WHEN WILL WOMEN GET TO THE TOP? Not for a long time yet, according to a new FORTUNE CEO poll. But a few pioneers are already there, and a growing crowd of others are doing all the right stuff.
By Anne B. Fisher REPORTER ASSOCIATE Therese Eiben

(FORTUNE Magazine) – TALK FOR A WHILE with any woman who has worked her way to the top of a sizable U.S. corporation. You'll get a strong sense that she feels a bit like Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard when he improvised a six iron out of a piece of lunar equipment and, one-handed in his cumbersome space suit, whacked a golf ball that flickered eerily across the airless surface of the moon. Exhilarated, isolated, keenly aware of the world's attention (''Houston, can you see me now?''), female high executives are eager to colonize this unaccustomed terrain with more of their own. But like astronauts, they know too much about the rigors of the journey to believe that it can happen by next Wednesday, or even by next year. Says Carol Bartz, 44, recently named chairman and CEO of Autodesk, a leading maker of software for engineers and architects in Sausalito, California: ''I think that women in corporate America are still a generation away from real success.'' Alas, the top men in corporate America appear to agree. A poll of 201 chief executives of the nation's largest companies, conducted exclusively for FORTUNE by the opinion research firm Clark Martire & Bartolomeo, reveals that only 16% believe it is ''very likely'' or ''somewhat likely'' that they could be succeeded by a female CEO within the next decade. And only 18% think it's ''very likely'' that even after 20 years a woman would be picked to run their companies. Why? The CEOs in our survey cite a host of reasons, but the biggest barrier, as a few of them admit, is an irrational one -- plain and simple discrimination. Notes John H. Bryan, 56, CEO of Sara Lee: ''I'm not sure there's a lot that women can do about it. They're already working hard and are / very qualified. It shouldn't be this way, but too many senior managers, and particularly CEOs, tend to want to pass their jobs along to someone who's the image and likeness of themselves.'' John Nelson, 48, who heads Norwest Colorado, a bank holding company, agrees: ''The problem with women advancing has more to do with men than with women. Men have dragged their feet.'' Thanks for the honesty, guys, but that's pretty discouraging news. And coming during an election year in which, incredibly, some conservative politicians and leaders of the religious right are openly or implicitly condemning the very notion that women should work outside the home, it's enough to make even the most optimistic female executive despair. That would be wrong, however, because better days are coming. True, progress has been painfully slow, and there has even been some backsliding. Susan Lowance, director of senior executive programs at MIT's Sloan School of Management, points out that the executive-training seminars run by U.S. business schools -- an indispensable credential for future CEOs in many companies -- are almost as exclusively a male preserve as Bohemian Grove. Enrollment in these programs nationwide is just 5% female, after peaking at 8% in the late 1980s. ''Companies were trying a little harder, for a while, to develop senior women managers,'' Lowance explains. ''But the recession scotched that. In tough times, top management prefers to entrust the risks that accompany decision-making at the highest levels to a known quantity -- meaning someone like themselves. A man.'' Here's more bad news: The Department of Labor's latest report on the limits to promotion of women at 94 major government contractors finds that few are being groomed for senior-level jobs. ''The glass ceiling in most companies is a lot lower than we thought it was,'' says Labor Secretary Lynn Martin. ''And too few women are getting the training they need to move up.'' Nor have women managers achieved paycheck parity with men. Among all females with full-time jobs, the much publicized wage gap between the sexes keeps shrinking. On average, a woman now earns about 74 cents for every dollar a man brings home, up from 65 cents a decade ago. Those relative gains reflect the fact that women are better educated and hold more highly skilled positions than ever before. What's frustrating is that at the same level of management, the typical woman's pay is lower than her male colleague's -- even when she has the exact same qualifications, works just as many years, relocates just as often, provides the main financial support for her family, takes no time off for personal reasons, and wins the same number of promotions to comparable jobs. That discouraging conclusion comes from a new study of 1,029 managers at 20 FORTUNE 500 companies across eight industries. Over five years ending in 1989, women managers' pay increased 54%, their male counterparts' 65%. Says Linda Stroh, 44, one of the study's co-authors, who teaches in the Institute of Industrial Relations at Loyola University in Chicago: ''The disparity probably comes partly from the lingering and often unconscious perception that women are going to leave to have babies. But the women managers we studied were in the work force to stay and had done all the right stuff. It still wasn't enough.'' Even so, most of the available data support the notion that, on balance, women in the workplace undeniably are advancing. To a man -- and that's what they all are -- the CEOs polled by FORTUNE say over the past five years the number of female middle managers at their companies has either increased (92%) or stayed about the same (8%). As for female officers, 62% of chief executives say their number rose as well. Insists Richard Deihl, 64, chairman of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., a big California mortgage lender: ''Women are already moving up into higher and higher positions. We should at least see a woman chief operating officer here well before 20 years from now.'' Labor Department statistics support this upbeat forecast. Using a broad- gauge definition of ''manager'' that includes everybody from the head of a fast food restaurant to a CEO, Labor reports that about 41% of U.S. managers were female as of mid-1991, up from 32% in 1983.

