WHY WOMEN STILL DON'T HIT THE TOP Much of what was supposed to change hasn't. Some women leave their jobs because the sacrifices seem too great. But discrimination -- however subtle -- plays a part.
By Jaclyn Fierman REPORTER ASSOCIATE Alison Sprout

(FORTUNE Magazine) – WHEN WILL WOMEN in decent numbers finally make it into the highest ranks of corporate America? The short answer: not in this millennium. By the year 2000 women will make up nearly half the labor force. But it won't be the top half. The cool reception women once got at the door has followed them up the organizational hierarchy. For all but an exceptional few, the corner office still looks as remote as it did to Rosie the Riveter. Just wait, was the old excuse. A decade ago even women's staunchest male advocates said time had to pass; women lacked the seasoning and seniority to run the show. Today that explanation rings increasingly hollow. Women have gained access to virtually every line of work and are bulging in the pipeline: The U.S. Department of Labor says they make up 40% of a loosely defined demographic category of managers and administrators that covers everyone from President Bush to the person running the local Dairy Queen. But only a minuscule number of women have top jobs at America's major companies, and not many more are in the zone for promotion to those jobs anytime soon. Says Judy Mello, 46, in the early 1980s CEO of First Women's Bank in New York City: ''My generation came out of graduate school 15 or 20 years ago. The men are now next in line to run major corporations. The women are not. Period.'' Want proof? FORTUNE examined 1990 proxy statements of the 799 public companies on its combined lists of the 1,000 largest U.S. industrial and service companies. The cold-shower findings: Of the 4,012 people listed as the highest-paid officers and directors of their companies, we spotted 19 women -- less than one-half of 1% (see chart). True, there has been progress, but it has been remarkably limited. When FORTUNE undertook a similar project in 1978, out of 6,400 officers and directors on its combined lists, which then included 1,000 industrial and 300 service companies, ten were women.

Further down the ranks the numbers are more heartening. But only slightly. To get an idea of the count -- there are no authoritative studies of the number of women in upper management -- FORTUNE looked through the names at the back of the annual reports of 255 major corporations. The list often goes as deep in the organization as division head and assistant vice president, and includes positions like corporate secretary that have frequently gone to women. Of the 9,293 names, 5% were women. (Admittedly, some women, especially initial users, may have escaped us, though we did pay special attention to the Leslies, Carols, and Gales. And some men may have slipped through our screen, though we did catch Mr. Shirley Beavers of First Virginia Banks.) To once again raise a question FORTUNE posed 17 years ago when it first looked at women in the executive suite, where in blazes are they? Many women aren't rising to the top of large corporations because they quit or deliberately leap off the fast track. They miss their children. They miss not having had children. A better opportunity comes along. Or they just get tired and want out of the rat race. As comedienne Lily Tomlin quipped, ''If I had known what it would be like to have it all, I might have settled for less.'' For many baby-boom women, the 1980s effectively destroyed the notion that they could have it all: a full-blown career, a happy marriage, well-adjusted children, and cellulite-free thighs. Blessed with first-class educations, middle-class drive, and a sense of unlimited opportunities, these women expected a lot of themselves. They also expected equal treatment in the workplace. And they wanted to give their families -- if they ever got around to having them -- the same security that June Cleaver gave her children. Well- intentioned but torn asunder, many understandably failed as Supermoms. But some women were willing to tough it out, stay the course, and make the necessary sacrifices. What they have run up against can only be called discrimination. Discrimination, you scoff, in this enlightened age? Yes, says Ralph Ablon, chairman of Ogden Corp., No. 74 on FORTUNE's list of the 100 largest diversified service companies: ''Sure there's discrimination. It's stupid to say there's not. Despite our intellectual efforts to deny it, prejudices exist and will exist until a new generation comes along that doesn't have them.'' That generation, it bears remembering, was supposed to be the baby boom, many of whose men have already assumed key decision-making roles at large companies. At age 73, Ablon seems an unlikely harbinger of new thinking. But