By Sterling Xie
Women are increasingly important in creating change and reaching huge milestones in breaking gender barriers across the world. Specifically, in the financial world on Wall Street, women have gradually become more and more involved. Starting in the 1960s, a consensus with values of financial independence, freedom, and courage drew Wall Street women to the limelight. Wall Street women are heroes not only in gender equality but in advancing the field as a whole.
Why Women Increasingly Became Involved
As America was drawn into World War I, men were drafted to war, leaving their posts at financial hubs like Wall Street. Women made their first movements here to the job market. Before, women were seen to be domestic leaders, not ones that should be concerned about the public sphere of politics and finance. However, now that men were no longer able to run finances, women were encouraged and even forced to begin learning about finance, allowing women to finally join commercial banking. With the continuation of the war, larger, national organizations such as the Association of Bank Women and Women’s Bond Club were created. Although a few women sought membership on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), women in the most important positions were still nonexistent.
This story repeated just a couple of decades later with World War 2. But again, women were removed from their posts and returned to the domestic sphere as soon as the drafted men returned.
However, at the turn of the 1960s and 70s, there was a lot more focus on equality and the women’s rights movement sprang up. This allowed for the equalization in the ability of men and women to purchase seats on the NYSE. According to the National Women’s History Museum, “Mary Roebling… became the first woman governor of the American Stock Exchange in 1958, and Julia Montgomery Walsh and Phyllis Peterson… became the first women members there [in 1965]. In 1967, Muriel Siebert became the first woman to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.” This finally allowed women to reach the seats of positions of high power on Wall Street.
Even though their presence in finance increased significantly, by 2008, there was still systemic gender-based inequality in the leadership roles on Wall Street. With the economic downturn, women were also disproportionately let go as compared to men. However, as we have seen the revival of the women’s rights movement in the mid-2010s and 2020s, women have increasingly fought for less inequality across the board, which has also affected the financial sector. This trend in normalization of the proportion of men and women in positions of power on Wall Street will likely persist and reflect the power of women in the financial industry.
Accomplishments of Women
Beyond gender equality, Wall Street women have been paramount for their contributions to the growth of Wall Street as well. For example, Mary Callahan Erdoes of JP Morgan Chase is known not 0nly as a female leader, but as a successful leader. Nathan Vardi of Forbes finds that “[i]n her first calendar year on the job profits rose 20% to $1.7 billion on revenue of $9 billion.” This was a record in Wall Street history.
Why does this matter?
The financial future of America seems to be on the right path as more and more women can join the financial forces. With increased diversity, equity, and inclusion, the financial sector will be able to see different perspectives and innovate on a broader level.