5 highest paid female CEOs

Of the top 20 highest paid CEOs, just five were women, according to a recent ranking by pay consultant Equilar. Of course, female chief executives remain the exception in Corporate America: Just 24 women run Fortune 500 companies. 

That number has actually fallen recently with three high-profile departures: Meg Whitman of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Sheri McCoy of Avon (AVP) and Shira Goodman of Staples.  

"A substantial amount of research out there shows that women are more likely to pursue promotion opportunities and try to advance themselves in their careers when they have more female role models," said Jessica Milli, study director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. "When you have a female CEO at your company, you have a role model that you can ask for advice ... they're more likely to have had similar struggles that you're facing in your career."

So who made the list of highest paid women CEOs? Here they are: 

1. Safra Catz, Oracle: $40.7 million

Safra Catz is the highest-paid female CEO, Equilar found. And she landed in the overall top 5 highest paid CEOs at No. 4. (No. 3 overall was her co-CEO at Oracle, Mark Hurd, whose pay came in about $100,000 above Catz's.)

Catz, who avoids the limelight that her outspoken boss Larry Ellison enjoys, joined Oracle (ORCL) in 1999. According to Wharton Magazine, Catz "drove" Oracle's successful 2005 hostile takeover of PeopleSoft. The $10.6 billion deal made Oracle No. 2 in the business-management software market behind Germany's SAP.

Catz, an immigrant from Israel, was named co-president in 2004 and became chief financial officer two years later, positions she continues to hold. Ellison, named Catz and Hurd co-chief executive officers in 2014.  

According to media reports, Catz was considered by the Trump administration as a replacement for National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, a job that went to John Bolton.

2. Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo: $25.9 million 

Another immigrant, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi ranked second in Equilar's female CEO rankings. 

The India-born Nooyi joined Pepsi (PEP) in 1994 and held a variety of positions, including chief financial officer, before rising  to the top job in 2006. 

Under her leadership, Pepsi has worked to lessen its dependence on carbonated beverages as their consumption rates have reached multidecade lows.

3. Phebe Novakovic, General Dynamics: $21.2 million

General Dynamics' Phebe Novakovic joined the company in 2001 after stints working for the federal government, including the CIA, Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense.  

She assumed her current position in January 2013. General Dynamics (GD) produces battle tanks and nuclear-powered submarines along with Gulfstream business jets.

4. Lynn J. Good, Duke Energy: $21.1 million

Duke Energy CEO Lynn J. Good ranked fourth on Equilar female CEO rankings. She began her career in the utility industry in 2003 at Cinergy, which Duke (DUK) acquired three years later.  

She became Duke CEO in 2013 after serving as the chief financial officer and leading the company's commercial energy business.

5. Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin: $20.2 million 

Marillyn Hewson joined Lockheed Martin (LMT), the world's largest defense contractor, as an industrial engineer more than 30 years ago. 

She assumed her present job in 2013 after the executive who was in line for it, Christopher Kubasik, was fired for having an affair with a subordinate. 

Lockheed produces the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Sikorsky helicopters among other things.

Other notable women in Equilar's CEO pay rankings include IBM's (IBM) Ginni Rometty, who earned $18 million in 2017, and Susan P. Griffith of Progressive (PGR), who took in $9.27 million. 

Mary Barra of General Motors (GM) wasn't counted because the automaker hasn't filed its proxy statement yet detailing her 2017 pay, according to Equilar. 

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.