three years ago he appointed Maria Monet, now 40, as his company's chief financial officer, and he pays her more than $730,000 a year, making her one of the top- earning women in corporate America. Enlightenment, Ablon concedes, has come only with age and a lot of contemplation: ''When I became CEO 29 years ago, I don't believe I could have been as liberal. And I couldn't have gotten away with appointing a woman as CFO. Today I could.'' A recent poll of FORTUNE 1,000 CEOs shows that Ablon isn't alone in finding discrimination at work. Nearly 80% of 241 respondents to a survey conducted by Catalyst, a group that does research on women in the workplace, said there are identifiable barriers that keep women from reaching the top. No, they say, women do not lack the technical skills to make it. After all, they have been going to the same schools as their male counterparts and now represent over half of all college students, 37% of graduate business students, and roughly 40% of law students. The problems, said an astonishing 81% of the CEOs who acknowledged the existence of barriers, are stereotyping and preconceptions. This is a subtle, tricky, but nonetheless pernicious form of discrimination, more apparent in the result -- just look at the numbers -- than in anyone's conscious intentions. Ask the typical male executive if he is prejudiced against women, and he will roundly deny it. But when it comes to choosing among several rivals for a top corporate job, he chooses a man. The next time, he does the same thing. And the next. Even Ablon, who recently retired as CEO of Ogden, chose not Monet but a man -- his 40-year-old son, Richard -- to succeed him. What nonsense, you counter -- if women don't get top jobs, they don't deserve them. Undoubtedly so in many cases. Besides, the volume of the uppermost quarter of any pyramid is only 1.6% of the whole, a geometric fact that automatically eliminates most women -- and men -- who aspire to the top. True also that the average CEO is in his mid-50s and most business schools began admitting women in significant numbers only in the early 1970s, which puts them around fortysomething today. But John Reed had no trouble seeing over his desk six years ago when he was promoted to CEO of Citicorp at age 45. Nor does Cigna CEO Wilson Taylor, who is now 46. Even allowing that many women still aren't old enough or talented enough to be CEO, more should be joining their male contemporaries in the executive dining room. CEO John Mascotte of Continental Corp., a property and casualty company with $14 billion in assets, was stunned when he started counting. Two-thirds of his 15,000 employees are women, but nine out of ten senior managers are men. Says he: ''It seems idiotic if we're investing in people but making it impossible for them to advance. Are we sending out signals that women need not aspire to the top?'' The signals may be no more than a slight rustling of discomfort, a bit of awkwardness in a man's body language. It may seem surprising in an era sometimes labeled postfeminist, but working closely with the opposite sex continues to make many male executives uncomfortable. Listen to Ellie Raynolds, a partner at the headhunting firm Ward Howell International: ''Corporate males still don't know how to deal with women. They are afraid to yell at them or to give them negative feedback. It's as though they think they are yelling at their mothers or their wives. Men often worry women will run from the room in tears, or worse yet, yell back. They're not really sure the women will come through for them. They just don't trust them as much as the guys with whom they talk football.'' Haven't we heard this before? But after ten years of supposed progress, too many of the old, uncomfortable ways persist. The offense may be as banal as the mere existence of Merrill Lynch's Chowder and Marching Society, a group of men who get together now and then for drinks and dinner. Or it may be tougher to read. ''You'd hear things,'' says Deborah Farrington, 39, who went to Merrill Lynch after graduating from Harvard business school in 1976. ''There were innuendoes. If you wore dark blue suits with floppy bow ties, there would be no talk about whether you were being flirtatious. But if you were attractive and dressed stylishly, people took you less seriously.'' Farrington, who spent a decade at Merrill, feels she can more easily be herself as head of corporate finance in Hong Kong for Asian Oceanic Group, a small merchant bank. Try as women have to fit into the male business milieu, men still think they do a lousy job of it. Many believe corporate women are weak in interpersonal skills, a dimension that's largely ineffable but critical to achieving a high corporate position, where competence is assumed and chemistry often becomes key. Sometimes men