FORTUNE's own research suggests that a similar though smaller increase occurred in the number of top female managers. To see if America's business leaders were really walking their talk on this subject, we commissioned Directorship, a research and consulting firm in Westport, Connecticut, to comb the 1986 and 1991 annual reports of the companies whose bosses had answered our CEO poll. Its task: to tally the number of women who held senior positions in those two base years. We defined ''senior'' as a job within three levels of management of the chief executive's office. In the case of staff, that would encompass a chief financial officer or his equal, a company comptroller and his counterparts, and finally, say, someone like the head of the accounting staff. Among line officers, the three tiers might stretch from president to a division head. Of this select group, 4.8% in 1991 turned out to be women. Think that's small? Go back five years, to 1986: Only 2.9% of senior managers were then female. Gazers at the half-empty part of glasses will quickly complain that roughly 5% is still a scant one-tenth the number of female managers we would have if women's presence in the executive suite matched their representation in the rest of the workplace. (Women now account for nearly half all full-time U.S. workers.) An optimist, of course, would applaud a rise of nearly 60% in just five years. MOST IMPORTANT, evidence abounds that women's second-class citizenship in corporate America is finally about to be upgraded. Sex discrimination is already less of an obstacle in some industries than in others. High-tech and service companies, for example, are generally more inclined to promote women than old-line manufacturers in businesses like steel and autos. One important agent of change will be demographics. Restructurings and layoffs have produced a surplus of skilled, experienced managers of both sexes. But rock-bottom birth rates in the early and midddle 1970s guarantee that later in this decade and well into the next one, not enough boy baby- busters will be there to fill the new managerial jobs that the economy will generate. Any business that wants to stay competitive will have to hire, train, and reward women. Another demographic factor is the increasing prevalence of two-career marriages. Ellen Galinsky, co-president of a nonprofit New York City research and consulting group, the Families and Work Institute, often conducts focus groups with men in their 20s and 30s. ''These men are almost all in dual- career households, and they have a totally different perspective from their fathers' generation,'' she notes. ''They empathize far more with conflicts between family and work responsibilities, since they know firsthand what it's like to have no full-time help tending the home fires. They quite often say to me, 'These guys upstairs who are running things just don't understand.' '' Galinsky believes that as the current crop of thirtysomethings ascend to positions of power, companies' cultures are bound to become more flexible -- and less insistent that a valued manager choose, in effect, between a child and a promotion. Jill Elikann Barad, 41, who in July was named president and chief operating officer of Mattel, the $1.6-billion-a-year toymaker, shares that faith in generational change. When told the results of FORTUNE's CEO poll, she dismissed as ''ridiculous'' the notion that women must expect to wait 20 more years to become chief executives. She says: ''I don't know how these guys can say that. Maybe they won't be the ones making the decision.'' Finally, there's the ''pipeline'' argument. For at least ten years we've all been hearing that while there aren't yet enough qualified women, as their number and experience increase, more will reach the top. Fully 64% of CEOs in FORTUNE's poll attribute women's absence from the executive suites in large part to lack of experience. ''We've always joked that it takes 30 years to be allowed to empty the wastebaskets around here,'' says Charles A. Corry, 60, chairman of USX Corp. ''It took me 21 years and 12 job changes to become a vice president. It's the same for women. It takes time.'' Robert C. Winters, 60, CEO of Prudential, agrees: ''Women should persist, endure, hang in. The wave is really crest high now. Women are making a mark, but they have to keep up the good work.'' It's been a wearisome slog, but a light is now glimmering at the end of the pipeline. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 6.1 million female managers in the U.S., up from about 3.5 million in 1983. These women, many of whom are in their early 30s to mid-40s, are the first generation to accumulate the same education, experience, and expectations as their male counterparts, and to find strength in their considerable numbers. Says MIT's Susan Lowance: ''If many women are ever to reach the top of corporations, it's the ones in that big middle-management group who are going to do it.'' Labor Secretary Martin expects those middle managers to push hard for recognition. ''A lot of us thought our pioneering days were over,'' she says, ''but they aren't.'' That's why the smartest companies are devoting ever more time and resources to broadening and developing the talented female middle managers they have already hired. Hardly any of the CEOs polled by FORTUNE -- only 8% -- think women lack the aggressiveness or determination to scale the corporate heights. And just 5% said that women should be more willing than they are to relocate for a promotion, an issue that some studies have suggested is keeping good female managers down. But nearly half insisted that the reason it will take two decades for a female to rise to the top of their companies is that women managers are still too concentrated in fields such as communications and human resources, which rarely if ever lead upward. ''It really isn't a question of what else women should be doing. It's a question of what companies should be doing to ensure that women are getting the opportunities men get,'' says William Ruckelshaus, 60, chairman of Browning-Ferris Industries. Even in relatively nonsexist industries like retailing, some CEOs think there's much to be done. ''We have to step up our commitment to exposing women to different dimensions of the business,'' says Allen Questrom, 51, chairman of Federated Department Stores. ''Management has a clear responsibility to prepare women for broad-based roles.''

