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Women Still Under-Represented in Workplace

Almost four decades after the United States passed laws calling for job equality between the sexes, equal numbers of men and women are going to college and participating in the labor force. However, women are still under-represented at the highest levels of employment.

Ten years ago when Pat Flynn became Dean of Bentley College's Graduate School of Business, she was shocked to discover how unusual she was.

"At the time females were over 40 percent of the students in business schools, and yet less than two percent of the deans were women. I am happy to say there has been progress. We [female deans] are now up to 10 percent. Of course our students are close to 50 percent women, so we still have a very long way to go," Ms. Flynn said.

While U.S. women are entering professions like law, medicine and business at the same rate as men, far fewer are making it to the top to law firm partner, to chief executive officer, to corporate board of directors.

Scott Walsh of Ernst and Young, an accounting firm, believes this is partly because the hierarchies where such decisions are made are predominantly male. Men choose from the people they know, he said, and men tend to know men.

That is why Scott Walsh helped Ernst and Young set up a mentoring program for women five years ago.

"One of the concerns that women expressed is they felt they had less access to our partners than did their male counterparts. So the program is specifically designed to address that. Women at the manager and senior manager level are paired with a male partner," Mr. Walsh said.

Scott Walsh had believed there were no barriers to women's advancement in the firm. The program has made him question that assumption. "There are a lot of subtle influences that work as barriers to women getting ahead. Informal networks emerge. I do not think it is intentional on men's part to exclude women, but it is something that happens," he said.

Not as much any more. Since Ernst and Young instituted the mentoring program, the number of female partners has grown from 85 to over 200.

In Boston, Pat Flynn helped set up a committee to eradicate the informal, subtle barriers she felt were preventing more women from serving on corporate Boards of Directors.

"What we do as a group is go out and identify people who have the right qualifications they are seeking so they cannot come back and say 'There are not any qualified women.' We say 'Yes there are! Here they are!'" he said.

"Full equality" may be a distant goal, but Scott Walsh and Pat Flynn agree that "progress" is a constant.