By Steve Tawa


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — At the private Union League of Philadelphia, women took center stage this past week to discuss “glass ceiling” barriers. The conversation even turned to how they became members of what was an exclusive men’s club to network like the guys.

Five women, all of whom are now Union League members, sat on stage before more than 350 people, mostly women, in the audience to discuss the theme, “Walking on Broken Glass.”

Their discussion included workplace discrimination, the biggest risks they took, their worst mistakes, and advice to 25-year-old women.

The conversation also turned to why they joined the Union League. Like men, it was a place to network.

Founded in 1862, the Union League was a man’s domain for nearly 125-years.

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Businesswoman and philanthropist Joan Carter recalls members voted to keep the all-male membership policy in 1985, but the following year, women were admitted to the elite club. That’s when she and four women joined 3,000 male members. But, one spot, “The Old Cafe,” remained a men’s only bar.

She let that go, until one day, when she brought her daughter and step son to the League, she had to explain why he could go shoot pool in the bar, but she couldn’t. That’s when Carter cleverly brought up this proposition.

“We don’t think we should pay the same dues,” Carter said.

Hey, she said, if women had limited access…

“Fair is fair, right? So we said, perhaps you should consider two classes of membership,” Carter explained.

The powers that be relented.

“It was a miracle,” she said. “And women were admitted to the Old Cafe.”

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Carter became the first female president of the Union League in 2011.

“These are interesting stories, because they reflect what the Union League was at one time,” she said. “It is not what the Union League is today.”

A spokeswoman for the League refused to provide any information – numbers, percentages, or even a broad characterization – of how many women are members there now.

The speakers on stage included Carter, Diane Allen, the retired State Senator and former TV anchor, Madeline Bell, President and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Binney Wietlisbach, president of Haverford Trust Company, and Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.