Glass ceiling still hangs over women's careers


Working Woman magazine is out this month with its eighth annual report, hyping the "25 hottest careers" for women. Just how hot are they?

Not very, according to the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), which last month issued an eye-opening report on the status of women in the workplace.

The jobs cited by Working Woman include computer programmer, telecommunications manager, employee trainer, family physician, nurse practitioner, physical therapist, diversity manager, ombudsman, environmental consultant, private investigator and professional-temp placement.

Many of these jobs -- even at the top levels -- have little connection with the boardroom or the top ranks of their respective fields, according to NAFE. Its 13-page report says that across the board, women work in less-powerful jobs for less pay and with fewer opportunities for advancement than men.

"I think it's a wake-up call . . . an urgent call to action," said Bridget Keating, vice president of the New York City-based organization.

The NAFE report, called "Women in the American Workforce and Power Structure: A Contemporary Snapshot," paints a far less rosy picture than the highly publicized Korn-Ferry survey also released last month. That survey showed top female executives making major gains in their professional and personal lives in the past decade -- although they still hold a fraction of the top jobs and earn one-third less than their male counterparts.

NAFE, from its compilation of statistics gleaned from various studies, found "a severely ghettoized American work force." In the workplace, NAFE found, the glass ceiling is firmly in place and has little prospect of cracking without "dramatic proactive steps in many arenas."

"A lot of it wasn't surprising, but it was depressing," Ms. Keating said.

Men working in traditionally female occupations -- such as nursing or bookkeeping -- earn more than women working in those same fields, NAFE found. In 1989, male nurses were paid 10 percent more than female nurses; male bookkeepers, 16 percent more than female bookkeepers. "Women's jobs are generally less valued," Ms. Keating said. "When a man does the job, it immediately gets more status. Status and money are linked."

The American work force is highly segregated. In 1992, women dominated certain fields, such as secretaries (99 percent), bookkeeping and nursing (93 percent) and textile workers (91 percent).

In addition, the top rungs of the corporate ladder have eluded women. A 1990 study of the Top Fortune 500 companies showed that women comprised only 2.6 percent of corporate officers, changing little over the last 25 years.

And women have made only limited inroads into the areas of politics (6 percent of the U.S. Senate and 11 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives this year), health-care (17 percent of physicians in 1990) and the media (8.7 percent of the publishers of U.S. daily and Sunday newspapers in 1992).

"Although women's labor-force participation has increased dramatically, women's status at work remains highly depressed," said Mary Frank Fox, an associate professor of sociology and women's studies at Pennsylvania State University.

Ms. Fox came to conclusions similar to NAFE's in her 1984 book "Women at Work." Not much has changed since, she said, her voice tinged with indignation. "Women are concentrated in a few hTC segregated occupations and hold jobs with low pay, low power and poor prospects for advancement."

All this, she said, despite women's entering the work force in high numbers and seeking advanced degrees. "We have made the investments, and business has not paid off," she said. Ms. Fox attributed the slow advances of women within the work-force hierarchy to an old boys' network reluctant to share its grip on power.

"It is mostly white men who are afforded experience in the 'gut functions that make business grow or bring in revenues,' " the NAFE report stated, citing a 1991 Library of Congress paper on the glass ceiling.

While NAFE's report portrays a decidedly gloomy snapshot of women's prospects in the work force, the Korn-Ferry study spotlighted women's gains in the boardroom.

The executive-search firm Korn-Ferry International and the UCLA Graduate School of Management conducted their survey of 400 women executives this year and found that top female executives have made major gains in both their professional and personal lives compared to findings by the same researchers a decade ago.

According to the study, the number of women with the title of executive vice president has doubled, from 4 percent to 8.7 percent; women executives have seen their salaries double, but they still take home only two-thirds of men's income; and they earn more than their husbands, but still have primary responsibility for household duties or share them with their husbands.

"We've made advances," Ms. Keating said, "but we still have a long way to go."

To foster women's careers, NAFE, along with several women's organizations, plans to sponsor a town meeting Oct. 23 via satellite on the topic "50/50 by the Year 2000," referring to the goal of women's achieving equality with men.

Ms. Keating said the conference was one step toward breaking the glass ceiling and serving notice to younger women, many of whom haven't yet encountered the ceiling. "Younger women are treated equally with men in college," she said. "When they graduate, they both get equivalent entry-level jobs. He gets promoted. She gets promoted. Everything is moving along fine. They haven't hit that ceiling."

Without some fundamental changes, she said, the younger generation of women will face a rude awakening. And it will take more than the passage of time to change things.

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