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Image: Kraft's Irene B. Rosenfeld
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Irene B. Rosenfeld made $16.7 million last year.
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updated 5/21/2010 7:48:38 AM ET 2010-05-21T11:48:38

Irene Rosenfeld of Kraft Foods tops our list of the highest-paid female chief executives. Our list, comprised of chief executives of the 500 biggest companies in the U.S. (as measured by a composite ranking of sales, profits, assets and market value), has 15 female chief executives from a handful of industries including food, insurance and energy.

During her fourth year as Kraft's chief executive Rosenfeld, 56, had a total compensation package (salary, bonus, stock and options) of $16.7 million. She runs the largest U.S. food manufacturer ($52 billion market cap), and her compensation is on par with her male peers at other food companies such as Kellogg and General Mills.

But other women on the list haven't fared as favorably. PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi, who runs one of the leading U.S. brand companies ($105 billion market cap) has an annual compensation package that is worth half of her male counterpart at McDonald's — $10.7 million for Nooyi compared to $20 million for McDonald's boss James Skinner. And Sunoco's Lynn Laverty Elsenhans' package ($1.5 million) lags considerably behind the chief executive at rival refinery firm Tesoro ($18.6 million).

According to compensation experts, the disparity in pay can be attributed, in part, to the tendency of female executives to choose a straightforward salary and bonus package over a stock and options laden one. "Women are more being paid on their current business performance, in salary and bonus, and yielding on long-term wealth accumulation opportunities," says Pearl Meyer, a senior managing director at executive compensation firm Steven Hall & Partners.

Unfortunately, there are too few women on the list to draw a hard conclusion. Women account for only 3 percent of the CEOs at the helm of the biggest 500 U.S. companies, and that number hasn't budged over the last three years.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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