Women's next career frontier: top management

THE question used to be, ``How do we get women into middle management jobs?'' Now it's ``How do we get them out of those jobs?'' Few women are better qualified to address either question than Anne Jardim, a dean of the Simmons College Graduate School of Management for Women, who ten years ago co-authored, with Margaret Hennig, the now-classic book, ``The Managerial Woman.''

A decade after her book chronicled the obstacles facing upwardly mobile women in the 1970s, Dr. Jardim finds a new set of barriers confronting women managers, class of '86. Some of the challenges are predictably the same. Male clubbishness and female stereotyping have not gone away. But a number of the mid-'80s problems would have been as difficult to predict as they are proving hard to resolve. Some women have shown a reluctance to advance to jobs they feel unprepared for. And many are less prepared to drop former associations as ``outgrown.''

Today, she says, women hold up to 40 percent of middle management jobs in some fields.

But many find themselves either treading water or settling for lateral moves as they watch male colleagues advance to senior management jobs. A recent study by Korn Ferry International, a New York recruiting firm, found that among 1,362 executives polled, women held only 2 percent of top positions.

``The barriers at the senior management levels are more complex than anything that existed to bar women from the first management jobs in 1975,'' Dr. Jardim says. ``They're more complex because they're more psychological in nature. We're no longer down to asking, `Can she do the job? And if she can't, is there training available for her to learn?' The thing has shifted from performance into subjective judgments.''

Dealing with those subjective judgments can prove difficult, not only for female employees but for those who want to help them advance.

``Ten years ago,'' Dr. Jardim recalls, ``when you talked to a woman who was in her 40s, who was doing a phenomenal job, and who had a boss saying she was promotable, she might say, `I'm not ready. I don't know enough. I don't know the job I'm going into.' You could do a lot of fairly simple things with a woman like that in terms of building confidence, letting her see that her own work history was strong enough for her to take the position and learn the job when she got into it.

``That's not the case now,'' she explains.

Some of the problems women face also grow out of women's attitudes toward relationships and competition.

``At the very highest levels of organizations,'' Dr. Jardim says, ``the men who have pulled themselves up that ladder by that point have pretty well been able to deal with social connections in ways that say that they're not very important.

``Women are not doing that with the same degree of comfort that men are doing it, and thank God they're not. But at the same time they're hitting the senior levels of organizations and finding men up there who are able to dispense with people outside of their own small group in ways that these women can't accept.

``I talk to woman after woman -- and these are women earning over $100,000 a year -- who are saying, `The relationships I build with people who work for me and work around me are important. . . I don't want to think that my life is a series of cutting off from level to level, just to have a bigger office, to manage another hundred million dollars, because it doesn't compensate.' ''

These cumulative challenges and the stalled careers that result are taking their toll. ``Across the country now,'' Dr. Jardim continues, ``a lot of very competent, very intelligent women in corporations are dropping out.'' For some the departure grows out of sheer frustration. For others it may stem from conflicts between work and family responsibilities.

``The problems haven't changed very much since `The Managerial Woman,' '' say Dr. Jardim, who is now collaborating on a second book with Dr. Hennig. ``There are problems of confidence still. There is also an inability to see the balance that is going to have to be struck between one's personal life and the beginning of one's career. That still is a very difficult one for women, because nothing much has changed in the environment to ease it. We haven't got day-care centers on anything like the scale of Scandinavian countries. And we have not got an across-the-board acceptance on the part of young men that living is a job just as working is a job. There are many tasks that have to do with living that need to be truly shared.''

If problems haven't changed, attitudes have. Among young women she finds ``a readier belief that it's all much simpler now -- that yes, 10 years ago it was really difficult, but now women are there, and it's going to be much more straightforward. Yet they're going out into a world where the difficulties are far more complicated.''

For the 25 women in top management positions who were interviewed for ``The Managerial Woman,'' the personal price of success was enormously high. Only half of them married, and none had children of their own.

By contrast today, Dr. Jardim notes, ``Far more women with children and families are now at the takeoff stage in organizations. How do you maintain multiple responsibilities? The energy level involved is incredible.''

To ease the burden, she says, ``We should be spending money on good day care now rather than spending money 20 years or 15 years or 12 years later on jails.'' Yet she laments what she describes as ``the comparative silence of American women on the need for social supports'' such as day care and maternity leave.

``It does take courage to step out from where you are and say that you are going to try to get this group together and get it moving,'' she says. But, she emphasizes, the results are crucial to the well-being of parents and children alike.

Beyond individual efforts, Dr. Jardim believes, progress in these areas will depend on ``a lot more women in elective office at the highest possible policymaking levels, because there will be a one-time cost in terms of starting up such programs. But over two decades we'll have children who are in much better shape. We'll have mothers who can work and are therefore in much better shape. And we will have better families.''

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