The topic of gender-pay disparity has been an issue ever since women made their mass entrance into the workforce in the 1960s. Depending on their age group, women can still make between 5% and 25% less than men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – on average, women made 79% of what men made in 2008. Though there has been much progress made in the past 20 years, the disparity still exists, despite outrageous headlines claiming that it has all but disappeared.
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A recent Bloomberg article reported that females CEOs for S&P 500 companies had finally cracked the "glass ceiling" by, on average, making more than men in 2009. However, it's hard to take this claim seriously when the data is so sparse; out of the entire 500 companies, only 16 of the companies had female CEOs. To investigate this further, we're going to look at six top female CEOs from Fortune 500 companies (there are 15 in total in the Fortune 500, 27 in the Fortune 1,000) and their comparable male counterparts (according to industry and market cap), and see how their education and experience stack up. These female CEOs are not necessarily the highest paid, but are at the top of some of the biggest countries in the world.

Food for Thought
The first CEO in Fortune's list is Patricia Woertz, the head of Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), a company involved in every type of food production, as well as biofuels. Woertz has her undergraduate degree in accounting and has worked for the past 35 years, rising to the ranks of VP at Chevron before joining ADM as CEO. ADM's market cap is over $16 billion, and Woertz is paid $17.5 million.

Not that they're in the exact same space, but food distributor Sysco (NYSE:SYY) has a similar market cap ($17.5 billion). The last CEO to work a full year there, Richard J. Schnieders in 2008, had compensation around $10.5 million, according to Forbes. Schnieders has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and has worked in the food industry since 1970; he worked for Sysco in various positions, as VP and president of various divisions, before becoming CEO in 2000. With a similar work experience and education, Woertz wins out in this, probably owing to her experience and bringing a biofuel focus to the company.

A Healthy Wage
Our next CEO is Angela Braly, head of WellPoint (NYSE:WLP), a large health plan company. Braly was paid $9.8 million in 2009. Prior to becoming CEO in 2007, Braly was executive vice president and played a key role in many of WellPoint's large acquisitions. She has an undergraduate degree and a Juris Doctor, and has been in the workforce for around 25 years

WellPoint is a dominant health plan company in the U.S., with a market cap of $22 billion, it's hard to find a comparable male CEO for Braly, so we'll look at two other male CEOs. CEO of CIGNA Healthcare (NYSE:CI) (market cap $9.18 billion) David Cordani makes around $6.5 million, according to Businessweek, and has served as senior vice president, CFO and a plethora of other jobs in the industry; Cordani has both an undergrad in science and an MBA, as well as CFA and CPA designations.

Ron Williams, CEO of Aetna (NYSE:AET) (market cap $12.4 billion), was paid $38.12 million in 2008, according to Forbes, and has an undergrad in psychology and a Master of Science degree. Williams was formally a group president at WellPoint, and has served in large roles for a number of health insurance companies over the past 25 years.

Gas Prices
Third on Fortune's list of female CEOs is Lynn Elsenhans, chairman, president and CEO of one of the U.S.'s largest gasoline distributors, Sunoco (NYSE:SUN). Elsenhans makes far less than many other of the female CEOs, with annual compensation coming in at $1.9 million for a $3.55 billion company. Elsenhas has an undergrad degree from Rice and an MBA from Harvard, and has been working in the oil and gas industry for almost 30 years, serving as president and CEO of Shell Oil Company.

Not that they're completely comparable, but John Hess, who has been CEO of Hess Corporation (NYSE:HES) (market cap $17.91 billion) for 15 years, made $154.58 million in compensation in 2008, according to Forbes. Hess also as an MBA from Harvard, and his salary was the third highest CEO compensation in 2008.

Cola Wars
Last on our list of female CEOs is one of the most famous female CEOs in the world: Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP). Nooyi has been the CEO for the past three years, and before that was Pepsi's president and CFO, after having worked at Motorola, Johnson & Johnson and other companies since 1980. Nooyi has a bachelor's degree, an MBA and a master's in public and private management. For 2009, Nooyi was paid $13.4 million, and PepsiCo has a market cap of $101.4 billion.

Who better to compare Nooyi to than her main competitor's CEO, Coca-Cola's (NYS:KO) Muhtar Kent. Kent started as a salesman with the company after getting an MBA, and worked up the ranks, becoming president in 2006 and CEO in 2008. For 2009, Kent received $18.8 million in total compensation, and Coke has a market cap of $118 billion.

The Bottom Line
Most women in this list have the same education and experience as the male CEOs, but receive a lower pay. This is not scientific proof, and female CEOs, on average, make more than male CEOs in the S&P 500, but there only happen to be 16 female CEOs compared to 484 males. Though these women may make more on average, when you compare them to male CEOs in similar positions, they're still underpaid.

If you missed last week's news, check out Water Cooler Finance: Crying Over Spilled Oil, And Buffett Goes To Court.

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