WOMEN BEAT THE CORPORATE GAME They have learned to pattern their lives on those of careerist men and fix an unblinking eye on the prize. But they succeed by being themselves -- not guys in dresses.
By Monci Jo Williams REPORTER ASSOCIATE Rosalind Klein Berlin

(FORTUNE Magazine) – READER, you have in your hands not only a magazine but also a mirror. If you are a woman who works in a corporation, you may encounter yourself here -- perhaps a middle manager, standing at the edge of a yawning gap that separates you from that next job in senior management. Or hurtling in midair across the abyss, in that terrifying make-or-break career opportunity, no net beneath you. Or standing on the other side -- having arrived, safe, victorious, now a senior executive. Men, you too may see yourselves reflected here. Not so long ago you had the corporate terrain all to yourselves. Then the women arrived, catapulted by some powerful but unnatural force called affirmative action. You may recognize the discomfort you felt, even resentment, as these invaders landed among you. And man or woman, you are very likely to see yourself in the executives described here, now struggling to define the common ground where they will compete and coexist. The managerial women now in line for top executive jobs are the first sizable group to compete head to head with men. Though feminists had once hoped women would ''feminize'' the corporation by making it more cognizant of family concerns, the opposite has in fact occurred. Successful female managers have taken on many of the values and life patterns of careerist men, who long have fixed an unblinking eye on the prize. They are gutsy and gritty women in a man's world who refuse to let the feeling of being out of place become an obstacle. Most compete while retaining their femininity. Rather than try to change the corporation, they learn its rules, and they play by them. Anne Jardim, co-author with Margaret Hennig of The Managerial Woman, a pioneering study of women managers, believes that this is the only way for executives of either sex to get ahead. Says Jardim: ''The issue for women today is not whether the world is fair. This is the way the world is. If you wish to be a part of it, live with it.'' Women have gained a foothold within the corporation in a pindot of time. Last year they made up 45% of the work force and held 38% of the jobs classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as ''nonfarm executive, administrative, and managerial,'' a rough proxy for middle management jobs. In 1972, the earliest year for which comparable figures are available, women were 39% of the work force but held only 20% of the managerial jobs. Women's advance into the highest ranks of American corporations, however, is less impressive. A survey by Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm, found in 1986 that women held only about 2% of senior management jobs in America's largest companies. Basic arithmetic provides some explanation. Corporations cull their senior executives from managers in their 40s and 50s with 20 or 25 years of work experience. Says Gerard Roche, chairman of Heidrick & Struggles, an executive search firm: ''There are fast-trackers who get to the CEO's suite in less time, but they are the exception.'' While that suggests that women as a group are advancing through the corporation on schedule, it may be too early to tell. Women trickled into the work force during the late 1960s, but the flood did not start until just about 15 years ago. Most female managers are still too young in years and training to have reached the upper echelons, but they are maturing into candidates for the senior jobs of the next two decades. EVEN SO, sociologists have noted a disturbing trend. Statistics are hard to come by, but James R. Houghton, the chief executive of Corning Glass Works, estimates that women and minority managers are dropping out of his company at roughly twice the rate of white males. Allen Neuharth, chairman of Gannett, believes that the progress of corporate women ''has been much slower than it should be. That is primarily because there are still many white male executives who are reluctant to open the door to women.'' Corning and such other FORTUNE 500 companies as Mobil and Colgate-Palmolive fret about the dropouts because demographic shifts are increasing the relative value of women managers. Work Force 2000, a book published in 1987 by the Hudson Institute, estimates that by the year 2000, native-born white males -- long the corporation's main source of managerial and executive talent -- will account for only 15% of the net increase in the work force, vs. 55% for native-born women. (The rest will be minority men and immigrants.) Says Felice N. Schwartz, president of Catalyst, a research group that advises corporations on women in management: ''Companies will either have to dip deeper into the pool of less-qualified white males for future managers or attract, retain, and promote top women and minorities.'' Keeping women on the job and promoting them in it is a problem that the women themselves and their employers are addressing. Successful women are realizing that they have joined a men's club where they must abide by the rules in order to win acceptance as members. An increasing number of men who run America's leading companies are concluding that their enterprises must adapt too. Says Corning's Houghton: ''We must make the corporate environment more hospitable to women if they are to succeed.'' COMPLICATING the issue is the basic fact that men and women are different, a point the French have exclaimed on for centuries. Those differences become dramatically apparent, however, within the context of the male-dominated corporation. At their heart is biology: Women bear the children and -- despite 20 years of ''liberation'' -- they still raise them as well. Men have only one career to pursue single-mindedly; women must juggle two. The other notable difference is cultural: Sheer