By Sterling Xie. Edited by Arjun Chandrasekar.
Women have made landmark strides in breaking through gender barriers in the financial world and especially on Wall Street. Starting in the 1960s, women gradually became more and more involved in finance and began joining Wall Street. Financial independence, freedom, and courage became known as the key traits of Wall Street women. Breaking through the barriers to success, Wall Street women are certainly heroes in their own right.
The History of Women in Wall Street
In World War I, when men were largely drafted to war, women made their first advancement in the financial market. Women had historically always been turned away from the financial market but without men running the finances, women were encouraged and even forced to begin learning the intricacies of finance, leading to one of the greatest expansions of women in commercial banking ever. Big organizations like the Association of Bank Women and Women’s Bond Club were created during the First World War and several women even unsuccessfully sought membership on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
The same story was true in World War 2 as women filled the positions left by men on Wall Street and the NYSE but were kicked out as soon as men began returning from the war.
However, in the 1960s to 1970s, the political landscape changed vastly, giving way to more democratization in the financial world, allowing the relatively equal ability for 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.” These landmark breakthroughs represent the gradual acceptance of women into long-sought leadership positions on Wall Street.
Even in 2008, in the financial downturn, there was deep-rooted inequality in the leadership roles on Wall Street. Women, in fact, were disproportionately laid off in comparison to men during the crisis. This discrimination has only decreased in the mid-2010s and 2020s as we have seen increased activism for women and an increased focus on discrimination in the workplace. Since then, while there is still a disparity in the female to men in financial leadership, the gap has shrunk a lot and the pay gap is slowly but surely reforming. Hopefully, this trend will persist and reflect the value of women in the financial industry.
Accomplishments of Women
Recently, Wall Street women have not only become prominent because of their ability to break through gender norms but their contributions to the financial stability of Wall Street itself. Mary Callahan Erdoes of JP Morgan Chase was one of the most prominent female figures on Wall Street and some view her as one of the most successful leaders in financial history without taking into account gender. Nathan Vardi of Forbes finds this has a good reason as “In her first calendar year on the job profits rose 20% to $1.7 billion on revenue of $9 billion.” Women have become some of the most key pieces to growth in the financial market.
Ultimately, the entirety of the story for women and the acceleration to prominence with financial accomplishments is a testament to the need for financial literacy for everyone, not just a small subset of society. Especially now, with few Americans actually having the resources or will to get financial literacy, it is more than important to look to historical female figures for inspiration and look to their achievement to spur our own financial literacy growth. Women have been and forever will be important to the growth of Wall Street and the financial world and as such, are integral parts of our financial history.