508: An alternative hypothesis.

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A recent survey found Maria Ramos to be the “best value for money CEO” among the top banking CEOs in South Africa. Her value was established by calculating the ratio of her total remuneration in 2015 to her organisation’s (Barclay’s Africa) net income. The magic number? R508. Investec CEO, a white man who has been in charge for-almost-ever, Stephen Koseff was the worst performer on this scale bringing what looks like less than R100 per rand he is paid, ag shame. There are many reasons why the numbers are like this, but I want to put forward one of my own, Maria is a woman in man’s world. It is also interesting to note that she is the only CEO of the lot with a specialist banking qualification, which may also have something to do with her ranking.

I know that determining CEO pay is a complicated business involving shares, options, and a whole lot of other stuff. Just read the reasons why firms tells us that comparing pay is futile. However, the banking industry doesn’t exist in a bubble isolated from social patterns which make women feel as though they must work harder and appear more competent that their male counterparts, and earn less for the same work as men. There is some evidence which shows that women only apply for jobs or promotions when they feel that they are 100% qualified for the job. Joan C. Williams, a legal scholar working on Gender issues at Stanford, has found that “men are often judged on their potential, but women are judged on their achievements”, and also that “women’s mistakes tend to be noticed more and remembered longer, but women’s successes tend to be attributed to luck.”

In Maria Ramos, we see a CEO who is more qualified (also a messy idea at high-levels, see JG Zuma) than her peers, but is also one of the lowest paid and also took a real pay-cut last year on the back of relatively lackluster group performance. It seems to me at first glance, that her rewards are more closely linked to her performance than her male counterparts. Put differently, she may be actually proving herself more for each pay cheque whereas her male peers are riding the wave of their potential.

Reading Stuart Theobald’s recent Business Day piece, one can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had a woman displayed the “hubris” of former African Bank CEO Leon Kirkinis. I have a feeling that she would not have had the opportunity to continue leading the bank into curatorship. I doubt she would get away with wearing jeans and an open shirt to an interview or brag (bloody fool) about not reading newspapers.

I really like getting beneath the numbers and finding reasons why the data tell us what they do. There is little doubt that Maria Ramos is one of the continents’ finest business people. In fact she is the reason I’m studying economics. But numbers are not exogenous manner from heaven, they are determined by a host of factors. In a country where the gender wage gap persists and at all employment levels, R508 is likely to be measuring something more than just value for money.

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