Toward that end, dozens of corporate colossi, from AT&T to Johnson & Johnson to Xerox, have hired full-time ''diversity managers,'' charged by top management to make the workplace more hospitable to talent of either sex and all colors. In some cases this is pure tinsel and tokenism, but for many companies it's a hard-nosed business strategy. Says Aetna Life & Casualty CEO Ronald Compton, 59, who is largely responsible for the fact that roughly half his company's managers are now women: ''I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my heart. I'm selfish. I want the very best people I can get. A lot of them happen to be women.'' No diversity campaign will succeed without that kind of blessing from the top. Alarmed that turnover among female engineers and salespeople was twice as high as among men, chemical giant Monsanto hired a consultant to do exit interviews with departing women. Most said they'd had better offers from competitors or planned to start their own firms. ''There is a glass ceiling at Monsanto,'' admits vice president of administration Michael Miller. ''We're trying to break it.'' How? Like many another company with a formal diversity program, Monsanto now evaluates -- and pays -- its managers partly on the basis of how carefully they identify, train, and promote women. Accounting behemoth Arthur Andersen recruited Joseph Stokes, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, to help it work out a diversity program. Stokes says that to ensure that women get more of the broad experience required to rise to officer status, companies must stop assuming that men are automatically more willing than women to leap across divisional boundaries for new assignments. ''More companies need to ask both women and men what their long-term career goals are, what kinds of jobs would interest them most, whether they'd consider an overseas transfer, and so on,'' says he. ''And then use that laundry list -- which is a kind of blueprint of a person's ambitions -- and develop everyone accordingly.'' BEYOND ALLOWING qualified women an equal chance at the same jobs men get, diversity-minded companies are trying to recast their cultures so that old attitudinal hurdles don't trip up women who might otherwise be gold medalists. Nancy Hamlin, president of consulting firm Hamlin Fox in Marblehead, Massachusetts, has spent 25 years as an adviser on gender issues to General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Digital Equipment Corp., Fleet Bank, and the U.S. Coast Guard. She says that even in the best-intentioned and most progressive companies, women are usually kept out of the informal channels of information, where important decisions sometimes crystallize. Female managers, for example, are left behind when their male peers go out to lunch, or to a sporting event, or on a good old-fashioned pub crawl. ''Men don't do this on purpose,'' Hamlin says. ''They just don't think about it.'' She and other diversity experts add that, since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debacle, fear and confusion have multiplied. As she says, ''Male executives will think, 'Hmmm, wouldn't it be easier, and safer, to take this business trip, or go to that client dinner, with another guy?' '' But the most pervasive problem, and perhaps the most intractable one, is that a lifetime of social conditioning has trained many men to think of women as sweethearts, wives, daughters, secretaries -- not as equal colleagues. Muses Hamlin: ''It's hard to completely re-socialize people.'' Hard, but not impossible. Short of waiting for the diehard chauvinists to retire or threatening to fire them if they can't get with the program, what can top management do? Monsanto's diversity effort is typical. The company holds workshops, run by consultants Pope & Associates, designed to expose and dismantle workers' prejudices. About 5,000 Monsanto employees have attended the six-day sessions, and more are signed up to do so. Keri Bauch-Sparks, 37, an information systems manager at a Monsanto chemical plant in Sauget, Illinois, has been through this drill twice in the past four years. ''Some men's initial reaction to it is defensive. They think it's going to be a lot of finger pointing,'' she says. ''But the idea is to improve communications for everybody. Once people see that, they're generally enthusiastic.'' In one exercise, the moderator asks group members to write down every stereotypical notion about women they can think of, and the answers are posted on the walls for discussion. One widespread perception among men, which comes up repeatedly, is that women make lousy candidates for promotion because they always put their personal lives, particularly their children, ahead of work. ''When you see this stuff up on flip charts around the room, it gets people thinking,'' says Bauch-Sparks. ''Society has been telling us these things for years, but do we necessarily believe they're true?'' Slowly