t’s a men’s club when it comes to the highest paid chief executives of public companies based in Los Angeles County.

Only two women appear on the Business Journal’s annual list of the 50 highest-compensated chief executives – and neither remains today in the CEO’s post at the company they once led here.

No. 6 Margaret Geordiadis of El Segundo-based Mattel Inc., was appointed in February 2017 and ousted this past April. No. 38, Julia Stewart of DineEquity, now DineBrands Global Inc. in Glendale, resigned in February 2017 after serving 15 years in the chief executive’s post.

The list is based on compensation data for 2017 culled from proxy statements and annual report filings.

Experts on female leadership and executive compensation cite several reasons why few women rank among the highest-compensated chief executives in L.A., including a couple of factors that reflect national circumstances. One is the small number of women who have ascended to a chief executive post, while another might be that some women face hurdles in negotiating pay packages on par with men.

The Business Journal’s most recent list of publicly traded companies in Los Angeles included 144 overall, with 12 that had female chief executives – or 8 percent. That compares with 5 percent of publicly traded companies on the Russell 3000 index in 2017, according to a blog on the index’s website by Catherine Yoshimoto, senior index product manager for FTSE Russell.

The local totals are nonetheless “woefully under-represented, and that has to change,” said Linda Griego, a Los Angeles businesswoman has served on five corporate boards, and currently is a director of Century City-based engineering and construction firm Aecom, where her duties also include service on the board’s compensation committee.

Landing a chief executive’s position doesn’t necessarily mean a woman will get a pay package on par with male peers.

“People – both men and women – tend to be much more skeptical of women running companies and, as a result, the women are rewarded less,” said Corinne Bendersky, professor of management and organization at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Less aggressive negotiating tactics by women may be part of the reason.

“This might have something to do with the negotiating approach taken by men versus women when they are hired as CEO,” said Annalisa Barrett, clinical professor of finance at the University of San Diego’s School of Business.

The key, Barrett said, lies in how performance targets are set for the often lucrative bonuses, stock options and grants that chief executives get. That’s significant, as base salary amounts are contributing less and less toward total compensation. The Business Journal list indicates that the 25 highest-compensated chief executives count on base salary for less than 10 percent of total compensation, with the rest in bonuses and stock awards frequently tied to measurements such as total shareholder return.

Barrett said many compensation policies are supposed to be written independently of company management, but in practice, chief executives can and do exert considerable influence.

“It could be that men are much more aggressive and effective in the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that shapes the performance metrics and the overall compensation policies,” Barrett said.

Griego noted women are often hired to helm companies during difficult times, such as Georgiadis, Mattel’s former chief executive.

“If the company is struggling, then it’s awfully difficult to meet and exceed the performance metrics, so either the chief executive is ousted – as in the case of Georgiadis – or they simply don’t get the compensation that’s tied to performance.”

There’s a general consensus that says more women need to become chief executives and board members in order to make significant changes on compensation patterns.

“As owner and chief executive of retained executive search firm Berkhemer Clayton here in Los Angeles for 24 years, I’ve not seen much improvement in the numbers of women CEOs or senior executives,” said Betsy Berkhemer-Credaire.

“Getting to the CEO position of a large public company requires dedicating a long, steady, intentional career to achieve that goal,” she said. “Women often do not have those mentoring relationships, and have been socialized over decades to think that if they just do a great job at their desks, someone will recognize their achievements and select them to move up. While that may happen at the mid-to upper levels, it is much harder at senior-most levels.”

There are only three women on the Business Journal’s list of the 50 highest-compensated non-CEO executives – the “on-deck circle” for chief executives: Christine McCarthy, chief financial officer of Burbank-based Walt Disney Co.; M. Jayne Parker, Disney’s chief human resources officer and senior executive vice president and Kathy Willard, chief financial officer of LiveNation Entertainment Inc. of Beverly Hills.

One of the key ways to boost the number of women in c-suites, Berkhemer-Credaire said, is having more women board members of public companies. She co-chairs 2020 Women on Boards, a nonprofit with a goal to get women to account for 20 percent of public company board members by 2020.

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, introduced SB 826, which would require all public companies headquartered in California to have at least one woman board member by the end of 2019, and two or more by July 2021. The bill has passed the state Senate and is under state Assembly review.

If more women serve on public company boards, “it absolutely will increase the number of (women) CEOs,” Jackson said. “Boards tend to be self-selecting and male-dominated, picking chief executives who are similar to themselves – the “old-boy network.” If more women serve, they not only would look more favorably on women CEO candidates, but they would also draw upon their own networks to bring CEO and c-suite candidates forward.”

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