see women as pushovers. More often they find women overbearing. ''The most common lament of top management men is 'She's too shrill. She's too aggressive. She's too hard-edged,' '' says Kenneth Brousseau, president of Decision Dynamics Corp., a human resources consulting firm in Santa Monica, California. WOMEN POINT TO the persistence of precisely this attitude as the most pernicious example of discrimination in the workplace. If they are too feminine, they are viewed as softies; too masculine, and they're abrasive. ''It's as if we're being asked to play a Beethoven sonata in two octaves,'' says Arlene Johnson, who directs work force studies for the Conference Board, a business research organization in New York. ''We need the whole keyboard to show our range.'' The recently decided case of Ann Hopkins, 46, formerly a management consultant at Price Waterhouse, affords a striking example of how such stereotyping works. In May a federal judge ordered the accounting firm to make Hopkins a partner and give her $370,000 in back pay because it had unfairly discriminated against her. The firm, which counts 27 women among its 876 partners, recently filed an appeal. What happened: In 1982, Hopkins and 87 colleagues, all men, came up for consideration as partners. Though in the previous few years she had played a big part in securing some $40 million in contracts for the firm, an amount she says was more than that of any other candidate for partner in 1982, she was not among the 47 people promoted; Price Waterhouse will neither confirm nor deny Hopkins's claim. ''Any woman who can be a success with her clients should qualify as partner,'' says Cynthia Turk, 37, who recently resigned as partner from a Price Waterhouse competitor, Deloitte & Touche, to set up her own consulting firm. ''This was a clear case of discrimination.'' The court, in agreeing, found particularly damning a remark made by Hopkins's mentor and chief supporter. ''He told me to walk more femininely, talk more femininely, wear makeup, have my hair styled, and wear jewelry,'' says Hopkins, now a senior budget officer at the World Bank. Hopkins, who has two sons, 11 and 12, and a 14-year-old daughter, says the advice was largely useless: ''I already wear jewelry and high heels, and I go to the beauty parlor. But I'm allergic to makeup.'' Even if she weren't allergic, Hopkins says applying the makeup would be difficult because she can't see without her trifocals. Faced with this kind of prejudice, women who set their sights on top jobs and actually get them develop 20-20 vision when it comes to corporate folkways. ''They understand that competence and a bus token will only get them across town,'' says psychologist Dee Soder, president of New York's Endymion Co., which counsels women and men who want to scale the corporate Everest. The experiences of the women on FORTUNE's best-compensated list, plus war stories from Hopkins and other high-achieving women identified by FORTUNE, show just how tricky it is to navigate the ascent. Go-getters who stand out in the ranks can stick out at the top. ''When I first started out, I was extremely rough around the edges,'' says Lois Juliber, president of Colgate-Palmolive's Far East/Canada division. ''Bully wouldn't be the right word, but I was the toughest of the tough. I didn't listen well. I had to mellow and learn to trust people.'' IT MAY HELP to regard the experiences of women in business as akin to infiltrating an alien world. Maria Monet of Ogden has been feeling her way and finding it since she emigrated to the U.S. from Portugal when she was 5 years old. ''I grew up trying to fit in with a different culture. I didn't speak English when I went to kindergarten,'' she says. Monet had her share of setbacks on the corporate climb. Twice she hit the proverbial glass ceiling, a barrier that enables women to glimpse but not grasp the corner office. A lawyer by training, she began as an associate at the Wall Street firm of Shearman & Sterling in 1974. But by 1980 it was still largely a white-shoe -- no heels -- firm, and Monet failed to make partner. Investment banking, she thought, would be different. After 18 months of round-the-clock dealmaking at Lehman Brothers, she took stock: All the partners were men. So when an Ogden executive whom she met on a deal offered her a job, she leaped again. Monet quickly established herself at Ogden by reducing the time between the start and close of a deal from two years to six months. In three years she rose to chief financial officer. IF WOMEN WHO are puzzling over appropriate boardroom behavior feel as if their heads are spinning, so do male managers. Just what do women want, anyway? The vast majority have lobbied aggressively for special treatment. And they are getting it. Hewitt Associates, a benefits and compensation