Women CMOs Are Paid Higher than Men. How Did They Close the Gender Gap?

The gender gap — the marked disparity in pay between men and women — has been a persistent feature of corporate life since it was first identified four decades ago. But recently, at least one high profile position closed the gender gap decisively. It’s the chief marketing officer (CMO), the head executive tasked with overseeing all business leadership pertaining to marketing strategy and execution.

Women CMOs Earning More than Male Counterparts

Women CMOs last year made a median annual salary of $1.64 million. Their male counterparts brought home a median of $1.2 million, according to research firm Equilar.

The finding is even more remarkable because when Equilar last tabulated CMO salary data, in 2013, women CMOs, at a median salary of $831,631, still made 33% less than male CMOs,

Women are also closing a still-existing gap in representation. Last year, more than 18% of CMOs were women. Less than the half they represent in the overall population, of course, but an impressive climb over the last time data was tabulated in 2012. Then, just under 11% of CMOs were women.

Nearly 30% of CMOs are expected to lose their jobs by the end of this year, however.

Why the Increase?

How did women CMOs make the gender gap-closing strides? Equilar didn’t hazard guesses. But some factors are suggestive.

First, CMOs are far more important than they used to be, in large part due to the rise of digital media. CMOs not only run umbrella marketing campaigns using digital channels, they are tasked with strategizing those channels and performing sophisticated analytics. Many also make significant information technology (IT) purchases, meaning that their domain is expanding into areas historically run by chief information officers and technology heads. It’s possible that the increasing importance translates into higher offers, or allows women to negotiate for salary increases more effectively than in other positions.

Second, compensation for CMOs across the board is rising markedly. In the five-year span from 2013 to 2017, overall compensation climbed 20%. Pay for women rose by nearly 100%, while pay for men increased just under 10%. CMOs are now one of the highest-paid of C suite positions. It could be that a rising tide of compensation lifted the boats of women negotiating for salary increases.

The Role Faces Challenges

Despite more importance and more cash, all is not completely rosy in CMO world. Digital disruption can make tenure shaky for companies revamping their technology news profile. In 2016, another market research firm forecast that 30% of CMOs would be replaced by year-end 2017. McDonald’s and Airbnb are just two companies with major digital presences whose CMOs have been replaced this year.

CMOs can also face competition from new roles. Chief media officers are increasingly being hired to oversee all media, which can subsume the CMO role. Job postings for CMOs on LinkedIn, for example, soared 150% over the last year.

Ultimately, the CMO role is a dynamic one that is often in flux and is expected to remain so. Now, women have pay parity and then some. But not yet, equal representation — and no gender has solid tenure in the role.

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