30 Years: In leadership roles, women make progress

Part of the 30 Years, 30 Changes series on the Pittsburgh region

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Pittsburgh was a very different place for women in 1983.

"When I started out in public finance, one of the senior lawyers in my firm did not want to waste time training me or let me attend meetings," said Sara Davis Buss, who in 2009 was named one of the top 25 women in business by the Pittsburgh Business Times. "He said, 'How are you going to send a woman to a meeting in Altoona on a rainy Tuesday night?' "

Today, signs of progress are everywhere, although in some areas it's one step forward and two steps back.

As late as 1980, female participation in Pittsburgh's workforce was well below the national average, at 40 percent. But the collapse of the male-dominated steel industry finally drove Pittsburgh women into the workplace. Now, half of all workers in Pittsburgh are women, matching the national average, said economist Christopher Briem, citing a 2007 study published by the University Center for Urban and Social Research.

The number of women at "power tables" was fairly stagnant from between 1980 and 2000, with female representation during that time in the single digits, said Heather Arnet, of the Women and Girls Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, which, along with the Chatham University Executive Women's Council and others groups, has led initiatives to increase those numbers. In the past decade, the number of women on "Top 50" corporate boards in the city has increased from 44 female directors to 112.

In 1988, the city of Pittsburgh got its first and so far only female mayor -- Sophie Masloff -- who as council president moved up to that spot after Mayor Richard Caliguiri died, but then got elected on her own. She served until 1994.

The University of Pittsburgh's current provost, Patricia Beeson, is a woman, "and that's a big deal," said Maurine Greenwald, a Pitt history professor who studies women, gender and work. While most medical specialties at UPMC, the region's largest employer, are headed by men, there are two female executive vice presidents at the health care giant.

On the other hand, in 1998, Pittsburgh's police force had more women than any other police department in the nation, at 25 percent. That was because of a 1975 court order, which was overturned in 1991. By 2012, the number of women on the force had declined to 18 percent, although the current acting police chief, Regina McDonald, is a woman.

Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949. First Published October 27, 2013 12:00 AM

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