consulting firm in Chicago, found that 56% of 259 major employers offer some sort of child-care aid, 56% allow flexible scheduling, and 42% grant unpaid parental leave. But along comes a select group of women who want no special favors -- just a top job, thank you. These women figure their best shot at success is at gender-blind companies that make no concessions to their needs and require $ them to work the same hours as men. ''There is no such thing as job sharing or part time at the top,'' says Phyllis Swersky, 39, executive vice president of AICorp Inc., a computer software company outside Boston. Swersky began holding meetings in her living room two days after she came home from the hospital after delivering her third child. America's most successful businesswomen wave not the feminist banner but the corporate one. ''I've never particularly thought of myself as a woman in business, so I've never let it get in my way,'' says Kathryn Braun, 39, senior vice president of Western Digital, a major supplier of personal computer parts in Irvine, California. These women have interpersonal skills sufficient to finesse them through difficult situations. Edith Martin, 45, who was a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense under President Reagan and is now a vice president at Boeing, recalls the time she went on an executive outing while at Control Data. The luncheon grill was an extension of the men's locker room. Rather than sitting around with a bunch of towel-clad hearties, Martin decided to hit tennis balls while the men ate. ''Yes, there are awkward moments,'' she says. ''You can either walk off with a hot head or laugh it off. But after you have a couple of drinks and everyone laughs it off, it brings you closer.'' Moral: Greet the wrong gesture with the right attitude. In breaking through stereotypes, the adage that line jobs are the straightest line to the top still holds. Women should take a lead from men and steer clear of dead ends like personnel and public relations. The most successful have typically sought out risky, thankless projects whose results become immediately apparent on the bottom line. ''You have to prove you're a leader. You have to show you're willing to steal second base. Women don't project that ability well,'' says Mary Rudie Barneby, 38, who built from scratch a $3 billion corporate retirement plan business for Merrill Lynch. She now heads a similar division for Dreyfus Corp. in New York City. Maria Monet stole second while working at Lehman Brothers. Her client, Ogden Corp., wanted to build a waste-to-energy plant in Oregon, but the county thought the financing it would have to provide was too burdensome. Monet calculated that if the county floated variable- rather than fixed-rate bonds to pay for construction, it could save about $5 million. ''I was so new at investment banking, I didn't even realize the problems I had created,'' she | says. ''Financing a waste-to-energy project whose future revenues were predictable with bonds whose interest rates were not was unheard of.'' But Monet persisted, won the bankers' confidence, and caught the eye of Ogden Chairman Ablon. Her creative financing set a new industry standard and, she's convinced, clinched her career. What Western Digital's Braun calls her acid test entailed resisting Wall Street naysayers to buy the assets of Tandon Corp.'s faltering disk drive division in 1988. Braun decided she had no choice: Without disks, she predicted, Western Digital's bread-and-butter business -- computer information storage -- wouldn't survive. She felt sure that the next generation of storage chips would reside directly in the disks. She guessed right. ''We managed our way through the crisis,'' she says. ONE OF the explanations still cited for why women fail to get to the top is that they don't stick to it; they leave jobs more often than men do. Conclusive evidence on the point is hard to come by. But women do seem more willing than men to act on their desires for something else, perhaps because they are so acutely aware of the personal sacrifices they are making to work. When Opinion Research Corp. of Princeton, New Jersey, asked 26,500 managers in seven large companies whether they intended to quit their jobs in the next year, 17% of women said yes, compared with 11% of men. If women would just hang in there and be patient, the thinking goes, more might reach their goals. Perhaps, allows Dreyfus Corp.'s Barneby, who in 14 years rose from clerical worker to one of the highest-ranking women at Merrill Lynch. ''If I had waited, I think I would have had a shot at the top rungs,'' she says. ''But I got tired of pushing. My shoulder started to hurt.'' Don't Blame the Baby is the name Wick & Co., a Delaware consulting firm, gave its recent study of why male and female managers change