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Women rare in top state jobs

A list of Florida's highest-paid employees shows women still struggle to be taken seriously in the government workplace.

"We've talked about these issues for so long that when you look at the fact we haven't made much progress, it's very frustrating," said Education Commissioner Betty Castor.

Of the 468 state employees who earned more than Gov. Lawton Chiles' $97,798 in 1991, only 21 were women, just 4.5 percent of the state's best paid professionals. Only two were in the top 100, ranking 97th and 98th with earnings just over $124,000.

One woman was 122nd and the next ranked 233rd on the pay list. Just six women were among the first 300.

"There is no rational explanation other than bias against women," said Charlene Carres, a Tallahassee attorney and lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Because a bulk of the state's highest paid professionals are within the university system, Castor wants to see the state's colleges and public schools promote more women.

"I can guarantee you if we'd look for women like we do star athletes, we'd have an all-star team," she said.

Castor said women face salary and promotion discrimination at all levels in the education profession, although they constitute 72 percent of the work force.

"But not at the presidential, dean and higher levels," continued Castor, who said only 5 percent of the superintendent positions nationally are held by women.

"It's really discouraging," she added.

Castor also noted that men hold the presidencies of all nine state universities and that female vice presidents are still a rare commodity, although improvement appears on the horizon.

Patrick Riordan, a spokesman for the State University System, said Chancellor Charles Reed and the Board of Regents are acutely aware of the imbalance.

"We don't have enough women in senior management positions in the university system," said Riordan. "We don't compare well by our own aspirations."

Since Reed has been chancellor, two women have been finalists for presidential vacancies at the University of Florida and at the University of Central Florida.

"The issue was not whether they were qualified," said Riordan. "The issue was the fit at that time and place."

Carres is also concerned that the Chiles administration has failed to make headway in hiring women for key jobs.

"I don't think this governor is doing significantly better and losing Mary Jane Gallagher in my opinion stripped the inner circle of the governor's office of any woman's input," said Carres.

Gallagher, the governor's director of communications and leading female adviser, ostensibly resigned to concentrate on family matters and children's advocacy matters. However, administration insiders watched Gallagher grow increasingly frustrated as her influence diminished in the governor's otherwise all-male circle of senior staff.

Chiles has appointed three female department heads and a woman public service commissioner, but no woman in the present administration enjoys the same high profile of former Lottery Secretary Rebecca Paul.

But Chiles has a couple of high-profile appointments pending; a Dade County judicial slot where a woman is a candidate; and a three-year term on the board of regents.

The governor's press secretary, Julie Anbender, disputes Carres' claim that women have little say with Chiles.

"There are several policy coordinators who are women," said Anbender. "I think the circle is a little wider than she asserts."

And, Anbender said of the governor's first 1,000 appointments to boards and commissions, 351 were women.

But representation in low-paying or volunteer positions are not what Castor and Carres consider progress.

"I'm sure if you looked at the lower level (jobs), there is a pervasiveness of women holding the clerical positions," said Castor.

"We've got to do a better job promoting women," she said. "They are in the pipeline; they are there."