The glass ceiling we've heard so much about looks like it's shatterproof: The latest survey of top management in America's corporations found that it is 95 percent white males, a figure that hasn't changed since 1979.
The study, done by the University of California at Los Angeles Graduate School of Management in conjunction with Korn/Ferry, the corporate recruiting firm, is one more indicator of how women's progress and upward mobility became blocked in the 1980s -- for reasons that experts don't seem able to agree on. Barbara Franklin, a businesswoman in the District who serves on a number of corporate boards, told The Washington Post that there is an invisible ceiling that minorities and women can't get past because "there's a lot of subtle discrimination."
Alice Eagly, a Purdue University gender and workplace expert, puts part of the blame on numbers -- saying it is only recently that there have been enough women and minorities in middle management, and they need seasoning there before making the final climb to the top.
Whether it is experience, outright discrimination or combinations of different factors, including the pressures of balancing work and family life, the surveys that have tracked women's progress over one or two decades are finding that there is a growing gulf between the reality of women's progress and what they were expecting.
The 1990 version of the Virginia Slims Poll, conducted by the Roper Organization and first done in 1970, found that women are increasingly dissatisfied with how much they make, their bosses and their prospects for advancement. Money has become the primary source of stress and resentment in their lives. They listed salary inequity as their top workplace complaint.
That poll should put to rest, at last, the argument about why women are working: the answer is because they have to. Thirty-one percent said they work to support their families, 24 percent to support themselves, and 32 percent said they work to bring in extra money.
A few years ago, pollster Lou Harris found that entering the work force was the single most radicalizing influence on American women. In 1970, the Virginia Slims poll found that 50 percent of the women polled believed that women were discriminated against in getting executive level jobs. By 1990, 61 percent believe that to be true.
At the same time that more women are working, they are getting better educated: in 1970 one woman in five had a college education. By 1989, one in three did. The number of women lawyers quadrupled and the number of women doctors nearly doubled. Half of all professionals now are women. Yet, the Women's Research and Education Institute's 1990 status report on women found that women college graduates who worked full time in 1987 earned an average of $25,544 while the men earned $40,962 -- or $15,418 more. This is the kind of difference that means a man can send a child to college while a woman cannot.
While pay inequity has remained virtually unchanged in 20 years, attitudes about the goals of the women's movement have swung dramatically. In 1970, only 40 percent of the women in the Virginia Slims poll supported efforts to improve the status of women and 42 percent opposed these efforts -- statistics that, in retrospect, are rather astonishing. By 1990, 77 percent of the women backed these efforts and only 12 percent opposed them. In 1970, 44 percent of the men backed these efforts and 39 opposed them. By 1990, 74 percent favored these efforts and only 14 percent opposed them.
This is some of the best news to come along in years -- because it suggests that men have benefited enough from the women's movement and from the fruits of women's labors that they can be persuaded to join women in an effort to make sure that women are paid fairly for those labors.
The Congressional Budget Office reported two years ago that women's income has kept real family income constant since 1973. Men have a direct financial interest in fair pay for their wives, daughters and female colleagues as well as indirect: when women are paid two-thirds of what men are paid for the same work they pull the entire wage structure down. It produces the same effect on a national wage structure that a two-tiered wage structure produces in a union plant.
A shrinking labor force is expected to force employers to compete for workers and that is expected to mean better pay for women. When men realize that wage discrimination hurts them too, they will back women's efforts for pay equity, instead of opposing it. Their change in attitude towards women's goals, combined with demographic pressures on employers, suggest that the climate for real economic progress for women is better now than it has been in two decades.