Early in Larry Slagle's government career he worked for a boss who practiced 'mirror-image recruiting." Managers, almost exclusively male, were encouraged to promote and surround themselves with men who looked, talked, acted and thought just like the boss.

But, as Slagle said yesterday, the woman's movement and the push for equal employment opportunities have altered this "very comfortable kind of environment.

"Now, you've got people with new ideas, different ways of thinking and a little bit of controversy. It's damned irritating at times. But the product is worth it. It's stimulating, and I think it results in doing a better job."

Slagle made this observation during yesterday's management panel on "Men's Perceptions of Women in the Workforce," part of the Department of Agriculture's Federal Women's Week.

Although the talks -- before a predominantly female audience -- consisted largely of pro-female platitudes and statistics on the increased numbers of women working, there was an occasional candid reaction.

"I have a woman boss, Carol Foreman, and I'm very proud to work for her," said Sydney Butler, deputy assistant secretary for Food and Consumer Services. "She's strong-willed, innovative and controversial to a degree."

While admitting that female bosses are typically considered less skilled in using power and authority, Butler said he hasn't found that true of his. "She's not afraid to make decisions -- they don't call her the Dragon Lady for nothing . . . and I don't think her predecessors were called Dragon Men. f

"I think the characteristics called for (in management) have very little to do with gender. Whether or not a woman makes a good manager depends on the woman, just as it depends on the man."

Associate Deputy for Administration Glen P. Haney noted that in the traditionally male-dominated Forest Service "men are coming to grips with the fact that a woman's place is wherever she chooses to be.

"Old-timers were appalled," he said, when women first entered jobs that had been associated "with Paul Bunyan types, men who liked to hunt, fish, fight forest fires and chop trees."

Women in nontraditional jobs are changing these attitudes, Haney said, "by doing an excellent job and holding their own." Awkwardness over men and women sharing the same shower since "we found ways to provide appropriate privacy.

"As for other workplace changes, I think some of the salty characters have cleaned up their language some, but that's for the better, since there's really no place for salty language anyway."

Many men consider women "ideally suited" for staff assistant jobs, acknowledged Food and Nutrition Service Deputy for Management Joseph Bennett, "since they are percieved as having many of the qualities necessary -- communications skills, interpersonal skills, organization and neatness."

He conceded that advancing above thise level can be difficult: "A woman should have a strategy to get into roles of decision-making, if that's her goal. It's important to let your boss know up front . . . that you want to prepare yourself for a position where you are manager."

Slagle, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's acting deputy administrator for management, suggested that women enlist male support for career advancement. "Don't limit yourself to women's networks," he said. "There are a lot of men in management who are willing to help you get ahead."