WASHINGTON -- The "glass ceiling" that historically has been a barrier to advancement by women in the workplace is showing some cracks, a gradual change backed up by Census Bureau figures.

It's not enough to ensure clear upward mobility for women, say analysts and women's advocacy groups, but noticeable enough to suggest that those comfortable corner offices and plush leather chairs are no longer the sole dominion of men.According to the latest government estimates, there were more than 7.1 million women in full-time executive, administrative and managerial positions in 1998 -- a 29 percent jump from 1993.

Approximately 9.4 million men had the same kinds of significant jobs, but that represented only a 19 percent increase.

"The glass ceiling definitely exists, but at the same time, there are an increasing number of women who are breaking through it," said Debra Meyerson, a professor of management, science and engineering at Stanford University. "It's proof that more women are entering the work force."

Here's more proof: In 1998, there were 514,000 more women in executive positions than in 1997, compared to 392,000 more males in such top-level posts during that same time frame.

The broad category of executive, administrative and managerial positions covers jobs from chief executives to mid-level and lower-level management positions to women who own their own businesses.

Analysts point to a variety of factors, including the growing number of single mothers and two income households in the work force. Females also make up 51 percent of the overall population.

But don't confuse those important gains in upper mobility with reaching the long sought-after goal of pay equality with men, said Wendy Rayner, chief information officer for New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman and a member of the organization Women Executives in State Government.

While the median income level for men and women in executive positions both rose at the same 20 percent clip in 1998, men made nearly $17,000 more -- $51,351, the statistics show.

"There's a huge gap in terms of funding, salaries and compensation for what we do," Rayner said. "But what we do have is recognition; women are recognized now that they can contribute equally at the board room, as men. We are recognized for that but we are not finished."

But while more women are running their own businesses and own seats on corporate boards, the gains must be viewed with caution, Meyerson said.

A study by Catalyst, a women's advocacy group based in New York, found that women represented 11.9 percent of corporate officers in America's 500 largest companies as of Mar. 31, 1999, a 37 percent increase since 1995. The Catalyst study also showed the number of companies with two or more women officers increased 28 percent, from 220 to 282.

Yet, men still hold 93 percent of what's known as "line" officer jobs -- high-profile jobs with profit-and-loss responsibility that often lead to the top spots, the same study shows. That means, said Meyerson, that many women who achieve executive or management level are shuffled into "staff" positions such as human resources or public relations.

There are an increasing number of factors in the corporate workplace that may seem neutral but that turn out to adversely affect women, she said. For instance, Meyerson pointed out that women who stay late for meetings and fight to "defend their turf" in order to stay ahead are looked at in some companies as "control freaks", while men with the same characteristics are merely considered "passionate."

"The exact same behavior was interpreted in different ways," Meyerson said. "So women managers got bad reputations."

The solution won't arise until women get more access to the so-called "old-boy" networks, where many informal discussions and decisions take place, said Linda Stewart, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, a $2.3 billion agency with 2,200 employees.

"I think you have to look at income level clearly, but I think you also need to look at diversity of employment levels," she added. "That will tell you if there's been a real trend in terms of getting women employed across the board."

Still, women are unmistakably making their mark on the workplace despite the income disparity, said Marna Whittington, managing director and chief operating officer of the Investment Management Division at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in Philadelphia.

"It's where a woman has an equal opportunity to use her skills and do what she wants to do," she said, "to be treated fairly as a colleague, as a professional and not as a woman."