jobs. The Wick research, a survey of 110 executives, found that most women quit jobs not to rock the cradle but to find greater career satisfaction somewhere else. Nonetheless, virtually every woman interviewed for this article acknowledged the heavy -- and sometimes painful -- demands of juggling family or personal life and the fast track. Observes John Rosenblum, dean of the University of Virginia's Darden graduate school of business administration: ''Women are discouraged about their ability to realize a vision of life that has family, career, and happiness all in the same sentence.'' In choosing to make the corporate climb, Monet let some of life's other options go. She has no children and sees her husband, a general partner at Montgomery Securities in San Francisco, once a month. She reports to work every morning at seven at the New York headquarters of Ogden, which operates sports arenas, power plants, and convention centers. She eats lunch at her desk and tops off her 11-hour day with a 1 1/2-hour workout at a nearby health club. ''I used to think I could work, get married, and raise a family,'' she says. ''I realize now it's hard enough just to do my job well. It was a rude awakening.'' One very senior woman at a large consumer products company asked not to be quoted by name when she spoke of the price she had paid for success. ''I would never want my mother to know how much it hurts me to be childless,'' she says. She is hardly alone. Nearly half the women on FORTUNE's 1990 list of highly paid women are childless, five are divorced, and one never married. Claudia Goldin, the first tenured economics professor at Harvard, feels she might not have achieved her position had she had a family. ''I'm at the top of my profession now, and it took a tremendous amount of concentration and focus in a brief period of time. If I were married and had kids, I probably wouldn't have had the energy.'' WOMEN WHO DO try to combine traditional and fast-track lifestyles need a rock-solid infrastructure at home. Swersky of AICorp has a live-in nanny to care for her three children, ages 8, 5, and 4. She also has a live-in housekeeper and a supportive husband who runs his own accounting firm. Says Swersky: ''I don't take care of the house. I don't cook. I don't do laundry. I don't market. I don't take my children to malls and museums. And I don't have close friends.'' She typically leaves the house before 8 A.M. and returns around 7 P.M. ''I am often gone longer, not shorter, than this,'' she says. ''I am frequently too tired to tell my husband about my day, listen to him tell me about his, or play with the children. It was a major challenge just to figure out a simple hair style and makeup for myself.'' On the question of when to bear the brood, women are often not in sync with their employers. ''From an organizational point of view, the early 20s is the best time to have children,'' says Mary Anne Devanna, associate dean of the Columbia University graduate school of business. ''Employers don't care what people do before they enter the work force.'' Probably so, but many women don't feel ready at that age. Says Blair Sheppard, 38, director of the human resource management center at Duke University's Fuqua graduate school of business: ''The whole career ladder in the U.S. is predicated on the life cycle of a man. We tell people to prove themselves between 30 and 38. But that's when executive women tend to have babies.'' The lesson: Having it all is easier if you don't insist on having it all at once. Rosetta Bailey, 55, now senior vice president at Citizens Federal Bank in Florida and a member of FORTUNE's 1990 list, worked as a receptionist and teller in the bank for 15 years while raising two children. ''By the time I got to a management level, it wasn't necessary for me to be with my children all the time,'' she says. Ambitious women would do well to choose employers whose expectations are compatible with their own. Banking has always been fertile ground, perhaps because women have been paying their dues for years and now represent 91% of tellers, for instance. High-tech companies and small startup ventures too bent on survival to be exclusionary are also women-friendly. ''There is no old boy network in my industry, because it's too new,'' says Western Digital's Braun. ''So women rise more easily through the ranks.'' In a business where product life cycles are as short as two years, qualified women -- and men -- tend to be promoted more rapidly than colleagues at mature consumer products or industrial companies. Braun headed for Southern California 17 years ago, a biology and psychology graduate fresh out of Duke University. Her first job was on the assembly line of a minicomputer manufacturer. When she realized that women weren't being promoted into sales, she quit