Originally created 07/21/02

Paying the price



NEW YORK - Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman and Andrea Jung lead three of America's best-known companies, but they also have something else in common.

As baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, they are part of a generation of women who have had a profound effect on the work force. Although women have always worked, the sheer size of the boomer generation helped force society to change its ideas about women in the workplace - what kind of jobs they should hold, how they should be paid, how they should be promoted.

However, the consensus is mixed about how well they have really been integrated into corporate America.

"There's more equal opportunity than our mothers had, but still not equal pay," said Brenda Wolfe, a 40-year-old engineer-turned-manager in Colorado Springs, Colo. "And a lot of that depends on the company you're working for, and how they operate."

Women make up 46 percent of today's work force, according to Catalyst, a nonprofit group that works to advance women in business, but on average get paid 76 cents to every dollar earned by a man, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. And only six of the 500 companies on this year's Fortune 500 list were led by women CEOs.

Although high-profile boomers like Ms. Fiorina, Ms. Whitman and Ms. Jung, chief executives of Hewlett-Packard, eBay and Avon respectively, are frequently touted as examples of "breaking the glass ceiling" in corporate America, many of their peers believe much remains to be done - particularly for women who aren't executives.

"One of the problems is focusing on just the top women who have cracked the glass ceiling, because it creates the notion that the problem is only at the ceiling," said Debra Meyerson, a visiting professor at Stanford University. "The problems kick in more at the top, where they're more visible and dramatic because there are so few women. But they're pervasive throughout many companies."

Ms. Meyerson said the outright discrimination against women that was common 30 years ago has been replaced by more subtle, usually less intentional behavior that can make it more difficult for women to excel - an observation many women agree with.

For example, a company might value employees who can hop on a plane to deal with a last-minute crisis over those whose work helps avert similar problems. Or an employer might favor employees who spend the most time at the office, with less emphasis on performance. Such situations put many women, who tend to have more family responsibilities and therefore less flexible schedules than men, at a disadvantage.

"Women tend not to network as well because they have less time. I have five children, so every spare minute I have is devoted to them or my grandchildren. I don't have time to play golf or go to bars to have a beer and chat, and that's where a lot of decisions get made," said Carol Nacy, 54, an immunologist in Rockville, Md.

The lack of equal pay and opportunity - as well as the 24/7 hours demanded by many high-profile companies - prompts many women to leave the corporate world.

"I know so many women boomers who have started their own businesses because it's the only way they can be boss," said Candace Talmadge, 48, a free-lance writer in Lancaster, Texas.

For minority women, the feelings of exclusion from the corporate world can be even greater.

"People gravitate toward people who resemble them, and corporate America is still predominantly white men," said Michelle Matthews, 41, a black consultant who left corporate America three years ago to start her own business. "I think opportunities are better than when I started out, but I don't think the glass ceiling has gone away."

She says she was tired of the long hours and incessant traveling - but notes that the same issues are frustrations for men. Indeed, younger baby boomers frequently see the work culture at many corporations as detrimental to both genders.

"This is not just a women's issue, we are all members of families," said Misty Young, a 43-year-old public relations specialist in Reno, Nevada.