Rosalie Wolf, an investment adviser, asked the male-only partners of a Los Angeles money management firm, all in their early 40s or younger, why they didn’t have any female colleagues.

“They said maybe they’d look for a woman intern,” said Wolf, managing partner of Botanica Capital Partners, which advises clients including institutional investors and foundations.

Twenty-seven years after Wolf and other women first complained in 1986 about bumping against an invisible barrier  — dubbed the glass ceiling — when they aimed for top jobs, just 21 are chief executive officers of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Now, a rash of books, from Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, are soon to be published, seeking to empower women.

Wolf, the one-time treasurer at International Paper Co., quit in 1986, figuring she’d almost hit the ceiling, and subsequently worked at Bankers Trust in private equity and then at the Rockefeller Foundation as chief investment officer.

“Women are fed up,” said Julie Daum, who heads executive recruiter Spencer Stuart’s search practice for corporate directors in North America. “They’ve worked hard and played by the rules for years, and that hasn’t gotten them anywhere near parity in leadership positions.”

Work and parenting have both become more demanding in recent decades, increasing pressure on women who still do the bulk of child care, female executives say.

Family time

Increasing numbers of women and men in managerial and professional jobs, including 32% of single mothers in this group, work 50 hours a week or more, according to the Center for American Progress.

Everyone’s putting in more time at the office and then in the evenings and weekends, they’re expected to answer e-mails, which interrupts family time, says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches family history at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and has written about men and women’s changing roles. At the same time, working mothers now put in more parenting hours than stay-at-home mothers did as late as 1965, “doing all sorts of enrichment activities,” she says.

Men who grew up in recent decades playing sports with girls or were outperformed by them in school still don’t necessarily want to share power with women, says Adam Quinton, a former managing director at Bank of America Corp. and now an early- stage investor in startups.

“Never underestimate the power of ingrained traditions and networks,” says Quinton, adding he has observed women failing to get the promotions or recognition they deserve because they’re perceived as outsiders. “If men are on the inside and it’s men they’ve always seen being successful, that’s who they think they need alongside them.”

Sole woman

Lucie Salhany, the former chairman of Fox Broadcasting Co. and a former director at Compaq Computer Corp. and subsequently Hewlett-Packard Co., has often been the sole woman in the room at business meetings. She says she thinks the main reason so few women have ascended to the C-suite and boardrooms is because a lot of men prefer other men they know or admire  — no matter how many times they hear that diversity leads to better decision-making or that women could help them reach female customers.

Early in her tenure as a director, Salhany was urged by another director to stop talking about the need for more women on the board and in executive ranks, she says.

Later at Hewlett-Packard, when she was a member of the board’s nominating committee, an outside recruiter gave the committee a binder divided into three sections — one listing CEOs who were potential director candidates, one of chief financial officers and one of women. Salhany says she questioned the segregation of women, including those who were CEOs.

Senior women

“While we cannot verify the accuracy of Ms. Salhany’s story, HP has a very strong history of diversity at both our senior executive and board levels,” says Howard Clabo, a Hewlett-Packard spokesman. The company’s current CEO, finance chief and three of its directors are women.

Women who have reached senior corporate ranks haven’t helped other women nearly enough, according to Pat Cook, who runs Cook & Co., a Bronxville, New York-based executive search firm, and in 1981 became the first female senior vice president at Chemical Bank.

When women get promoted and have a chance to assemble a new staff, “they’ll name a woman to be in charge of human resources but rarely promote women to key sales or operating positions, because they’re nervous about not being seen as on the men’s team — or don’t want to take risks” Cook says.

Yahoo’s Mayer

At Yahoo! Inc., CEO Marissa Mayer, who joined the company in July, has a female head of human resources and a female chief marketing officer. Other top executives she has recruited are male, including the chief operating officer, chief financial officer, executive vice president of platforms and senior vice president of emerging products.

The company doesn’t comment on internal matters, says Sarah Gorman, a spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo.

No wonder top women see a market advising female colleagues how to succeed. Women comprise just 15% of senior executives at companies in the S&P 500 index and only 16% of corporate directors. They fill 51.4% of managerial and professional positions, yet still earn 23% less than men on average, according to U.S. Census data.

Even Sandberg, who came to Facebook from Google Inc., where she was a vice president, didn’t become a Facebook director until the world’s largest social-media company was criticized for not having any women on its board.

Think big

Her book, “Lean In,” which will be released on March 11, tells women to get over their ambivalence about being ambitious, think big and take risks. Along with her book, Sandberg is starting “Lean In Circles” at sponsor companies such as American Express Co. and Google, in which she hopes women will share their experiences and learn how to succeed.

Slaughter, a professor at Princeton University who served as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, is writing a book in which she advocates more flexible workplaces so women and men don’t have to choose between being leaders and parents. Barnard College President Deborah Spar, in a book that will be published in September, urges women to quit trying to be perfect and understand they can show up at power breakfasts with baby spit on their lapels.

These manifestos are hitting a nerve.

Male support

“Sure women need to lean in and be resilient, but they’re going to tip over if the men in power don’t reach in and support them,” says Subha Barry, a consultant and the former head of diversity at Freddie Mac and before that, at Merrill Lynch & Co. “Women who manage to get to the top sometimes worry they’ll be branded if they pull other women along with them.”

Some female executives aren’t supportive of policies that help the working parents on their staffs. Yahoo’s Mayer took off just two weeks from work when she had her first child in October. Last week, she told employees with work-at-home arrangements that they have to start coming to the office as of June 1.

“We don’t discuss internal matters,” says Gorman. “This isn’t a broad industry view on working from home  — this is what is right for Yahoo, right now.”

Women seeking to advance their careers while devoting time to families say they’re still searching for role models. Shyama Venkateswar, who is 46 and has two school-aged children, worries she’s setting a poor example for younger, unmarried women.

A Ph.D. in political science who until a few weeks ago was head of research at the National Council for Research on Women, she’s been juggling 60 hours of work a week with child-care and volunteering at her kids’ schools.

1 a.m. e-mails

“Younger women I worked with would see me typing proposals and reports while talking to the school principal, a half-eaten salad on my desk. And then I’d send them e-mails at 1 a.m. because that’s the only time I have to think. I feel like I’m on skis all the time, leaning forward, and if I lean in any more, I’m going to fall down.”

When she went to lunch last week with three girlfriends, also working moms, they were all too tired to eat, says Venkateswar, who lost her job in a restructuring and is looking for a new position.

Until women gain a bigger share of leadership spots, they’ll have a hard time competing in business, Salhany says.

“You’re different and you stand out because there are so few of you,” she says, adding that now, with companies consolidating, women are less likely to get promoted.

Salhany has found a way around the problem for herself. She’s now consulting for a female entrepreneur — Paula Deen, the television cooking show host and author.

 To contact the reporter on this story: Carol Hymowitz in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jonathan Kaufman at

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