Summary of Melissa Fisher’s “Wall Street Women: Engendering Global Finance in the Manhattan Landscape”

The trailblazers for women on Wall Street were not involved with the feminist movement during the early days of their educations and careers (Fisher 2010:263). Despite this, they, through the creation of a group for professional women in finance, opened the door for the following generations of Wall Street women to make a significant impact on the lives, rights and career potentials of women around the globe.

Downtown Manhattan’s male dominated financial space of the exchange floor of the New York Stock Exchange was first pierced Muriel Siebert in 1967. To become the one woman on the floor with 1,365 men, Muriel Siebert bought a seat for $445,000 at the age of 35. Researchers and participants alike have acknowledged the fact that the industry of high finance has long been a space dominated by hyper-masculine, competitive, and aggressive men (Fisher 2010:265).

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the financial district of downtown Manhattan catered purely to men. Many restaurants and clubs established themselves as great New York institutions by offering the financial businessmen a space to hold meetings, fraternize and build important connections with other working men during this time (Fisher 2010:265). Men were hired and promoted based on their ability to perform these activities and play the part of the hyper-masculine, competitive, and aggressive financiers. Though women were commonly seen on Wall Street, they were not perceived as being high-power employees (Fisher 2010:266). An article published in the New York Times in 1958 recognises this scene:

Physically, they play a part in the sense that each weekday the Street’s stone and concrete canyons echo to the click-click of approximately 60,000 high-heels as secretaries, stenos, bookkeepers, receptionists, ticker operators, file clerks, messengers and pages pour out of subways and into offices (Fisher 2010:266).

The article goes on to suggest that “it is extremely unlikely that any of… the clerical help and receptionists will attain any notable financial positions unless she is able to marry the boss, outlive him and inherit his share of business” (Fisher 2010:266). Analysts performed an important job on the stock market but were of a lower rank and, therefore, were seen as playing a more feminine role in the workplace hierarchy. This gave women a small opportunity to break into the world of finance in the field of research. According to Fisher (2010:266), eight women seized this opportunity in 1956 and after being rejected from joining the Investment Association of New York  based on their gender, formed the Young Women’s Investment Association (YWIA). The new association struggled to gain respect as journalists sent to cover their events would comment more on the women’s pleasing appearances than on their intelligence. Despite these setbacks, other women on Wall Street read and connected with these articles and joined the Association, greatly increasing its size (Fisher 2010:267). In 1971, the Association changed its name to the Financial Women’s Association (FWA), altered their age requirements and included “bankers, stockbrokers, traders, management consultants, financial analysts, portfolio managers, economists [sic] and even several lawyers” (Fisher 2010:268). The FWA attributed this growth in the number and variety of its members to the increased hiring of women into these positions. These women viewed their association as one for professional support and networking, and not as a political group for the advancement of women’s rights (Fisher 2010:268).

1981 brought the 25th anniversary of the Financial Women’s Association (Fisher 2010:269). Care was taken in finding an appropriate venue for the celebration that would symbolically reinforce, represent and reflect the growth and maturity of the FWA (Fisher 2010:270). They eventually decided to host the celebration at Federal Hall, a Wall Street landmark known for its historical significance and masculine importance (Fisher 2010:271). The event reminded everyone – members and guests – how far the FWA had come. To emphasize the changes the FWA had accomplished since its inception, they wrote in their 1981 anniversary program:

The year was 1956. Eisenhower has been re-elected, unemployment was low, and the stock market hit a new high. It was a comfortable time for most Americans – unless you found yourself in a minority group as the founding member discovered and were deterred from joining in the professional pursuits of other Wall Street analysts (Fisher 2010:273).

In the 1980’s and 1990’s the stock market and financial firms went global. Although some women had been promoted to the top levels of their firms, they were still a distinct minority, only making up 5.9-13.6 percent of all managing directors. To build international connections, a group of women from the FWA traveled to other global markets at this time. These women were determined to make themselves visible in the masculine spaces of London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Peking, in addition to the spaces of Wall Street. The small group even managed to meet with Margaret Thatcher, another powerful and visible woman, while on their trip to London (Fisher 2010:274). They also used this trip to teach their international counterparts how to network, make themselves visible, and, therefore, make themselves more promotable. In 1984, the FWA debated whether they should venture into the political world or not and many members joined the Women’s Campaign Fund to pursue their political aspirations. (Fisher 2010:275).

In 2006, the Women’s Campaign Fund changed its name to the Women’s Campaign Forum (WCF), which remains the only non-partisan organization that supports women in all levels of political office today (Fisher 2010:276). The current president of the WCF, Sam Bennett, fears that young women now feel that the “battle for the feminist movement has been won – giving women certain rights… They think that the movement has won because of the advances of women in the eighties and even the nineties” (Fisher 2010:280). After seeing Hillary Clinton lose the presidential nomination and upon reflection of the way the press is currently treating women in politics, Sam is determined to “revitalize the women’s movement” (Fisher 2010:280).

In the early days of the YWIA, the founding members felt it important to stay focused on the business of finance and stay out of the world of political activism. Today they feel obligated to use their skills and experience to help women around the world make advancements in both professional and personal realms (Fisher 2010:280).

Reference Cited

Fisher, Melissa. 2010. Wall Street Women: Engendering Global Finance in the Manhattan Landscape. City

and Society 22(2): 262-285.