competitiveness -- Get him! Go for it! -- is an attitude that is relatively new for women. Little girls may play on Little League teams in 1988, but most of the women now competing in the corporation did not. They were raised by traditional moms to play with dolls, not baseballs. When Mary Anne Dolan was editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1981 to 1985, she made a point of hiring other women for the paper. Dolan hoped to create a happy family where colleagues supported each other in ''honest conflict'' rather than bruising competition, ''making mincemeat of the male business model.'' She was disillusioned to discover, as she wrote this year in the New York Times Magazine, that the women she hired engaged in a ''power grab.'' They wrote copious memos, they lobbied for their own projects, they gravitated to important senior managers -- they adapted to the male environment. The paradox for Dolan, who is now a syndicated columnist, and other ambitious women is that corporations -- which are themselves engaged in a Darwinian struggle -- can function only by encouraging competition in order to discover the fittest and ablest managers. Thus managers are encouraged to reward employees who are competitive. And ambitious women managers have leaped across the gulf that separates them from senior management by being good competitors. Take Lucie J. Fjeldstad as an example. At 44 she is assistant general manager of finance and planning for the Personal Systems business of IBM and one of three women among the corporation's 46 board-approved vice presidents. Educated as an economist, she joined Big Blue as a systems analyst in 1968 and grabbed every opportunity to take demanding assignments that would advance her career. Like a checker jumping around a checkerboard hollering ''King me!'' Fjeldstad has hopped around the company developing and marketing hardware and software, as well as working on strategy, pricing, and budgeting. That experience, she believes, has given her ''the kind of broad understanding needed to run a company.'' Could the company in question be IBM? Says Fjeldstad evenly: ''You bet.'' BLOND, breezy Colombe Nicholas, 43, became president of the American subsidiary of Christian Dior in 1980. In eight years Nicholas has nearly doubled the number of U.S. licensees that manufacture Dior products, and her company's revenues have tripled to over $380 million. Like most successful people, she worked herself up, step by tedious step. She began as a handkerchief and accessories buyer at Macy's where she realized that the hankies would never sell as they were displayed, in plastic rings that wrinkled the cloth. When the alterations department wanted to charge her 30 cents apiece to iron the 99-cent linens, she took them home and pressed them herself, standing over her ironing board on weekends and spraying each little white square with a Windex bottle filled with water. As a result, says Nicholas, ''we sold an awful lot of hankies,'' much to the astonished delight -- and notice -- of the boss. Nicholas outdid herself in every job and rose quickly through merchandising stints at Bloomingdale's and Bonwit Teller before joining Dior as its U.S. president. When sociologists Hennig and Jardim studied managerial women in the 1970s, they found that the typical female manager tended to shy away from risk, viewing it as a chance to fail. The women who have fought their way up the corporate ladder, however, embrace it as an opportunity to strut their stuff and gain recognition. Claire Gargalli, 45, was an administrative vice president in the international department of Fidelity Bank in Philadelphia in 1974 when she was asked to go to New York for nine months to run the bank's international trading unit until the man who had been selected for the job could return from his post in London. Though annoyed that her bosses felt she was good enough to hold down the fort temporarily but not qualified to man the ramparts permanently, she decided ''it was an opportunity to prove what I could do at a distance, without headquarters looking over my shoulder.'' Her determination paid off. Nine months later, Gargalli returned to her job in Philadelphia when the man arrived from London to run the trading unit -- and he was asked to report to her. Her stint in New York did not lead to immediate promotion, she says, ''but they did give me more money and my career progressed nicely from there.'' Gargalli is now CEO of Equibank, the $2.5 billion bank owned by Pittsburgh's Equimark Corp., and president and COO of Equimark. Jumping into an environment that seems at times indifferent or hostile can be daunting to even the toughest competitor. Many of these women learned to compete and feel comfortable in a man's world because they grew up in one. IBM's Fjeldstad was raised on an alfalfa farm and cattle ranch owned by her parents in Cedarville, California, and spent much of her time helping her dad and a crew of 20 field hands run the ranch. ''My mother wanted a 5-foot ballerina,'' Fjeldstad says. ''She got a 5-foot 7-inch tomboy instead.'' Karen Horn, 44, is an athlete. The first and only woman to head one of the nation's 12 Federal Reserve banks, she is now the chief executive of Bank One Cleveland, a unit of Banc One Corp., the aggressive superregional bank. She has been an equestrienne since the age of 8 and specializes in dressage, a highly disciplined form of riding in which the rider guides the horse through intricate maneuvers with barely perceptible movements. The walls of her den are plastered with blue ribbons she has won in competition. Many of the successful women interviewed for this story had no brothers, and therefore had little competition for their fathers' attention. A lawyer and businessman, Dimitri Nicholas insisted that his daughter Colombe attend the University of Cincinnati law school, where she was one of three women graduates in the 116-member class of 1968. The principal preoccupation of her classmates