but certainly, perceptions at Monsanto are changing, and that seems to be encouraging ambitious women to stick around. Turnover is down, and a second round of exit interviews this summer unearthed far fewer responses marked by frustration and bitterness. Rare is the company intent on keeping its best female employees and managers that doesn't have some kind of work-family program -- a bit of jargon that encompasses everything from day care centers to programs that counsel employees on how to cope with the problems of elderly parents. All share the same purpose: to bolster employee productivity by eliminating some of the distractions that family life inevitably imposes on single parents and two- income couples. Since 1971 the number of large U.S. employers that provide some kind of day care assistance has grown from 11 to nearly 4,000. Now many companies are going much further. Kraft-General Foods offers the 2,000 employees at its headquarters in White Plains, New York, a smorgasbord of work-family benefits, including nearby company-subsidized day care centers, extended parental leaves, and vacation time available by the half-day. Irene Rosenfeld, 39, is executive vice president in charge of the $1- billion-a-year beverage division that makes Kool-Aid and Country Time lemonade. She's also the mother of two young daughters, and she calls the work-family program ''terrific.'' These new policies and services are not for women only. Says Rosenfeld: ''Women's issues are rapidly becoming work force issues, and companies that best address them will win in the marketplace.'' Her own division is winning handily, with double-digit earnings increases in each of the past five years. About one-third of chief executives in FORTUNE's survey say they've noticed that women's careers often stall out for lack of the kind of informal advice and sponsorship men get from one another. Some companies are trying to remedy that with mentoring programs that pair promising women, nominated by their department heads, with senior executives who proffer one-on-one career counseling. San Francisco-based Pacific Bell started its mentoring drive in late 1989, so the second batch of about 35 female protegees are now nearing the end of their two-year program. What exactly does a mentor do? Consider the experience of D. J. Hulet, 36. She started out in sales 15 years ago, moved up steadily, and in 1990 was assigned mentor John Seymour, 48, vice president and general manager of Pacific Bell's Orange-Riverside division. Perhaps not surprisingly, she and he view her strengths and weaknesses somewhat differently. ''I'm very candid, and I speak my mind,'' says Hulet. ''Other managers have told me, 'You know, if you did the same things you're doing and you were a guy, you'd be OK.' '' Really? Seymour explains: ''Some people here saw her as very bright but too aggressive. In my opinion there's no such thing as too aggressive. But you do have to learn how to approach people in a way that doesn't create enemies.'' Seymour coached her on how to influence people without alienating them, manifestly a valuable skill: Hulet was promoted in mid-1991 to regional marketing manager for Los Angeles. As more women attain high positions, they are reaching out to guide their younger counterparts -- sometimes those still in school. A University of Pennsylvania alumnae group called the Trustees' Council of Penn Women, currently headed by First Interstate Bancorp senior vice president Pamela Reis, gives female seniors and business school students a list of about 70 distinguished women they can call for career advice or information. The council also runs a ''shadowing'' program that lets students spend a workday with a woman executive for a close-up peek at the real world. Constance Duckworth, 37, a partner in fixed-income securities at Goldman Sachs in Chicago, spent time this summer with a 21-year-old Wharton finance student. The two plan to stay in touch. ''This is something I didn't have when I was starting out in business,'' says Duckworth. ''It's an 'old-girls' network,' in an embryonic stage.'' ''Women do need to do more networking,'' declares Autodesk Chairman Carol Bartz. As a stellar senior executive at Sun Microsystems before taking her current job, Bartz met often with groups of women in the company for brown-bag lunches and tried to make herself available to advise anyone who sought her insights. ''At some point I realized, 'Hey, these people are looking up to me,' and my first reaction was, 'I don't have time for this,' '' she recalls. ''But I decided I had to take the responsibility to help pave the way for others -- including my daughter, who's 4.'' What advice does she give women who aspire to the top job? Like the chief executives in FORTUNE's poll, Bartz believes that women often don't get a wide enough range of experience. ''You have to step out of the pack and take risks, even be willing to jump completely out