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High-tech corporate ladder -- a tough climb for women

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There is a new generation of Rosie the Riveters helping build vital components for America's high-technology industry. Headlines and magazine covers tout the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of such high-tech wizards as Apple Computer cofounders Steven Jobs and Stephen Wozniak. Less noticed inside the factories is the work force that produces the complex microelectronic equipment for computers, video technology, defense systems, and medical technology.

In some parts of the industry, women make up half of the production work force. Women assemblers help build 50 percent of electronic computers and accessories, 46 percent of semiconductors and related devices, and 37 percent of electronic computing equipment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But some industry experts point out that an invisible but clearly drawn line separates women from most of the more skilled, more professional, and higher-paying jobs in high-tech.

Patricia Tasker, a resolute, black mother with five children, and her friend Jean Carr, a soft-spoken redhead, are among the mostly female assembly crew at a Teledyne plant in nearby Cambridge.

Twice a week at night and every other weekend, the two women cross the Charles River to Boston to take courses in electronics and mechanical principles. They want to move up and out of their production work - and into better-paying, more secure jobs. Some high-tech firms are setting up manufacturing plants in countries with lower wages.

''My salary is not enough (now),'' says Ms. Tasker, a five-year production worker who wants to be an electronics technician. She doesn't know how much she will make if she gets a new job, but ''it will be better.''

Why are women clustered at the lower end of a booming industry? Most experts agree it is not overt discrimination. In fact, many argue that the relatively new industry is more open to women than other nontraditional fields. And starting salaries for women and minorities entering high technology are roughly equal to those offered men.

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