On the eve of Business Women's Week, women disagree on what progress they've made in gaining equality in the working world and on the success of "networking" among female professionals.

"The 'old-girl' network has been growing over the last five years and has been extremely helpful," says Patricia Bailey, a member of the Federal Trade Commission and one of three women commissioners of 61 in the agency's history. "But I'm not sure it's even possible to integrate it with the 'old-boy' network," she says.

"Watch what's happening in government. As budgets are cut and people are worried about their jobs, the ranks are closing and the boys are huddling together in the corner. It appears more and more like when we were kids and the boys had a clubhouse in the back--we just are not welcome."

"It's much too soon to herald a new era," agrees Judith Lichtman, co-chair of the Women's Network and Executive Director of the Women's Legal Defense Fund. The Women's Network, begun four years ago and now counting 2,000 members, is an informal group of women from all levels of business, associations and the professions, who gather socially and exchange information.

"We've made enormous strides over the past five or six years," Lichtman says, "but there are woefully few women in public policy-making positions now. This administration has signaled private industry that they're no longer interested in enforcing affirmative action requirements, and government contracts may not be contingent on enforced fair employment postures--we may see a slackening off."

"That's the impression," Bailey agrees. "It's not so much the numbers of female appointments or programs as it is an attitude or tone." Lacking the leadership commitment to making the extra effort to find capable women, she says, "has a deadly impact on employers."

"I don't mean to sound partisan," Lichtman adds, "but in the spring of 1980, every major federal department had a woman general counsel. Now we have none, zip." (There are, however two assistant attorneys general in the federal government.)

Susan Hager, treasurer of the Women's Network and president of a program development and public relations firm, says "the old-girl network is growing and doing well, but we're not there yet. We wouldn't be accepted by the old-boy network--and won't be until we can deliver enough power."

Women need increased control in terms of money and power, not just numbers in professional ranks, Hager believes, before the networks can be successfully integrated. Still, women's networks are working, she believes. "You can see it happening, ideas flowing and business cards being passed."

But there's a long way to go. "There are lots of young women lawyers," Hager continues, "but very few women founding partners of major law firms. There are more and more young women getting MBAs, but can you name a woman chairman of the board or chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company? In government, Sandra Day O'Connor is one, but how many women appointees are there throughout the ranks? In the academic world, there are women presidents of women's colleges, but very few in co-educational institutions."

While the number of businesses owned by women has doubled in the last four years, they are still fewer than one in 10, according to the most recent census study.

Salary disparities continue. According to national figures for 1979 compiled by the Center for Women and Work from Department of Labor statistics, women in the "professional/technical" category earn 64 cents to every dollar made by their male counterparts. In the "managerial/administrative" category, the discrepancy is 54 cents for women to every dollar for men. Women make up only 16.1 percent of the "professional/technical" occupational category, and female earnings throughout the work force amount to 59.6 percent of male earnings. Colette Dowling, in "The Cinderella Complex: Women's Hidden Fear of Independence" published this year, notes that two-thirds of women who work full-time earn less than $10,000 a year. Overall, women earn less money, compared with men, than they did a quarter of a century ago.

Other concerns of women today include the increasing stress levels among professionals and what one career management consultant calls "the plague of discounting" by women who undervalue their professional worth.

Alice Jacobs and Jody Murphy, consultants specializing in career counseling for mid- and upper-management professionals, say their women clients, having tasted success, now are able to risk failure. "Networking," they maintain, is on the verge of evolving beyond old boy and old girl segregated groups to coed sharing of professional information.

In the first phase of networking, they maintain, women learned to connect with women colleagues to lend personal and professional support and to share skills. In the second phase, they predict, professionals will wipe out the old-boy and old-girl network titles and "just connect." Networking with men is particularly valuable for women, they add, in order to know salary levels of comparable jobs.

Is it premature to talk of integrating the old girls and old boys into joint networks that barter professional favors? "You've got to remember," Jacobs says, "the subtle revolution, this steady march of women into the workforce, is only 15 years old. We need to have an attitude that sees beyond today." On the positive side, she notes, women now compose 15 percent of the 33,000 lawyers in the District (some non-practicing), whereas 11 years ago women made up only 2 percent of the legal profession.

Some women are just beginning to study the subtleties of the professional world. Clients approaching Jacobs/Murphy Associates with salary or promotion problems are coached through role-playing techniques. "Women usually communicate based on their feelings and run into a block," Murphy says. "That approach elicits a patronizing personal put-down." Instead, they coach clients to remember what their personal goal is and to demonstrate how the company will benefit by granting the specific request. One client, an IBM marketing representative for nearly five years, said "they helped me identify the fact that I think in terms of what's fair, instead of 'my objectives and company objectives.' "

As female professionals break into the mainstream, they face all the negative side-effects male over-achievers suffer. "We're past the stage of saying 'Wow!, a woman lawyer,' " Murphy says. Today the consultants see women facing issues like "burnout, stress and time management." Fallout includes the rising incidence of heart attacks and ulcers among professional women.

Jacobs notes the proven correlation between "uptightness" or repressed emotions and ill health. "In the past, women have been better able to combat heart attack and ulcer afflictions by being more accepting and reflective, less needy of achievement. That's not to say the prescription is to keep the need for achievement low," she says, "but to encourage greater use of emotions to combat stress."

"What we're saying," Jacobs asserts, "is hang onto your femininity."

"A professional woman isn't going to break down in the board room," Murphy adds, "but she can identify the need for emotional release . . . usually better than a man. Maybe she'll close the door for 10 minutes and do some deep breathing. Or go home and beat a tennis racquet on the bed."

The challenge now is to make working women more effective, Jacobs says, and at the same time to avoid being feared as a group. "It's been a struggle to raise the status of professional women," she says. "There's still lots of fighting to do, but we have, in many ways, arrived."