was ogling the coeds and, to have something in common with the boys, Nicholas joined right in. Her classmates soon joshed that she was a discerning ''ankle man'' and began calling her ''Nick.'' Jill Barad, 37, the executive vice president of design and product development at Mattel, has a sister but no brothers. She recalls, ''My father did not talk to us at the dinner table about growing up and getting married. It was 'Which one of you can finish the New York Times crossword puzzle first?' He used to say things like 'Never learn to type and you'll never be a secretary.' Without that encouragement from him, none of this ((she spreads her arms to indicate her corner office)) would have happened.'' ONE WAY or another, these women were encouraged to be competitive, but they are careful never to out-macho the men. A surprising number of male search consultants and executives interviewed for this story held up Linda Wachner, 42, the tough, bottom-line driven chief executive of Warnaco, as a symbol of the right stuff in the wrong package. They give Wachner -- one of the highest- ranking women in corporate America -- high marks for her skill in managing Warnaco, but criticize her abrasiveness. But Wachner -- who always worked for demanding, performance-oriented bosses and who can also be warm and charming -- defends her style: ''Being effective is what matters,'' she says, adding, ''I'm not out to get corporate love. But I do have corporate respect.'' Still, many men who might admire or at least tolerate a harsh style in other men prefer that women tread the tightrope between toughness and femininity. Most of the successful women interviewed for this story manage this feat, and do not fit the current stereotype described by one male headhunter of ''men walking around in dresses.'' Though all of them with the exception of Wachner said they had encountered bias in their careers, none paid much attention to it. They succeed by being themselves. Carole St. Mark, 45, president of Pitney Bowes's $400-million-a- year business supplies and services group, softened her approach after a painful episode early in her career. In 1970, when she was a recruiter for General Foods, the company sent her to a seminar on affirmative action that, as she puts it, ''kind of elevated my consciousness.'' ANGERED at instances of salary discrimination in her own short career -- ''We shouldn't have to pay you as much as a man because you have a husband who works,'' one boss told her -- St. Mark returned from the seminar and wrote an inflammatory letter to General Foods' chief personnel executive. Fortunately, she carboned her boss, John Bulger. He came flying out of his office, a copy of St. Mark's missive in his hand. ''Did this go out?'' he demanded. ''Get it back!'' He then helped St. Mark rewrite the memo. ''In a very calm way, he said he understood how I felt,'' she recalls. ''But he also pointed out that the way I had stated my case would put people off.''

As is true of fast-rising executive men, the responsibilities of corporate leadership leave the women little time for their families. Though St. Mark is now divorced, most of the women interviewed for this story are married and have children. Several delayed childbearing until after they had become senior executives. One woman who waited until she was in her late 30s to start her family -- and then found that she could not conceive a child -- reports that the fertility clinics are ''jammed'' with women like her. In a telling comment on the price women are paying for success, she shrugs, ''You make a choice.'' The demands of senior managerial jobs dictate that the executive mom must devote the bulk of her time to her work and squeeze her family into odd hours. In her role of bank chief executive, Karen Horn is also involved in a half dozen business committees and civic groups around the Cleveland area. She rises by 5:30 A.M. for aerobic exercises; by 6:15 A.M. she is in the kitchen flipping pancakes with her 6-year-old son. In September, Horn meets with her son's teacher to find out ''key days on the school calendar'' so she can plan her work around school plays and teacher-parent meetings. In her spare time she practices dressage with Ampersand, her thoroughbred; plays piano; and bakes bread to enter in the county fairs, often taking the blue ribbon there too. Says Horn: ''I make the time by giving up sleep.'' Successful women executives have discovered a basic truth long known to careerist men: It's easier to get ahead if you have a wife at home, or at least some reasonable facsimile thereof. These women buy from housekeepers, nurses, and caterers the cleaning, cooking, and child care services that wives once provided gratis. They also rely on husbands in the ''supportive'' Phil Donahue or Alan Alda mold who become cheerleaders on the tough road to the top. In the eyes of the world, many of these wives are far more successful than their husbands; to traditional male executives such a reversal is often threatening. An executive search consultant refers to these men as ''househusbands,'' but they are not. John Horn, for example, holds a Harvard MBA, has taught economics and marketing at the university level, and has worked as a consultant. When not managing the children's clothing store he owns or spending time with his wife and son, Horn plays piano in a classical trio and occasionally accompanies a soprano who sings lieder and operettas at benefits. He is less interested in a high-powered job, he says, than in living ''the kind of life I want to lead.'' The women profiled in this story have succeeded because they adopted some of the protective coloration of men. But what of the thousands of women who were not raised as athletes, who didn't grow up in a man's world, or whose fathers didn't treat them like substitute sons? In other words, most of the executive women who are trying to shinny up a very greasy pole. It turns out that help is coming from the unlikeliest of quarters -- the