and joined Western Digital in 1978 as a technical support person. Today she heads the company's most profitable division, which so far this year has sold $200 million of intelligent disk drives and other storage products for personal computers. No business is as receptive as the one whose CEO feels comfortable with women at his side. ''If I were working for my first employer today, I would still be a middle manager,'' says Ilene Beal, one of three executive vice presidents at BayBanks, outside Boston. Of her current boss, CEO William Crozier, she says, ''He only cares about getting the job done. Maybe it's because he's married to a Ph.D. who has more degrees than he does.'' * Will the glass ceiling ever disappear? Yes, if history is any guide. But it won't crack and fall all at once, or even soon. For most of the first half of this century, married women were almost unemployable; they couldn't even get office jobs. When they entered the work force in large numbers during World War II, it was not so much because men wanted to hire them as because the country needed them. The next big wave of women -- mostly baby-boomers -- began working in the 1970s. Men were more receptive to them, but ambivalence abounded; as recently as 1978 there were urinals in the ladies' rooms at Harvard business school. And women managers still make only 64% of what men do. Harvard's Goldin, for one, argues that conditions for working women will gradually get better. ''While there is still reason to clamor, women have made great strides, especially in the past ten years,'' says Goldin, author of a new book called Understanding the Gender Gap. She notes that in the Department of Labor's broad management category, the gap between men's and women's wages narrowed 18.5% between 1979 and 1988. Women who look at the world not as historians but as victims may scoff at Goldin's perspective. They are also the ones least likely to survive in the corporate jungle. ''Our best hope for the future are women who don't see the ceiling but the sky,'' says Goldin. Indeed, the best defense in a hostile world is to shed the defensive posture. ''A group wants to feel that you're part of it,'' says Monet. ''If you don't look like them, you already have something to overcome. Most men just haven't had enough experience working with women.'' In the meantime, what can parents do to nudge things along? For starters, they should emphasize self-reliance in their daughters. Superachievers share a gritty, pioneering spirit, says New York psychologist Dee Soder. ''I have yet to meet a truly successful woman who didn't have a courage-building experience in her childhood.'' Typical is Ilene Beal of BayBanks, whose mother died when she was a child. ''My father brought me up to think I could do anything. If I broke a toy, he taught me to fix it. He brought out the take-charge part of me.'' Another small step: Parents should encourage their daughters to take as much interest in baseball and basketball as in Barbie. Not only would the girls gain fluency in the sports-speak so common in business, but according to a 1986 survey of 2,043 adults by Sports Illustrated, one of FORTUNE's sister % publications, sports lovers are more successful in life than nonfans. The poll also found that sports-minded people are wealthier, and perceive themselves as wittier, more popular, smarter, and more competitive than people who don't care about keeping score. Parents might even inspire their daughters with Dr. Seuss's current best- seller, Oh, the Places You'll Go! ''Remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act,'' says the man who speaks volumes to children. He urges: ''On you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl . . . Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak . . . And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)'' The odds for grownup women, of course, are slimmer, though demographics are on their side. Women and minorities are already the majority in the workplace, and a competitive corporate America will eventually have little choice but to include them in their leadership pool. Until then -- for the next few decades, anyway -- women may want to heed the following checklist for success, which itself, alas, carries no guarantee: Look like a lady; act like a man; work like a dog.

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: NO CREDIT CAPTION: These are the only women among the highest-paid officers and directors of the publicly held FORTUNE 500 service and industrial companies, as listed in their proxies. The 1990 women are about a decade younger than those from 1978, but they still make up less than one-half of 1% of the total. 1990: OUT OF 4,000 OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS, 19 WOMEN... 1978: OUT OF 6,400 OFFICERS AND DIRECTORS, 10 WOMEN