Younger, better-educated women who resemble their male colleagues in both social and economic background are beginning to arrive in the nation's executive suites. But women who inched their way up from clerical positions are still more typical of women corporate officers, according to a recent study.
Change is coming, but coming slowly, and it may be "several more decades" before women blend into the mahogany woodwork, according to the thrid annual "profile of a Woman Officer" by Heidrick and Struggles Inc., a management consulting firm that specializes in executive search.
For the time being, the women in their dress-for-success suits are still in lower-level positions, less well paid and less well educated than their male counterparts, the study found.
But "each year brings more women officers with advanced educations who have joined their firms in managerial or professional capacities," according to the study. With their advert, "resistance to the concept of female executives seems doomed to decline in the years to come."
The study that the typcial woman officer of 1979 "is married, under 50 years of age, has at least one degree, was born into a family of low or lower-middle income and has compensation of less than $40,000 from her nonindustrial employment." The study surveyed women officers of the nation's 1,000 leading industrial and 50 leading banking, diversified financial, insurance, retailing transportation and utility companies. About 46 percent of the 485 women surveyed responded.
"Up to this point, companies have frequently promoted long-service clericals to officer rank," according to the study. "As corporate secretaries or assistant secretaries, these individuals have continued to carry out duties which are often clerical in nature."
A slight majority of the surveyed women -- 51 percent -- still occupy corporate secretary or assistant secretary positions, and 57 percent of those surveyed joined their companies as clericals, according to the study. Both of those percentages are down from earlier years.
"In the past 10 years the number of women getting MBAs has grown from a trickle to a substantial number," said Helen McLane, vice president of Heidrick and Struggles, who directed the survey. "That means that many companies that hesitated to hire women for the guts of the enterprise are not putting them in slots that are the training ground for tomorrow's chief executive," she said.
The women surveyed reported they found the greatest opposition to female executives among white male managers 40 and older. They also said that they believe the creative and performing arts to be the fields offering women the greatest opportunity to advance regardless of sex. Business corporations were ranked as offering the least opportunity.
Of the women surveyed, only 13.3 percent were earning $70,000 or more, but that percentage is nearly double the percentage earning that much in 1978. "Compensation has advanced, but because women hold lower posts, they're compensated much lower than men," said McLane.
She said that the company found in a separate survey of senior echelon managers of major organizations that only a half of one percent of that group, where compensation averaged $125,000, were women.
Most of the women surveyed supported women's issues such as the equal rights amendment (favored by 98 percent of the women) and abortion on demand (66 percent of the women).
Most of the women have worked continuously throughout their working lives. Two-thirds are married or have been, and nearly half the women (48.3 percent) have children.