OK. This is more like it, I thought as I looked out at the audience at the Cincy Business Athena Award banquet. A group of people at a big business luncheon. Men and women. And it was easy to tell, even from a distance, which was which. The women were dressed like women.

It wasn't that long ago when the very few executive women were expected to dress like men. We wore dark suits and white shirts and little ties. And a purse was far too girly for the boardroom. The successful woman was supposed to carry her cosmetics in the pockets of her Dress for Success blue blazer. Now, we proudly haul around Fendi purses the size of Volkswagens.

We tried all kinds of things to get to the corner office. We'd already tried going to college and working ourselves to death. A friend of mine had the bright idea that she could golf her way to the top. She was well educated, intelligent, ambitious and hardworking. As a matter of fact, she had trained the guy who was now her boss. She watched with frustration as he included the fast-track guys in his golf foursome, where they were able to jockey for position while they rode around on the electric cart.

She signed up for golf lessons. Which didn't work.

"Do you think your boss doesn't ask you to join the Queen City Club because he thinks you don't know how to eat?" I asked her. "They don't want us." Not yet, they didn't. They wanted our business. They just didn't want us to run one.

Philip Morris wanted us to smoke their cigarettes. They called them Virginia Slims"”a subtle reminder that smoking might cause lung cancer and heart disease, but it wouldn't make you fat. This 1968 ad campaign told us "You've come a long way, Baby!" Meanwhile, women in Cincinnati still couldn't walk in the front door of the Queen City Club unless they were escorted by a man. Half of all mothers of school-age children were in the workforce and seven out of 10 worked full time. That same year, the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor reported that a woman doing the same job as a man was likely to be paid 40 percent less.

Our patience was wearing thin.

Monica Nolan, a stockbroker and noisy feminist, was elected to the board of the Bankers Club. Buddy Mack, who ran Seasongood & Mayer, Cincinnati's most venerable investment banking firm, insisted. "It's the right thing to do," he said publicly. Privately he told me that it was good business. "A lot of you gals""”we were still "gals" then"”"will be running the show some day. We might as well get in on the ground floor." Smart guy, Mr. Mack.

I remember the board meeting when somebody suggested that the club could attract more female members by lowering the initiation fee for us. Monica stood up and pointed her finger at a bank president, then the managing partner of a big law firm, then Buddy Mack himself. "Why don't you just pay your women what they're worth?" she roared. "Then they could afford to join, same as the men."

And some of them did. It was good business. The ones who didn't pay their women what they were worth lost some of their best employees to companies that were more enlightened. Sometimes women just quit and started their own competing companies. Things changed pretty quickly after that. For all of us.

Judy Clabes, wh'™s now president of the Scripps Howard Foundation, said in a speech during the mid-1980s, "It's not women against men. It's all of us against the jerks."

And it's worth noting that men opened a lot of doors for us. I used to wonder if it was because some of them had daughters and noticed that they did not pay 40 percent less for their tuition than the boys' fathers paid. And besides, these fathers probably thought, as mine did, that their girls were as good as any boy.

And so about 300 men and women gathered at the Sharonville Convention Center to honor, as they said on the invitation, "Outstanding women who have achieved professional excellence, given back to their communities and created leadership opportunities for other women here in the Tristate."

And of course their companies have created opportunities for men as well. That's what the best companies d'”open the doors for talent and smarts, regardless of the color of their clothes. Or of their skin. There were a lot of men in the audience that day, cheering for their company's leader or for their wife or daughter.

As I said, this is more like it.