Timing was everything at the annual NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund's Equal Opportunity Awards dinner at the New York Hilton Tuesday evening. From the get-go, over 700 people were moved briskly through a regimented, timed routine of cocktails, opening remarks, dinner, cabaret entertainment and awards presentations. Given how endless some awards dinners can be, the swift pacing makes this a particularly popular event every year.

This year's honorees -- Bergdorf Goodman president Dawn Mello, Allure editor-in-chief Linda Wells, Cap Cities/ABC president and chief operating officer Robert Iger and Chemical Bank vice chairman William Harrison Jr. -- were asked to keep their acceptance speeches limited to two minutes. It worked. Everybody went home by 9:20 p.m., 10 minutes ahead of schedule.

In her acceptance speech, Mello, who recently returned to Bergdorf's after a five-year stint at Gucci in Milan, described one of the major differences between the fashion business in New York and Italy: Outside of family-owned companies, there are noticeably few high-ranking women execs in Italy, a situation she hopes will change.

The crowd of well-wishers included Edgar Bronfman Jr., a dinner co-chair; William and Carolyn Chaney, Stephen Elkin, Betty Friedan, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder, Bess Myerson and Vera Wang.

Wang was on hand for two important reasons. "I'm here to honor Dawn Mello," she said. "And I'm an old feminist from way back."

In her acceptance remarks, Wells said she was seven months pregnant. At first she didn't tell anyone at work, fearing it might influence their treatment of her. But after a while, she realized that it didn't make a difference and said she'll stay on the job as long as possible.

Still, she added, "I'm not looking forward to having my water break in a budget meeting."

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