Celebrating Women in Financial Services This Women's History Month

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

March is Women's History Month. It's a wonderful time to reflect on the achievements of women in modern society and how advancements pioneered by women have impacted civilization as a whole. At CardGuru, we have only to look into our specialty, finance, to find wonderful examples of how women have impacted America, and, in doing so, the world at large.

Women in Finance: A Timeline

Due to concepts like coverture, which were a part of English common law, things haven't always been rosy for women when it comes to establishing themselves financially, let alone getting involved with the financial services industry. Below, are a few early examples of women pioneers of finance.

Mary Kies

Born in 1752, Mary Dixon Kies was an American inventor. In 1809, she became the first woman to hold a patent. She invented a proprietary method of weaving straw with silk to create a new material that set the bonnet trends of the 1800s.

Lydia Moss Bradley

The above mentioned concept, coverture, stripped women of financial power. It suggests that the assets of women must be controlled by men in their family. Lydia Moss Bradley obviously didn't subscribe to those beliefs when she became the first woman to draw up a prenuptial agreement to protect her assets in 1869. Bradley went on to be the founder of Bradley University.

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker was born in 1864. As a black woman, she attended a segregated school in Richmond, Virgina, where she was born. After her father died unexpectedly and before she finished grade school, she worked with children to ease the financial gap left by her late father.

During her lifetime she was a community organizer for the Order of St. Luke, a burial society dedicated to helping the elderly prepare their assets and services for the end of life. She went on to open The St. Luke Herald, a newspaper started in dedication to the organization. The success of the newspaper allowed her to found St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, which made her the first woman in America to charter a bank.

Supporting Women in Financial Services

It's been an impressive climb from the days of women working solely as tellers and in secretarial roles at financial institutions to the 47% of women who now hold management positions in American finance. However, we aren't done climbing yet. This seeming show of equality is a beard for more insidious forms of inequality that keep women out of leading roles in banks and other financial institutions.

Career progression analysis also shows that at each level, men are promoted at materially higher rates than women (in financial institutions)

For this reason, finding a comprehensive, clear list of woman-owned banks is virtually impossible. One would think that, in 2019, all the financial literacy blogs would be churning out these lists, like we do with other minority-owned businesses. However, while the Federal Reserve collects information on minority-owned banks and financial institutions, they don't make it clear to decipher how many of these businesses exactly are owned by women.

In fact, the Federal Reserve tracks minority categories like Caucasian woman-owned, Hispanic American-owned, Black American-owned and multi-racial owned banks, without regard for how many non-Caucasian women owners may exist inside some of those other categories. The result is unclear data that doesn't give us a holistic picture of the totality of woman-owned financial institutions. The HBR study cited above states that frustrated women, sick of waiting for promotions after years of effort, are exiting the financial services industry at alarming rates, as their prospects in the sector continue wane to crescent.

The result is that supporting women in financial services isn't as simple as pointing you in the right direction as to where to spend your money. Instead, CardGuru recommends the following:

  1. Learn about the successes of women in finance and tell other people:
    This is a good start, but by no means should it be the totality of your research on the topic if you want to advocate for women in financial services.
  2. Be a confident woman in finance:
    If you're a woman in the financial industry, you are valuable. Don't be afraid to ask for what you are worth or apply for the job, even if you don't meet 100% of the desired qualifications.
  3. Lift up women:
    It's important to be yourself, but equally important is having a good role model or mentor. As a woman, it feels good to lift up other women, but this is something that can be done by any person of any gender.
  4. Teach your daughter math and financial skills:
    This will prime the next generation of women with a love of math and finances.
  5. Partner in advocacy with professional organizations:
    Something as equitable an exchange as paying dues to an organization like Women in Insurance and Financial Services can provide a platform for women interested in financial services to grow into career professionals.

Unfortunately, these bullet points only provide a simplified answer to the overarching climate of inequality in financial services that impacts women, and to a greater degree that isn't even being measured, women of color. While we celebrate the great achievements of all women, it's important to acknowledge the glass ceiling is very real, and for women in financial services its driving them into other markets, which could be impacting the quality of services you receive as a consumer. At CardGuru, it's our unique duty to keep consumers aware of the trends that impact their wallet, and this March it's your unique duty to learn a little more about women in financial services so you can start to be a part of the solution.