of your element if that's what it takes,'' she says. It helps, she adds, to start as early as possible. Bartz knows whereof she speaks. Seventeen years ago, while still in her 20s, she quit a comfortable job as a systems analyst at 3M in Atlanta after a marketing executive at headquarters told her the company would never let a woman sell computers. That fellow is probably kicking himself now. In 1987, with some trepidation, Bartz took over Sun's federal government sales division, an area of the business that was not only entirely alien to her but was populated largely, she says, with ''cigar-chomping ex-defense contractors.'' In just two years under her management, the unit's revenues jumped from $21 million to $124 million. ''There's still a lot of folklore out there about what women can and can't do,'' observes Kraft-General Foods' Irene Rosenfeld. ''But don't ever believe you can't do something until you've tried it.'' In an apt metaphor, given her position, she adds: ''Just do your job brilliantly, and sooner or later the cream will rise to the top.'' Over and over again, female -- and male -- managers urge women to set career goals and work out a specific plan for achieving them. Hugh McColl Jr., 57, is CEO of NationsBank, the holding company in Charlotte, North Carolina, formed by the recent merger of NCNB and C&S/Sovran. McColl told FORTUNE's pollsters: ''Women have to push harder. They often feel that things will be done fairly, whereas men don't believe that, and in reality it's often not the case. So women must ask their bosses what's needed to get to the next level. They then need to make sure they get those opportunities, and ask for feedback every step of the way.'' But while you're pushing, keep a stiff upper lip. Mary Herbert, 41, vice president and director of quality for international operations at Motorola, has talked extensively with her female colleagues about their careers. ''You do have to go to management and say, 'Here's what I think I can do; here's why; let me try it,' '' she says. ''But from what I've seen, women who have had a chip on their shoulder -- who basically said, 'I should get this job because there are no women at this level of the company' -- those are the ones who aren't getting anywhere at all.'' (See following story.) The surest way to ascend, of course, is to be so good they can't overlook you. Jill Barad won the No. 2 spot at Mattel largely because as head of the girls' toy division she had overseen a doubling of worldwide sales of Barbie dolls in under four years, to nearly $1 billion (see box). She dismisses the notion that women are at any special disadvantage in business -- at least, not if they're smart, hard working, and imaginative. ''One day soon, it isn't going to matter anymore what sex anyone is,'' she says. ''It'll come down to a question of who delivers the goods. Performance is what counts.'' Hazel O'Leary, 55, an executive vice president at Northern States Power in Minneapolis, agrees: ''Whatever you're asked to do, make sure you do a better job of it than the man next to you.'' But while you're at it, don't neglect to form friendships. ''Without losing your own personality, it's important to be part of the prevailing corporate culture,'' she says. ''At this company, it's golf. I've resisted learning to play golf all my life, but I finally had to admit I was missing something that way.'' O'Leary has bought a set of clubs and tees up with an instructor on weekends. THE BEST REASON for believing that more women will be in charge before long is that in a ferociously competitive global economy, no company can afford to waste valuable brainpower simply because it's wearing a skirt. That isn't easy for some folks to accept. ''Dealing with change is always painful,'' notes William Boyle, a Monsanto plant manager who is a big believer in the company's diversity-training programs. ''But the days when any U.S. company could stand pat, do things the same old way, and say, 'Gosh, look how good we are' -- those days are gone.'' Happily for women in corporate America, radical change has a way of favoring the underdog. Says Jane White, author of the forthcoming book A Few Good Women: Breaking the Barriers to Top Management: ''I think we're living in a fantastic time. The ferment that is happening now will push the barricades down.'' For that to occur, it's crucial that the brightest and best women not become discouraged. As White puts it, ''If you're going to be in the forefront of a revolution, you have to keep taking the flak until it's won.''

CHART: NOT AVAILABLE CREDIT: NO CREDIT CAPTION: Q How likely is it that your company will have a female CEO. . . How has the number of female executives in your company changed over the past five years? How widespread a problem is discrimination against women? What should female executives be doing to get to the top? (Choose one or more answers.) Why is a woman not likely to be a CEO sooner?