. State Department and the council of Women World Leaders to convene the first-ever, world-wide meeting of the Ministers of Women’s Affairs in 2003.


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