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As women climb, so does a magazine. Working Woman is on its way to the top of the business rack

Kate Rand Lloyd is editor at large of what will soon be the largest business magazine in the country. It's not Business Week, Forbes, or Fortune. It's Working Woman.

The explosive popularity of Working Woman is no secret to its 750,000 subscribers. The magazine has ridden a tidal wave of women into the workplace over the last decade and become chief chronicler of a quiet revolution that has fundamentally changed the patterns of society and the economy.

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As of last June 30, Working Woman had a United States circulation of 746,000. That put it within striking distance of Business Week (788,000), a weekly, and ahead of Forbes (727,000) and Fortune (630,000), both of which come out every other week.

Now Working Woman is guaranteeing to advertisers that it will have a circulation of 850,000 in March - nosing it into the No. 1 spot, domestically.

Obviously, Working Woman is not competing head on for readers or advertising dollars with these business-news publications. A glance through the pages of Working Woman shows large numbers of ads for perfume, clothing, and makeup - ads geared to the traditional woman who used to be reached in home-oriented women's magazines but now happens to be in the office. Going along for the ride

In part, success has been laid at the doorstep of Working Woman, since the number of women interested in their careers has grown so fast.

Today there are 12 million more women in the work force - a 33 percent increase - than when the first issue was published a decade ago. The magazine's target market, the serious career woman, has grown even faster: There are now 11.5 million women in ``managerial and professional specialty'' jobs, up 53 percent from 1978, according to Labor Department statistics.

But numbers don't tell the whole story, says Stuart Elliott, a magazine analyst at Advertising Age. ``To ride a trend is fine, but you have to do it in the right way,'' he says. ``Savvy and Working Woman are in the same market, but one is doing well and the other isn't.''

After financial and editorial troubles, Savvy was bought by Family Media Inc., which has brought in a new editor.

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Like the climb of business women, getting to the top has not been easy for Working Women. Short of cash and lacking an editorial focus, the fledgling magazine filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1978. Under the stewardship of Kate Lloyd, who left the managing editor's chair at Vogue for Working Woman, the magazine shifted its focus to career businesswomen, not the entire female working population.

That's when it began to take off. Now, says publisher Carol Taber, ``The whole country has finally caught up to the editorial premise of the magazine.'' From pin stripe to red dress

The evolution of Working Woman mirrors the evolution of women in general - their concerns, problems, and triumphs in a business world historically dominated by men. In the early days, for example, it ran columns on assertiveness training, office politics, and very basic financial matters, such as what a stock or bond is.

``Ten years ago, we did a good deal on role models, because there were a lot of women who were going into jobs where no woman had been before,'' Ms. Lloyd recalls. ``But now, of course, there are women in almost every category of work and at a great many different levels. ... It isn't such a big deal anymore.''

Then four years ago, women entered what editor in chief Anne Mollegen Smith calls the ``pin-stripe era,'' which represented a whole style of conduct.

``If you wanted to be taken seriously in a business situation, you really had to wear a pin-stripe suit,'' she says. ``The advice of the magazine was to do it the old-boy way as much as you can, and keep a low profile as a woman. There's been amazing progress since then; I think really successful women can now afford to relax and wear a red dress.''

Today, the biggest concerns seem to center on home life as much as the office. As more baby-boomers started to have children, Working Woman launched a column on parenting. One of the most popular columns is ``Love and Work,'' which focuses on children, ethics, and personal relationships, both in the office and home.

The magazine keeps its edge by calling the trends early - before the competition, and before they show up in research. In this respect, Lloyd, who travels extensively and is a keen observer, is its secret weapon.

She remembers a trip she took in 1980 to Houston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. The hot topic of conversation was not networking, or role models, or some other trendy issue, but starting one's own business. Soon Working Woman began its Enterprise column - years before statistics emerged that women were starting businesses at three times the rate of men.

And what are the conversations Lloyd is hearing today? One is an old standby, discrimination. Another, ``a whopper,'' she says, is the need for dependent care for children and the elderly, which is consuming ever greater amounts of time and salary for women, especially those who are divorced.

Others involve the fear of failure, choosing between competition and accommodation, and ``the simple statistic that says women spend more hours working than men do.'' Recent surveys cited by the Economic Report of the President suggest that men work 62 hours a week (43 in the office and 19 at home), while women work 67 hours (43 in the office and 24 at home).

The magazine does some sleuthing through reader surveys. Often the results are startling. A 1985 survey found that a substantial group of readers - women who are more financially independent than the average woman - was afraid of becoming bag ladies.

To set itself apart from the mainstream business magazines, Working Woman took some of its own advice.

In its columns it recommends against submerging one's femininity when working shoulder to shoulder with men. Likewise, says publisher Taber, ``We have more reference to the feelings that one has in a certain situation'' than typical business magazines, ``more reference to the person inside the business suit instead of just the function inside the business suit.''

When Anne Smith became editor in chief in 1984, she had no qualms about using the most popular elements of women's magazines. She adopted the ``test yourself'' format smattered through the likes of Cosmopolitan's ``Cosmos.'' This approach affects content, as well.

``Women [can] never shut the door on part of their lives'' the way men can, Lloyd says, since they still have primary responsibility for the home.

About a third of the articles are aimed at other interests, including food, diet (the ``Body Management'' column), and fashion. Bringing home the bacon

Most advertisers think of Working Woman as a woman's magazine, not a business magazine. As such, it commands much lower prices from advertisers, and can't attract as many of the big spenders.

In the first nine months of last year, Working Woman had ad revenues of $16.2 million, vs. $140 million for Business Week and about $100 million for Forbes and Fortune, according to Edward Hatch, a media analyst at Shearson Lehman Brothers.

But companies are recognizing the increased buying power of women. Chrysler has found that 42 percent of its cars are sold to women, and in 56 out of 100 auto purchases, women are the primary decisionmakers. It boosted advertising in woman's magazines sixfold last year.

Will there be a time when business women will not need to have their own magazine?

``Sometimes I wish we could work ourselves out of a job,'' says Lloyd. ``But as long as men do not have babies, I think there will be a special place for us.''

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