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SPECIAL REPORT: EXECUTIVE PAY IN CALIFORNIA

Women Still Bumping Up Against Glass Ceiling

May 26, 1996|MARTHA GROVES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jill Elikann Barad became marketing director for Mattel's popular Barbie doll in 1982, and she and the plastic clotheshorse have shared the fast track ever since.

Mattel Inc., based in El Segundo, is that rare company that historically has moved women into key positions, and Barad, who turned 45 last week, has enjoyed a particularly meteoric ascent. Now Mattel's president and chief operating officer, Barad is the sole woman on The Times' list of 100 executives with the highest cash compensation in California for 1995.

More than 30 years after the term "glass ceiling" was coined to describe the impediments women encountered on their way to America's executive suites, Barad's lonely showing dramatically illustrates how shatterproof that invisible barrier continues to be.

"Clearly, the glass ceiling still exists," said Jean Lipman-Blumen, a professor of organizational behavior at the Claremont Graduate School. "It's a widespread problem, not only in the United States but around the world."

Mattel is definitely an exception. At the toy company, Barad noted, 11 of the top 35 executives are women, including the chief financial officer, who is also an executive vice president. "I look forward to seeing many more women on this [pay] list in the future," she added.

The scope of the glass ceiling problem was underscored late last year when the federal Glass Ceiling Commission, appointed during the administration of President Bush, issued its final report. At a time when more than 35% of the nation's master's of business administration degrees are being awarded to women, the report said 95% of senior-level management posts in the Fortune 1,000 industrial and Fortune 500 companies are held by men, 97% of whom are white.

"The glass ceiling is not only an egregious denial of social justice . . . but a serious economic problem that takes a huge financial toll on American business," said Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, the commission chairman, in the report's introduction. "Equity demands that we destroy the glass ceiling. Smart business demands it as well."

The report, issued at a time when affirmative action programs are increasingly coming under fire, urged top managers to commit themselves to the idea of diverse work forces and to work harder at hiring and promoting women and minorities. It also said the federal government should lead by example.

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California, to be sure, has its share of high-ranking and extremely well-paid women, notably in the entertainment field. (This survey did not cover executives at privately held companies or at companies based out of state, and that is why some recognizable names do not appear.) And many women have excelled by starting their own businesses or taking top positions in relatively young companies.

For example, Carol A. Bartz, chairwoman and chief executive of Autodesk Inc., a software company in San Rafael, made the list of 25 executives with the biggest profits on exercised options in 1995.

But throughout corporate America, academics and consultants say, women are being denied access to the pinnacles of most professions by deep-seated stereotypes and subtle attitudes--more than by any conscious effort on the part of white males to exclude them from the upper ranks.

Unlike men, "women are constantly undergoing competency testing," said Judith Rosener, a professor at UC Irvine's Graduate School of Management. Studies, she added, show that female partners make less than male counterparts at the Big 6 accounting firms.

Even though demographics would dictate that women's lot will improve as they enter their 50s and 60s--prime corporate leadership years--they will never hold parity with their male peers, most experts agree.

"As long as women have babies, it will never be 50-50," said Cheryl Russell, who researches demographic trends for corporations from her base in Ithaca, N.Y.

Some companies often argue that there are not enough women in the pipeline. "But there is a considerable number, and they're interested in moving [up]," said Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, a professor of sociology at City University of New York's Graduate Center.

At many companies, she added, women simply are not given the types of assignments that would prepare them for upper management.

In a study of large New York law firms, Epstein found that women who won prestigious promotions generally had moved into their jobs laterally from other firms. They--but not the men--had to prove themselves elsewhere before being considered for advancement.

Catalyst, a nonprofit research organization in New York that works with business to create opportunities for women, has noted that women tend to predominate in staff positions such as human resources, public relations and other "soft" fields. But the individuals who get promoted into the upper ranks usually come from line positions, often in engineering or manufacturing. The vast majority of those people, of course, are male.

"Women often don't get the opportunities to be visible to upper management and are excluded from networking," said Marcia Brumit Kropf, Catalyst's vice president for research and advisory services.

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