Sexism, discrimination still more than academic exercises


Page F4, Roanoke Times & World News, Sunday, July 17, 1994

Reprinted with permission, October 1994.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Trapped in Highway 101 rush hour traffic on the way to pick up her son, Celine Lange, 44, mulled over a host of thorny problems. Problems, she suspected, that had a lot to do with the fact that she was the lone female in a top-level post at her firm.

Just months ago, Lange, the new president of Advanced Technology Inc.'s software division, had sold her former firm to ATI. Yet she already felt she wasn't being taken seriously. How would she ever get the board's support for her ambitious new product plan?

Should she let the CEO pressure her into joining a sexual harassment committee? It would mean sitting in judgment of a key executive who already mistrusted her.

And, meanwhile, was this the time for a show of female solidarity? Catherine Moore, a frustrated manager who had just been passed over for promotion, had complained to her that she'd been put on a "mommy" track.

Lange, the fictional creation of two graduate students at the Stanford Business School, could count on the advice of 250 female graduates and a smattering of male graduates as she made her way through this political mine field. Coming from all over the country, these women gathered in an unusual weekend session of introspection that drew from Lange's dilemmas.

In hours of discussions, they transformed an academic exercise into a commentary on the struggles women face as they try to break into the top ranks of corporate America. They joked about power suits and swapped tales of discrimination. They asked whether women who wanted family lives would ever be welcomed into top corporate jobs. And they interwove practical advice with tales of success and frustration.

"You need to have the courage to stand up and do what is right for you" Connie Pate, a director at KPMB Peat Marwick, told women in one discussion group. "It's somewhat naive to believe the company will change for us."

"What will we do to make it better for those who come after us?"

For many graduates, bias in the workplace came as a shock. Despite undeniable career success, many still expressed anger over unfair treatment.

Catherine Muther, who attended Stanford in the late '70s, said while the feminist movement flourished on campus, in the button-down world of the business school, women students remained in a state of "optimistic denial" about sexism and discrimination.

Others, such as Elaine Harris, a marketing executive for DuPont and one of the firm's highest ranking black women, spoke about "neoracism," casual comments from colleagues implying that her race and gender were the tickets to her advancement. She spoke bitterly of an isolation that comes from having neither the "whiteness" of a Caucasian female nor the "maleness" of black men.

The women, she found, earned on average 58 percent of what their male counterparts earned. Among those with full-time jobs, women earned 73 percent of what the men earned, or S107,500 compared to $146,900

As they discussed the career journey of the hypothetical Lange, women asked one another if there would ever be room at the top for those who weren't willing to dedicate their lives to the company.

As they talked about Lange's fate, they peppered their conclusions with their own stories. Lange had to decide whether to recommend Catherine Moore, a marketing director who worked 40-hour weeks, to be a vice president.

Most women in one discussion group took a pragmatic view, saying they didn't believe 9-to-5 women or men with family obligations should expect or deserve such a high post. And few thought Lange should risk her own career for a cause, such as the advancement of Moore.

But others argued that until corporate America changes its definition of success, women will never be able to get ahead.

The hypothetical Moore could be the most talented and efficient manager in ATI, but managers would likely perceive her work as poor, simply because she worked fewer hours, said one woman who faces similar issues in her job-sharing position at Kraft Foods.

What is the definition of doing your job well, the graduates asked, and who defines success?

Top executives are expected to be available 24 hours a day, but an efficient CEO only rarely needs to call for a last-minute meeting at 6 a.m., said Deborah A. Guillory, director of business development at Kenetech Corp. in San Francisco. Such crisis sessions often cover up poor planning but are tolerated because such sacrifices are expected.

"For a woman, having a family is part of the equation," said Guillory, who admitted that she has decided to remain single to pursue her own career.

"Consciously or unconsciously, you can set up performance criteria that may not be necessary but that by their nature exclude women from fully participating in the game."


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