An airline CEO says he's voluntarily reducing his salary, and it has nothing to do with how profitable the company is.

The reason? With the cut of a little under 5 percent, he'll match the salary of his predecessor, who was a woman.

Now, CEO pay cuts aren't unheard of. Tim Cook's pay dropped last year, when Apple's earnings went down. Nike's Mark Parker saw his pay fall 71 percent. And of course, Elon Musk might not make a cent if Tesla doesn't reach some insane benchmarks.

But in the case of this airline CEO, Johan Lundgren of EasyJet, some people reacted with cynicism. (This is the internet. We can't have nice things.)

They say the cut is a publicity stunt, and point out that regardless of his gesture, the airline pays men way more than it pays women. 

Also, it also just happens that this announcement is coming out shortly before a new British law will go into effect, requiring many companies to reveal the disparity between what they pay male and female workers.

But maybe we can take Lundgren at his word, and accept the whole thing on its face--for once.

Lundgren took over last month, and he said that when he asked his board to drop his original salary by about the equivalent of $48,000 (to £706,000), he did it as a symbol of his "personal commitment" to "equal pay and equal opportunity for women and men," in his words.

As that suggests, yes, the pay disparity at EasyJet is significant: about a 52 percent difference between what men and women make. To put it in context, however, there's a similarly unbalanced situation across the industry. 

Airlines say the root cause is that their highest-paid employees are the pilots and captains, and there aren't as many qualified female pilots yet to choose from.

(Highest paid employees outside of senior management, of course. In fact, a study last year of the top 100 airlines by FlightGlobal found 57 of the companies had no women at all in the top six C-level executive positions.)

"I want us not just to hit our target that 20 percent of our new pilots should be female by 2020 but to go further than this in the future," Lundgren said.

At least EasyJet has actually had a female CEO.

Lundgren's predecessor, Carolyn McCall, left to become the head of the ITV broadcasting company in Britain.

And this means that only two out of the 100 largest airlines in world are being led by women: Thai Airways International's acting president, Usanee Sangsingkaew, and VietJet Air's CEO, Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao.

So be cynical or not. And we'll check in with EasyJet down the to see how much better they're doing.

Published on: Jan 30, 2018
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