Few women find ways to reach upper ranks of deal shops

Hollywood's Old Boys Club lives on sort of. Just look at the Business Journal's list of top dealmakers. Only one woman among them.

Sure, women executives have improved their lots in the last 10 or 20 years. But most of the action is coming from the studio side. At the so-called deal shops law firms and investment banks it's still largely all guys. Even talent agencies are male dominated.

"In entertainment law firms, which tend to be the smaller boutique firms, the men definitely outweigh the women," said Leigh Brecheen, a partner at Bloom Hergott Diemer & Cooke.

Of course there are exceptions. Katten Muchin Zavis's managing partner is a woman. Bloom Hergott has five women partners and one woman associate, all in its entertainment practice. The head of the entertainment department at City National Bank is a woman. And the head of the same department at Mercantile Bank is a woman.

But Hollywood dealmaking long has been built on relationships, and many women find it tough breaking through.

If you have any doubts, visit The Grill on a typical weekday lunch.

"It's true that men have been much better historically at building these (Hollywood dealmaking) relationships to an astonishing degree. That may be something where women aren't as good," said Brecheen.

Getting no respect

Networking remains a challenge for many women. Brecheen daringly suggests that many women may not be as good at selling themselves and being as aggressive as men.

Hillary Bibicoff, a partner at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP, said when she first started networking for clients a decade ago, she found that prospects were inviting her then-husband to play golf or watch a baseball game before she was invited. Bibicoff (the one woman on the Business Journal list) also found that upon entering a room even with a suit on she was assumed to be the secretary.

When Irene Romero, now owner of an entertainment-oriented financial consulting firm, Kifaru Productions, started her career at City National Bank in the 1970s, she was not allowed to go to country clubs or luncheons because she was a single woman. She had to use the back entrance of the Jonathan Club, which for years did not allow any women to be members.

How did she cope? She listened to her male mentors and started a financial consulting firm not because she was entrepreneurial but because she wanted to be successful.

That's why many have chosen the corporate route. It's not unusual for women to leave a law firm after a few years in favor of an in-house post, such as general counsel or head of business affairs.

DreamWorks SKG's general counsel is a woman, Sony Pictures Entertainment's general counsel is a woman, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's head of business affairs is a woman, Universal Studios' general counsel is a woman and Paramount Pictures' general counsel and chairman are women. "Every studio has a major senior female executive," said Ruth Vitale, co-president of Paramount Classics.

Corporations under pressure

Although no woman is yet running a studio entirely on her own, many point to Marcy Carsey of Carsey-Werner-Mandabach LLC as a significant role model for those striving toward top positions.

"It is an area where you can rise on merit, because there is so much change and it's very fluid less structured than other industries," said Helene Hahn, co-chief operating officer of DreamWorks. "There's more contacts at early levels with senior executives and you have more chances to improve."

In addition, a number of corporations have been under pressure to hire more women as they become ever bigger. And as more women rise into senior management roles, they often tend to hire other women into higher-level posts.

But ultimately, only a few break through to the upper echelons. Of course, only a few people of either gender make it to the top levels of power.

"Some people lose sight of that," Hahn pointed out. "Most people don't succeed. There are only a few super success stories."

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