Boston — Women on the upper rungs of the corporate ladder are still few and far between. And academia reflects this management deficit. Until last month, of the 238 accredited business schools in the United States , only seven were headed by women. It isn't too surprising, then, that the appointment of the first woman dean to one of the top 10 business schools in the country is generating some attention.
Elizabeth Bailey, the relaxed, well-spoken dean of Carnegie-Mellon Graduate School of Industrial Administration, is accustomed to ''firsts.'' A graduate in economics of Radcliffe College, she went on to a master's degree in mathematics from Stevens Institute of Technology, then was the first woman to receive a doctorate in economics from Princeton University, in 1972. Before her 1977 appointment as the first woman commissioner, then vice-chairman, of the Civil Aeronautics Board, she was the first female research head of the economics department at Bell Laboratories, in the early '70s.
Nevertheless, Dr. Bailey is eager to see rapid movement away from the time when ''firsts'' are so noticeable, remarking that ''it's society's fluke'' that her achievements have received so much attention. As head of the committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, she has done considerable research. Progress, she notes, has been slow.
''I think professional women (in the economics field) are no better off than they were 10 years ago,'' she comments. She feels women have made great strides in many aspects of the business world and in government particularly. But the record is weak in business-related academic positions, despite the fact that in recent years women have accounted for 10 percent of all economics PhDs.
''I've given a lot of thought to what you could do to bring more visibility to women,'' she says, listing a star-studded roster of schools such as Princeton , Dartmouth, Stanford, and Yale which have no women economics professors. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she notes gratefully, has one.
Prejudice still exists, says Dr. Bailey, who has two teen-age sons, in part because of many women ''ducking out for a while'' to have children. But in the 1960s, she feels, the threat of loss of federal funds, due to affirmative-action programs, was a great incentive for many public schools to upgrade their hiring policies for women. ''The University of California now has an awful lot of wonderful women at Berkeley,'' she notes, laughing, ''but private universities have not been doing nearly as well.''
Women have, however, significantly increased their profile as business-school students. Carnegie-Mellon's business enrollment is now 22 percent women, compared with about 5 percent five years ago.
The business world is another story. According to Korn/Ferry International's 1982 survey, to which 300 senior women executives responded, only 6 percent of the group were presidents or chief executive officers; 4 percent were executive vice-presidents. Also, according to the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, women managers earn, on average, 55 percent of their male counterparts' wages.
Dean Bailey attributes such facts to differing styles of operation, which she says must be changed. ''As you come up for promotion, men are good at fighting for themselves, for lining up other possibilities so they can make strategic threats.
''Among women,'' she reflects, ''there's too much of a tendency to hope that they get noticed. Women need to learn to take their careers in their own hands. True merit doesn't always shine out - it has to be brought to the boss's attention.''
She offers the example of a woman astronomer at MIT several years ago who set up discussion groups for young women faculty. In the sessions, these women would argue tenure cases so that they could learn what steps counted along the way. This allowed them to develop a five- or six-year plan which could influence a tenure decision.
Dr. Bailey attributes much of her own success to mentors who have said, as she puts it, 'This is the official story, now you should know the hidden agenda.'
''I'm a real believer in the mentor system,'' the dean asserts. ''It's very important to relate honestly to people and to have strong work relationships.''
Dean Bailey is excited about the prospect of guiding her school at this period because of the high speed of change in the business world. The school has been moving toward a focus on training in engineering, high technology, and entrepreneurship so as to improve managerial skills at all levels.
She also feels the new post is a promising follow-up to her position in government. She would like to focus on expanding courses concerning business-government relations.
This leads naturally to another interest: promoting more international and long-range thinking among future business leaders. She feels that a better understanding of how government regulations will affect industry, whether in auto regulations, environmental issues, or airline deregulation, can lead to a more cooperative way of reaching a number of societal goals.