Last month, Mary Barra started work as chief executive officer of General Motors, becoming the first woman to run a major automaker. Her appointment was hailed as a significant milestone for female executives the world over. Even Barack Obama cited Barra during his State of the Union address as an example of a woman who has battled the systemic inequality of the workplace to come out on top.
But while Barra's achievement is heartening, her pay isn't.
According to a sobering Monday report by Fox News' Elizabeth MacDonald, Barra is getting paid just 48 percent of the total compensation awarded to her predecessor, Dan Akerson, despite the fact that Barra has worked for GM since 1980 and has several decades more experience in the automobile industry than Akerson.
Quoting GM's January 2014 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, MacDonald writes that Barra will "get $4.4 million in total compensation, including a base salary of $1.6 million, in 2014." MacDonald contrasts these figures with Akerson's estimated $9 million in compensation last year, which includes a $1.7 million base salary and $7.3 million in stock. That's about two times more than Barra's pay package.
Moreover, MacDonald points out that Akerson will continue to make more than Barra in his current role as an outside senior adviser to GM. The company will pay him $4.68 million this year, according to the recent SEC filing.
A GM spokesperson told MacDonald that Barra's compensation could increase after a shareholder vote in June.
As Think Progress points out, Barra is hardly the only female CEO being paid less than her male peers.
"Even the highest paid women executives at [Standard & Poor's 500 Index] companies still make 18 percent less than their male counterparts," the news outlet writes, citing a September Bloomberg report on the issue. "While Barra’s gap between her pay and her predecessor’s stands out, there are other notable gaps. Heather Bresch, CEO of pharmaceutical company Mylan, makes 33 percent less than the average for the pharma sector. Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup, makes 24 percent less than average CEO pay in the food industry."
Money is not the only barrier to equality that women executives face today.
Case in point: Unlike her predecessor, Barra is not chairman of GM's board, although she does have a seat on that board.
“It’s kind of like Chinese water torture, drip by drip,” Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told The Huffington Post last year. “I certainly hope [Barra's appointment] moves the needle for getting more women in CEO positions, but you have to admit that there aren’t very many.”
Currently, only 23 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.
UPDATE: Feb. 4, 6:30 p.m. -- In a statement given to The Huffington Post Tuesday evening, a representative for General Motors defended Barra's pay package, insisting that the "discussion of pay inequality between Barra and her predecessor is premature and flawed."
The rep wrote:
General Motors CEO Mary Barra will receive $1.6 million in salary and $2.8 million under the company’s short-term incentive plan, which totals $4.4 million. This represents two of her three compensation components. Specific long-term incentive compensation numbers will be included in the company’s April 2014 proxy filing, which likely will dispel any notion of pay inequity. Stockholders at GM’s Annual Meeting must approve the long-term portion of her pay.
Dan Akerson, who had prior CEO experience and was chairman of the board of directors, was paid $1.7 million in salary and $7.3 million in Salary Stock awards for a total of about $9 million in 2012, the last publicly available record of his compensation. Akerson’s compensation did not include a long-term incentive because, as is now clear, he was not going to be at GM for the long term.
UPDATE 2: Feb. 10, 5:15 p.m. -- GM announced today that Barra will earn $14.4 million in cash and stock in 2014, 60 percent more than her predecessor. This number, said the automaker in a press release, includes $10 million in long-term incentive compensation.
“As a new CEO, Mary’s total compensation is in line with her peer group and properly weighted so that most is at-risk,” said GM Chairman Tim Solso, according to the release. “The company’s performance will ultimately determine how much she is paid.”
GM said that it decided to disclose Barra's full compensation "ahead of its proxy filing in April to correct misperceptions created by comparisons that used only a portion of Barra’s overall compensation."