Washington Post Co. Chairman Katharine Graham urged American corporations yesterday to eliminate "the women's issue as an issue in the business world."
Saying that "good intentions aren't enough," the Post Co. executive told a Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade breakfast gathering that if a company "mainly wants to improve" equal employment statistics, "it's easier every year to add a few highly qualified women in conspicuous posts."
A more ambitious, long-range goal would make "equal opportunity so normal and ordinary that the average, unexceptional woman has the same opportunities and is judged by the same standards - as a matter of course - as the average, unexceptional man," Graham told 150 top and middle management area business leaders.
Graham is the only woman chief excutive of a "Fortune 500" industrial corporation in the United States and also is publisher of The Washington Post newspaper.
The central theme of her address yesterday was that "everybody gains as each organization draws closer to a climate of real equity, in which people are judged and employed according to their own potential, without being pigeonholed according to sex."
But "the only way to get there" is for individual companies to "step out ahead of the statistic . . . to make a commitment to a new definition of normality and ordinaries before it becomes a fact."
Currently, she said, "overall statistics on women in the labor force are rather disheartening."
In 1960, the median income of women in fulltime managerial and supervisory job was only 52.9 percent of the median for men and by 1975 that figure inched up to just 56.7 percent.
In the Washington area, where opportunities for women are relatively greater and incomes higher, the median income for women working full time was indeed the highest in the nation - but just 60 percent of the median for men, with the gap among college graduates slightly more.
Graham said these disparities are caused by two large problems - traditions of job segregation that caused women to choose or be pushed into low-paying clerical and other jobs regarded as "women's work," and unequal advancement that adds up to less earnings over a lifetime than male counterparts.
"This points to a more pervasive cycle of limited opportunities for women - reinforced by limited expectations on the part of both male and female employes themselves," she said.
Pointing to a recent survey that found 416 women with corporate titles at 1,300 large U.S. firms compared with 325 a year earlier, Graham noted: "Of course that leaves at least 884 of those corporations without any women officers yet."
Among "signs of progress" cited by the Post Co. executive are changes in public attitudes, the development by products and marketing aimed at working women and the insistence of the Securities and Exchange Commission for more outside directors - "bound to bring more women onto corporate boards."