GSK CEO Emma Walmsley joins call for equal pay with #MeTooPay campaign

Emma Walmsley
GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley has backed #MeTooPay, a U.K. campaign for gender pay equality. (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline CEO Emma Walmsley may be the first-ever female to head up a Big Pharma company, but her pay has not matched up to that of her male peers. Now, she has joined some of U.K.’s most successful businesswomen in a campaign aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

The #MeTooPay campaign has received an endorsement from more than 100 female leaders who are “frustrated to still read stories about women not getting the pay they deserve.” They're calling for “radical and rapid action” in addressing pay discrimination, the initiative’s website reads.

RELATED: GSK CEO Walmsley to join Microsoft board as tech giant wades deeper into healthcare

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The campaign also counted former Royal Mail chief Dame Moya Greene, who grabbed the headline last year when her successor, Rico Back, earned 17% more in base salary than she previously did.

In her first full year as GSK’s CEO, Walmsley racked up £5.89 million ($7.29 million) in 2018 compensation, which was slightly better than the CHF 6.7 million ($6.7 million) Vas Narasimhan took home in his first year as Novartis CEO but was still way lower than many other biopharma leaders make, including fellow British drugmaker AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, who took home £11.36 million.

To be fair, though, compared with Soriot, who has been AZ’s helmsman since 2012, Walmsley is relatively new to the CEO job, and her long-term incentive awards—a large part of most execs’ pay packages—mostly haven't been awarded or up for vesting. But her starting base salary—£1.0 million for 2017—was still lower than her predecessor Andrew Witty’s £1.11 million in 2016.

Right now, the biopharma world doesn't come close to including an equal number of women in top-level exec jobs, let alone striving for equal pay. Besides Walmsley, only a handful of women hold the chief exec spots at large organizations. They include Lundbeck's chief since last September, Deborah Dunsire; Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ CEO-to-be Reshma Kewalramani; Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, who's slated to hit the exit after the Pfizer established medicines business merger; and United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt.

RELATED: 2018's Fiercest Women in Life Sciences

Last year, industry trade group BIO renewed its workforce diversity goal, significantly raising the 2025 target for female representation at the functional leader and C-suite level to 50%, from about 25% when that new goal was set. The organization also aims to have women on 30% of the industry’s boards by 2025, versus 10% last year.

For the U.K., the government has set a target of 33% women in leadership roles at FTSE 350 companies by 2020. But in its recent “Women Count 2019” report, gender diversity support business The Pipeline found only 3.7% of those companies have female CEOs, and more than 85% of companies have no women execs on their main boards.

Pharma seems to have better numbers, with women filling 26% of the executive committee roles, which almost triples 2018's 9%. However, those with main business responsibilities (known as profit and loss, or P&L) came down to 4%, from 8% a year ago.

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