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Women who have made it to the top

They love their career succeses. They enjoy the impact they are making, the influence they are wielding, and the money they are making. Although they have come a long way, most of them feel they have retained their tenderness and their sense of human scale and values.

None of them feel that arrival at the top of their professions has suddenly subverted them into brittle, coldly ambitious females such as the role of the television executive played by Faye Dunaway, in the movie "Network."

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That is the conclusion of a new book, "Women on Top" (New York: Hawthorne Books Inc.). The book, researched and written by Jane Adams, a Seattle author, details the meaning of success in the lives of 60 American career women.

Mrs. Adams chose her examples from private enterrise, government, academia, and the professions, from those who were married and single, widowed and divorced, with children and without. She selected women whose salaries range from $25,000 to $750,000, and by means of interviews and questionaires she probed their approaches to their careers and how they made it to the top of their fields.

Mrs. Adams, promoting her book in New York recently, drew a decidedly positive picture of successful women today. She tossed out the myth of the ruthless and aggressive woman executive.

The woman at the top that Mrs. Adams describes is one who takes success easily in stride and who feels energized by the demands of her job and satisfied and rewarded by her accomplishments.

All of them, she found, wanted to make a contribution, to do something that counted in today's society. All had ambitious not just for personal careers but for their projects and their ideals.

She found that all the women she interviewed were "motivated by a desire for independence, and the imperative for integrating their personal and professional lives." She found that all of them had felt a need for autonomy from an early age and now value independence above all else.

Mrs. Adams found most of the women to have "charm, enthusiasm, zest, and humor, and more special interests than they could ever pursue." Most of them perceive themselves as successful people, and are not afraid of visibility in the world.

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"Success may not buy happiness," says one of the women quoted in the book. "But it increases your opportunity to find it. Success makes your life better on so many levels. Working at something that stretches every mental muscle is good for you.

"Success gives you chances to learn and grow and develop. It enables you to meet an ever-widening circle of interesting people, and it gives you financial security. The fact is that career women live rich, varied, and exciting lives, and most of them manage to combine meaningful careers with rewarding personal lives, as well."

Many of the women interviewed in the book opted to combine marriage and children with careers, and are doing so successfully. One young career mother recounts: "I think of my family obligations as challenges rather than trials. I decided to make a life in which work, marriage, and motherhood would all fit, and I'm seeing that they do!"

The author found that the one label that the women most loathed is "tough." Michelle Urry, a publishing vice-president, says in the book that "when people said I was ambitious and tough, I cried." However, another executive, Meta Rosenberg, confides that she sometimes felt proud when men said to her, "You're tough but you're feminine, too."

Joan Cooney, director of the children's TV show "Sesame Street" and president of Children's Television Network, says in the book: "Success is sexless. After a certain point gender doesn't matter; talent and ability do." Successful women rarely ignore the differences of their gender, however.

Most of the women, like Geri Stutz, president of Henri Bendel Inc., claim they did not make sacrifices along the way. They made choices. Most of them listed "flexibility" as one of the prime ingredients to success.

In speaking of stress, Carol Bellamy, president of the New York City Council, says in the book that what anguishes her most is "the obligation that successful women feel not to fail" for the sake of women coming after them. Another woman says, "I have the feeling that if I cave in, people would think that all women cave in under pressure."

Few cave-ins or failures are recounted in the book.

Mrs. Adams's volume serves a useful purpose. It makes the room at the top look farm more inviting and more livable for women, and certainly more attainable.


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