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Opinion

February 10, 2014

Gender pay equity problem continues

NORMAN — Everybody knows that women commonly get paid less than their male counterparts to do the same work. But does that hold true for highly educated women in the upper reaches of corporate management, including Mary Barra, whom Fortune Magazine ranked No. 1 in a list of the world’s most powerful women in business?

Barra, the new CEO of General Motors, is the first woman to head a major automaker. She was seated near Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address as the president lauded her as an example of American drive and success.

Yet Fox Business reported, somewhat disingenuously, that her compensation package lags that of her male predecessor — a man who had zero experience in leading an automotive giant like GM — by 52 percent. Dan Akerson, who led GM after the company’s taxpayer bailout, earned $9.1 million, including a $1.7 million base, plus $7.3 million in stock. Barra earns a base salary of $1.6 million but a total of $4.4 million with other benefits.

What’s missing from Fox’s appraisal of Barra’s compensation is stock options. Come June, when shareholders meet, Barra’s long-term incentive compensation package will be announced, likely raising her salary substantially. A good bet is that it will exceed Akerson’s 2013 package. It would be bad public relations for GM to do differently.

Most women don’t have their salaries open to public scrutiny via SEC filings. They don’t have pundits assessing where they stand compared to similarly skilled male employees.

What they do face, to varying degrees, is the point the president emphasized in his State of the Union address: “Today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.”

The president’s statement set off the usual quibbles about that statistic. The number changes depending on many factors, such as whether or not part-time work is factored in, or hourly vs. weekly earnings, race, education attainment and choice of profession.

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