Thursday, June 13, 1996
Business now is officially women's work

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

That was not a cold front we just experienced, Cincinnati gentlepersons. The chill you felt was hell freezing over.

The Commercial Club now has three female members.

If you've never heard of the Commercial Club, that has always been just fine with its members. They're not what you might call publicity hounds. For 116 years, these movers and shakers have been quietly slipping into boiled shirts and dinner jackets for meetings at the institutionally stuffy Queen City Club.

Membership is noted publicly in their obituaries, listing civic and social ties: Yale Club, Queen City Club, Camargo, the Literary Club. And the Commercial Club.

It has always been a status symbol for people who already had status to burn.

Getting things done

According to its constitution, the club's purpose is to ''promote the commercial, industrial and cultural interests of Cincinnati and environs, by social intercourse, the exchange of views and other such activities.'' Civilized and benign. And exclusive. Very exclusive.

''Clubs'' like this one have nothing to do with socializing and everything to do with getting things done. With power.

Imagine how much easier it is if you have an idea for, say, a pair of new stadiums to simply pick up the phone to call the guy who shared the Huitres de Chesapeake with you the week before. Or if you want to find a new law firm or portfolio manager, well, it is always more comfortable to deal with somebody who just sat in the same golf cart.

We women have known this for as long as we've been working, as they say, ''outside the home.'' And we have had some misguided ideas about what to do. One woman I know believed she could golf her way to the top. She said a lot of business is transacted on the links, so she started taking golf lessons.

''Patty,'' I asked, ''do you think your boss hasn't asked you to join his foursome because he's afraid you won't keep your head down and your elbows in? Do you think you haven't been invited to join the Queen City Club because they're afraid you don't know how to eat?''

Several years ago, some executives tried to start a rival club, just for women. Somebody noticed that we weren't going to get any more prosperous by hanging around with each other. Our solution was to do nothing, except complain bitterly every chance we got.

And, of course, we continued to work hard, hoping to get ahead.

The trio who broke the gender barrier are all CEOs: Karen Hendricks of Baldwin Piano and Organ Co.; Dale Brown of the Sive-Young & Rubicam advertising and public relations agency; and Victoria Buyniski of United Medical Resources Inc., a health-care plan management company.

Accomplished women, they have volunteered for good causes and have made significant contributions not only to their companies, but to the community.

What took so long?

Would it be churlish to notice that it's about time they joined the club? Would it be unladylike to wonder what took so long? Is it impolite to point out that the world did not come to an end because three women have been allowed to sit at the table?

Do you suppose that the old guard would be offended if I mention that they are lucky to have these women as members? Not the other way around.

Club secretary Charles Lindberg says there's no particular reason the club decided to admit women this year. And it's true the club wasn't being sued or picketed. We haven't even complained much lately.

But I'd like to think that there were a lot of particular reasons why these good citizens and decent fellows stepped belatedly into the real world. I'd like to think that they have noticed the contributions made to their companies by female executives.

I'd like to think that they were embarrassed for the women they respect to know they belonged to a club that would not permit female members. I'd like to think that some of the members have daughters whom they admire, whom they consider to be first-class citizens, smart and capable. As good as any man.

At least that is what I would like to think.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.