WOMEN'S WORK Getting Ahead Is More about Proving They Belong on the Job and Less about Proving Themselves as Females in Fields Once Dominated by Males

Article excerpt

Byline: Sarah Skidmore, Times-Union business writer

Women have been climbing through some serious cracks in the glass ceiling for the past several decades.

But it's not just the power suits of the Fortune 500 getting through.

Women of the cloth, women in lab coats and many others are on their way up.

A recent influx of women into the clergy, veterinary medicine, dentistry, car sales and other once male-dominated fields are now earning the same if not more than their male counterparts, according to a recent study by the Employment Policy Foundation, a non-profit research group.

The playing field is not quite equal everywhere yet. Women's pay as a percent of men's in all industries, although not yet equal in 2000, was up 4.1 percent from 1990, according to the U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

But for women in these industries in which the discrepancy appears to be evening out, getting ahead is more about proving themselves as workers and less about proving themselves as women in the workplace. And for some Jacksonville professionals, being a woman is actually giving them an added advantage.

ZOOMING AHEAD

Renee Brown is one of the new entrants to the very male world of car sales. She started work seven months ago at Tom Bush Autoplex in Jacksonville. She is the only woman among 30 salespeople selling Volkswagens, Mazdas and used cars at the dealership, but is one of the top sellers.

She said being a woman without a doubt played a role in her success.

"The consumer is sick and tired of the typical car man, I am different," Brown said. "People trust me -- I don't lie."

Embracing some typically "female" traits such as listening helped propel her upward.

"I wait to hear what they need," Brown said. But attentiveness also pays off in other ways. "If a husband and wife are there, I sell to the wife because she's the one making these decisions."

Brown said the main obstacle is proving she knows about cars, which she easily overcomes.

Her manager, Bill Stewart, said Brown is consistently one of his top performers -- last month she sold 19 cars when the average salesperson sold eight. He said this work earns her the respect of co-workers.

"I like having women on my sales force," Stewart said. "They are good with their customers, and customers have a tendency to warm up to them quicker."

Brown said while she does not hide her feminine traits, she is treated as one of the guys in the workplace. But she questions how easy it would have been a few years ago.

"You don't hear the 'little missy' remarks at all. Car men have a sleazy reputation," Brown said. "But everyone is here to sell cars -- not to get dates."

She said she works hard, about 50 hours a week and is used to the competition after working for many years in advertising sales. She says this personal drive, more than anything, helps her get ahead.

GENTLE DENTAL

Being a woman isn't the only key to success.

"The qualities of a good dentist are not gender specific -- as long as you do a good job," said Patricia Pulido, a dentist with her own practice on Beach Boulevard.

Professional competency continues to be the core of all the women's success, but embracing some feminine traits lent Pulido some added benefits.

"I feel like women have a softer approach," Pulido said. "I have a lot of patients tell me I have a softer touch and they like that."

Pulido's office is directly above her husband's medical practice, and her daughters work at the front counter. This focus on family has also overlapped into other arenas.

Parents often bring their children to her, and she believes children respond well to her because she is a mother and knows firsthand how to communicate with them.

But despite her young fans, even the most gentle practitioner in the world will still have critics -- not many people want to see the dentist. …