corporation itself. As more and more companies confront the unusually high dropout rates of professional and managerial women -- and the simmering frustrations of those who stay in the game -- they are coming to the conclusion that part of the problem is the corporation itself. Merck, Corning, Gannett, Capital Cities/ABC, and nearly 40 other companies have established programs designed to retain and promote women to executive jobs -- by turning them into better-equipped, more confident competitors, and by encouraging male managers to accept them into the corporate ranks. The buzzword among human resources professionals and sympathetic chief executives is no longer affirmative action, but ''upward mobility.'' THOUGH THE PUSH for upward mobility is more than affirmative action in drag, many of the basic issues are the same. Twenty years after corporations were strong-armed by the government to hire more women, most of the promoting is still being done by men. E. Martin Gibson, president of Corning's consumer and laboratory sciences group and the executive in charge of the company's upward mobility program, says that male managers in his company don't push qualified women for assignments and promotions. ''Most successful men have had at least one sponsor who suggested them for a promotion, even if they were not aware of it,'' says Gibson, ''but male mentors may be less likely to bet on women.'' As a result, any chief executive who wants to make his corporation more hospitable to women managers must help change the attitudes or at least the behavior of men. And the consensus among a growing number of companies is that male managers need to be strongly encouraged to encourage female subordinates. Several headhunters report that their clients tend to favor other men over equally qualified women for jobs. David Peasback, chief executive of Canny Bowen, a New York executive search firm, observes that women candidates are often rejected with the explanation, ''We just wouldn't feel comfortable with a woman in that job.'' It would be easy to conclude that bias was the problem, but the truth is considerably more complex. People are most likely to behave out of habit, doing what is comfortable, and a surprising number of male executives are still uncomfortable with women colleagues and competitors. For this reason, companies that want to promote more women start by helping them adapt to a male environment. They make sure distaff managers are fully qualified for promotion; that is, that the women know what the men know. Some send women managers to programs that sharpen their managerial and quantitative skills. Capital Cities/ABC discovered that many of its female managers are liberal arts graduates who need additional financial and management training. So the company enrolls promising candidates in the Smith Management Program at Smith College and the Program for Developing Managers in the Graduate School of Management at Simmons College, run by Margaret Hennig and Anne Jardim. These programs help build the women's confidence in themselves and -- by no coincidence -- the confidence of male managers in the women. Some companies such as Corning, Gannett, and Merck take aim at the paycheck, tying managers' bonuses to their progress in reaching stated upward mobility goals. Merck, which has ranked as America's most admired corporation in FORTUNE's yearly survey for two years running, began to identify the most promising of its women in the mid-1970s. The company created a timetable to promote its top 10% of female managers, and it follows up on their progress. As a result, Merck has raised the proportion of women among its top 85 executives from 3.5% in 1983 to 11.8% today. After women managers began complaining to a Corning outplacement counselor about subtle forms of discrimination at headquarters, the company instituted a nine-point program to put women in 10% of the senior executive posts, 10% of the middle-management jobs, and 23% of the lower managerial and professional jobs by 1991. Today those percentages are 3%, 3%, and 17%, respectively. Many executives understandably dislike affirmative action and upward mobility quotas because they may favor unqualified over qualified candidates, a form of reverse discrimination that can undermine morale and productivity. Chairman Houghton, echoing the sentiments of many CEOs, says that he would prefer not to resort to numerical targets. ''But,'' he says, ''I haven't found anything else that works.'' Quota-setting companies hope to make the best of this approach by ensuring that promising female managers get the experience they need to perform well when they are promoted. Martin Gibson stresses that Corning's plan has no magic solutions to lower the high dropout rate of corporate women; no one has. Not even gung-ho pro-woman chief executives like Houghton can reduce the commitment and time demanded by the corporation of its key executives. That is why women who are committed to careers, but take a leave of absence for a few years to raise children, will find their progress slowed. That fact of corporate life may seem unfair, but to paraphrase Anne Jardim, that is the way the world works. Success is a hungry god that demands constant sacrifice. Ambitious women who understand this are already on their way to the senior executive ranks in America's corporations, and are already reaping the rewards and satisfactions long enjoyed by their male counterparts. They are also making similar sacrifices. That is the price of success, and the price of equality.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: NO CREDIT CAPTION: GEARING UP FOR THE CORPORATE GAME Women are equipping themselves with educational credentials they need to compete toe to toe in the workplace with men. DESCRIPTION: Two charts: Number of MBA degrees granted to women and total number of MBA degrees earned in 1972, 1977, 1986; number of college-educated women and total number of women in work force for 1972, 1977, 1987.