By Wendy Lee San Francisco Chronicle.
When Safra Catz joined Oracle as a senior vice president in 1999, some employees wondered what her role was.
"I'm here to help Larry," Catz told an Oracle senior executive, according to Fortune magazine. "Does that mean you're getting his laundry?" the executive asked.
Far from it. Catz, 54, has risen up Oracle's ranks and had a compensation package worth $53.2 million in the company's last fiscal year, making her one of the highest-paid executives in the country. About seven months after she joined Oracle, she was named executive vice president and later held titles including chief financial officer, president and currently, CEO.
She is founder Larry Ellison's go-to person, said Rob Enderle, with advisory services firm Enderle Group.
"She's the one that comes in and fixes whatever problems that need to be fixed," Enderle said. "Much of Oracle's success in the last decade is undoubtedly due to her."
Catz's $53 million pay package makes her the highest-paid female executive at any large U.S. publicly traded company, according to an analysis of 663 firms by research firm Equilar. Her salary, bonus and stock were the same as her co-CEO at Oracle, Mark Hurd, with Hurd's package slightly higher because of other types of benefits, according to Equilar.
UC Davis study Pay among California female executives across all industries is improving, according to a UC Davis study released in November.
The median compensation for the highest-paid female executives was $200,000 less than males in 2015-16, an improvement from a year earlier when the difference was $461,714, the study said.
The gap may be closing because companies are having stock play a larger role in executive compensation packages, analysts said.
"The fact that pay is so closely tied to company performance now brings a level of equality," said Dan Marcec, Equilar's director of content.
After Catz, the female executives with the highest compensation packages were Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer with $42 million; Martine Rothblatt, CEO of biotech firm United Therapeutics, with $31.6 million; and Angela Ahrendts, Apple's head of retail and online stores, with $25.8 million. Ahrendts' pay package is worth the most at Apple, even higher than CEO Tim Cook's.
"I draw the conclusion that they are excellent negotiators," said Amanda Kimball, a research specialist and author of the UC Davis study. "If you are a woman and you get to be a CEO of a public company, you have pretty honed negotiation skills."
Apple, Yahoo and Oracle declined to comment. United Therapeutics did not respond to a request for comment.
Equilar's data, updated Wednesday, took into account salaries, stock, bonuses, rewards and other benefits. Based on how the company's stock performed, it may have affected the placement of executives on the list.
While female executives still earn a median compensation package that is less than men in California, the opposite is true for female CEOs, according to UC Davis' study. Female CEOs in California had median pay packages worth $6.6 million, compared with $4.6 million for male CEOs, the study said.
It's hard to say why this occurs, analysts said. Part of the reason could be this: Because there are so few female CEOs, companies have to pay more to recruit them. Only 17 of the 399 CEOs in the study were female. Another factor is that, by the time women get to the CEO level, they may be overqualified, Kimball said.
"There are so few women that succeed in earning that qualification and the experience in the CEO role that by the time that they make it to that point, they are actually more qualified than their male counterparts," Kimball said.
Women still face hurdles in getting to executive levels at any company. Even though women and men have nearly equal representation at the entry level of companies, fewer women advance at each level of leadership, according to a study by McKinsey & Co. and nonprofit LeanIn.org. Female executives in tech told The Chronicle about the struggles they endured due to their gender. One CEO said she faced questions from investors about what it was like working with her husband, rather than questions about her app.
Reluctant to negotiate Women also struggle with negotiating for more pay. Fifty-seven percent of men negotiate, while only 7 percent of women do, according to a study by Linda Babcock, a co-author of "Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide." That can present a problem when a woman doesn't negotiate and ends up getting less pay, which could affect her earnings over time and ultimately, her retirement savings, said Lori Shreve Blake, a senior director of alumni and career services at the University of Southern California.
"It's something they need to do," she said. "They need to open up their mouth and be what I call 'politely assertive.'" Part of the hesitancy in asking for more money is that women find it easier to advocate more for the community and organization than pushing for themselves, she added.
Sheryl Sandberg faced that challenge when she was being recruited at Facebook. After talking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over dinners for about two months, he made her an offer that she thought was fair, and Sandberg wanted to take it.
"My husband, Dave, kept telling me to negotiate, but I was afraid of doing anything that might botch the deal," Sandberg wrote in her book, "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead." It wasn't until her brother-in-law pointed out, "Why are you going to make less than any man would make to do the same job?" that Sandberg decided to negotiate, according to her book.
Zuckerberg ended up coming back with a better offer.
Sandberg now ranks as the 17th highest-paid female executive on Equilar's list, with a compensation package worth $15.5 million in 2014.
Highest-paid female executives Among large, publicly traded companies in the U.S.
Safra Catz Oracle Corp. CEO $53,243,670
Marissa Mayer Yahoo Inc. CEO $42,083,508
Martine Rothblatt United Therapeutics CEO $31,581,896
Angela Ahrendts Apple Inc. SVP, retail and online stores $25,779,229
Deborah Lloyd Kate Spade Chief creative officer $24,966,493
Source: Equilar, based on most recent annual reports