Martine Rothblatt, the highest-earning female executive in the United States, who underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1994, has spoken out about her perspective on gender in the workplace.

Rothblatt, a lawyer, author and entrepreneur, made $38m (£23m) last year as the CEO of biotechnology firm United Therapeutics. She founded the company to find a treatment for pulmonary hypertension after her daughter was diagnosed with the condition in the late 1990s.

After appearing on the front cover of New York Magazine last week, Rothblatt has spoken to Yahoo Finance about the gender pay gap.

"One of the unique insights I have is a huge appreciation for all of the privileges I received as a man," she said. "As the oldest son I was expected to do great things... but so many times it's the oldest son that gets that encouragement and not the oldest daughter.

"Those things kind of percolate and when all is said and done, only 11 of the 200 highest paid CEOs are women because of that."

Rothblatt commented that there is a "pervasive hangover from thousands of years of patriarchy" in the workplace.

It was revealed in August that female bosses in the UK are still earning just three-quarters as much as their male colleagues, meaning that they would have to work until they were nearly 80 to catch up with men's lifetime earnings.

In the US, women make 78.3 cents for every dollar men make at the same professional level.

Despite these statistics, Rothblatt said she was optimistic that the situation will improve for women, pointing out that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is an example to strive for.

Equal pay for equal work has to begin with an education, Rothblatt points out: "We need to start by educating our kids and society as a whole that a person's productivity and what they accomplish should not be judged different because they are female or male."

On parenthood, Rothblatt said there was a lack of understanding in the office. A recent University of Massachusetts study reported in the New York Times found that having children helped the careers of men, but hindered those of women – referred to as the "motherhood penalty and fatherhood bonus".

"It's just due to a complete misunderstanding and lack of appreciation for the 360 degree skills that go into raising a child," Rothblatt said. "I'd say that if you can raise a child you can raise a company."