March is Women’s History Month, and as a firm of women in finance proudly shattering the glass ceiling, we want to take the opportunity to celebrate the incredible achievements and contributions of women who helped pave the path for where we are today. Despite historical obstacles and gender biases, women have played pivotal roles in shaping the financial landscape. In this blog, we’ll explore the inspiring journey of women in finance. From breaking down barriers to empowering future generations, we’ll also look to the future of female financial independence.

Historical Perspectives:

Legislation has played a crucial role in advancing women’s financial rights. Can you imagine a world where women could not inherit property – and the impact this had on financial autonomy? The passage of the Married Woman’s Property Act in 1848 granted women autonomy over their finances and property for the first time in history. This act also allowed women the right to collect rent, receive an inheritance, and file a lawsuit on their own behalf. It was over 100 years later, in the 1960s, that women gained the right to open a bank account. Despite this, many banks still refused to let women do so without their husband’s signature.

2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. This act prohibited banks from credit discrimination based on gender and provided women the right to open bank accounts, apply for credit, and commit to a mortgage without a male co-signer. Think about this for a minute. For those women currently age 70 or older, at the age of 20 they had no right to purchase a home, leaving them fully dependent on their spouse or father.

Despite these challenges, throughout history, pioneering women have defied gender norms and shattered glass ceilings in finance.

  • 1870 – Victoria Woodhull, along with her sister Tennessee Claflin, opened the first female-owned brokerage firm on Wall Street, becoming the first female stockbrokers. This sparked outrage, as in the 19th century buying and selling stocks was seen as a form of gambling, and many feared that “emotionally driven” women would be convinced to gamble with their husband’s fortunes.
  • 1903 – Maggie L. Walker, opened The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond Virginia, the first bank to be chartered by a black woman in America. 
  • During World War I, more women were introduced to finance, through patriotic duty and the absence of men, women stepped up to power Liberty Bond sales. Similarly, during World War II, women filled empty posts on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, rotating back to secretarial jobs when the war ended.
  • 1967 – Muriel Siebert, the first woman to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange marked a significant push for gender diversity on Wall Street. Siebert was one woman among 1,365 male members. At the time, there was no women’s bathroom on the floor, but eventually, the exchange built a single stall inside of an old phone booth.
  • 1981 – Sandra Day O’Conner was appointed as the first woman to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice.
  • 1984 – Ann Hopkins, who helped pioneer the field of modern portfolio management in the 1960s, became known for her major Supreme Court workplace discrimination case. Hopkins, who was denied a partnership position at Price Waterhouse based on her gender, played a major role in shaping how the country viewed women in the workplace.
  • 1997 – Madeleine Albright was appointed as the first woman to serve as US Secretary of State.
  • 2014 – Janet Yellen became the first woman to serve as chair of the US Federal Reserve. In 2021, she began serving as the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Yellen also served as the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors and is the first person to have held all three roles.
  • 2018 – Stacey Cunningham became the first female president of the New York Stock Exchange in its 226-year history.

Women’s Financial Empowerment Today

Despite these achievements, women still face many challenges. Women still earn just $0.82 for every dollar a man makes. Nevertheless, we have seen a shift in the financial power women hold as we see a rise in the number of female breadwinners. In 45% of opposite-sex marriages, women earn as much as or more than their husband. This number has tripled over the past 50 years.

Women have made significant strides since the days when they were prohibited from owning property or accessing banking services. When it comes to home ownership, single women own 12.95% of American homes, whereas single men own 10.22%. This equates to 2.71 million more homes owned by single women. The women who fought for the Equal Credit Opportunity Act 50 years ago, would be very proud of this figure!

Additionally, research reveals that women currently oversee one-third of all U.S. household financial assets. This exceeds $10 trillion in value. Projections indicate that this figure will surge to $30 trillion by the decade’s end due to wealth transfer from the baby boomer generation.

Empowering Women in Financial Planning

Despite historical progress, many women still face challenges in financial planning and investing. While many women take charge of household finances, a significant number express a desire for greater financial knowledge. Addressing women’s unique financial needs and concerns is essential for building confidence and fostering financial independence. A study by BNY Mellon found that “Almost nine in 10 asset managers (86%) admit that their default investment customer – the person they automatically target with their products – is a man.” Unsurprisingly half of the asset managers surveyed reported that 10% or less of their fund managers or investment analysts are women. Roberta Keller is the portfolio manager for the Alexis Impact Portfolios and is one of very few women in this category.

The study also found that women are more focused on investing in businesses that have a positive social and environmental impact. Over half of women (55%) would invest – or invest more – if the impact of their investment aligned with their personal values, and 53% would invest – or invest more – if the fund they invested in had a clear purpose for good.

In recent years, there has been a notable increase in women’s representation in the financial sector. Female-led financial planning firms are on the rise (Including Alexis Advisors), offering a supportive and inclusive environment for clients. Working with a female financial advisor can provide a deeper understanding of women’s financial goals and priorities, leading to more personalized and effective financial planning strategies.

Setting the Standard for Future Generations

Looking ahead, financial education is key to empowering future generations of women. By equipping young women with the knowledge and skills to make informed financial decisions, we can pave the way for greater financial independence and success. It’s up to us women to set examples and inspire the next generation of women leaders in finance!

The history of women in finance is a testament to resilience, determination, and progress. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s honor the trailblazers who paved the way for women in finance and empower future generations to take control of their financial futures.

Contact us to learn how our team of experienced female advisors can help you achieve your financial goals and aspirations. Together, we can build a brighter and more equitable financial future for all.

– Samantha Vicchiarelli, ChFC®