GM Gets Bad Press over First Female CEO’s 48% Pay

gmThe fact that General Motors named Mary Barra as its first female CEO on January 15th was a big deal. President Obama even mentioned her in his State of the Union, calling her “the daughter of a factory worker [who] is CEO of America’s largest automaker” and inspiring a rare moment of bipartisan applause.

But according to Fox Business News, this “big deal” may not be quite as impressive as it seemed on announcement: after crunching the numbers, Elizabeth McDonald found that Barra’s $4.4. million compensation package would only amount to 48% of what former CEO Dan Akerson made in 2013 (note: these numbers include stocks and other “incentives” well beyond base salary).

That’s not all: GM retained Akerson as a “senior advisor” who will earn $4.68 million in 2014—so based on current numbers, the former CEO will still make more than the current CEO. This may well be the first time we’ve seen a Fox outlet criticize the White House for not going far enough with its gender inequality messaging.

It doesn’t look good for GM, but some major caveats apply.

Bloomberg Businessweek assures us that GM hasn’t “shortchanged” Barra, noting that it’s too early to compare her salary to Akerson’s for several reasons:

“What the…calculation leaves out is possibly the greatest portion of Barra’s compensation: stock awards tied to company performance.”

And the company is doing well (though it did just post “lower than expected” earnings). Oh, also:

“Akerson’s compensation was determined by the U.S. Treasury as one of the conditions of the 2009 bailout that saved GM from collapse.”

But the government no longer controls GM, so the company will rework its compensation plans for its shareholder meeting in June, at which point we can expect Barra’s total compensation to rise.

While some blogs and major news orgs have run with the story to illustrate the persistence of the gender gap in corporate America, it’s a bit more complicated than it appears. Still, the bad headlines already went live, and the company risks losing the good will engendered by Barra’s appointment if it doesn’t address this story.

Could there be a starker way to illustrate the divide than $4.4M vs. $9M?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.