“The future is female.” We’ve seen and heard this sentiment in a range of contexts over the years: technology, politics, business, finance, and many more. Women are making strides in all walks of life and overcoming barriers in industries historically dominated by men.
As a financial services company serving small businesses, we are particularly excited about the advancements women have made (and are still making) in finance and as entrepreneurs. To us, the future is female—and so is the future of small business.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re looking back at female trailblazers in financial services and their impact on the generations to come.
Paving the way: honoring women in financial services during Women’s History Month
The financial services space has long been considered an “old boy’s club.” Men have historically dominated banking, lending, investing, and other financial industries. Even so, women have been breaking into these spaces since as early as the 19th century. Here are a few such pioneers:
Hetty Green (1834 – 1916): “The Queen of Wall Street”
A girl should be brought up as to be able to make her own living.
So believed Hetty Green, a savvy investor known as the richest woman in America during the Gilded Age.
Indeed, Green’s family raised her with a business savvy that helped her amass a great fortune and an impressive reputation as a female investor. Her father and grandfather, who owned a whaling firm, taught Hetty at a young age about stock quotes, commerce reports, business ledgers, and trade commodities. She was reading financial papers by the time she was six and became the family’s bookkeeper at just 13 years old.
When she inherited millions of dollars upon the death of her father and other family members, she started investing it—and she knew what she was doing. A strong believer in the “buy low, sell high” investment strategy, she eventually earned the nickname “Queen of Wall Street.” She even helped bail out the City of New York during the Panic of 1907.
Muriel Siebert (1928 – 2013): “The First Woman of Finance”
Men at the top of industry and government should be more willing to risk sharing leadership with women and minority members who are not merely clones of their white male buddies.
Putting her words into action, Muriel Siebert joined the New York Stock Exchange in December 1967 as the first woman among 1,365 male members. Joining wasn’t easy—she had her application rejected nine times before she finally secured the necessary sponsorships to join. That same year, she founded her own brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Co., Inc., which is still operating today as Siebert Financial Corporation.
In 1977, she became the first woman to serve as New York State’s superintendent of banking, overseeing every bank in the state and regulating $500 billion. Not a single bank failed under her leadership.
Known as the “First Woman of Finance,” Siebert advocated for women and minorities in finance, pioneered the discount brokerage field, created programs in financial literacy for women, and was the first individual to have a room named after them at the New York Stock Exchange.
Isabel Benham (1909 – 2013): “Wall Street’s First Female Partner”
[Isabel Benham] was the grande dame of the railroad at a time when securities analysis was in its infancy and when there were few women in the business.Andy Petery, former Morgan Stanley analyst
As a young woman, Isabel Benham always knew she wanted more than a career as a secretary or stay-at-home mom. So much so that when she was applying to Bryn Mawr, a women’s college, she lobbied for them to offer a degree in economics. In 1931, thanks to her fervent efforts, she was one of the first five women to graduate with that degree.
She eventually landed her first job on Wall Street as a bond statistician for RW Pressprich & Co. Her reports on America’s railroad industry were so impressive that, by the 1960s, she was recognized as a top railroad analyst and even earned the nickname “Madam Railroad.”
She became the firm’s first female partner—and the first woman to be named partner of a Wall Street firm. As partner, she also earned a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Before her death, she gave $15 million to Bryn Mawr to encourage further educational opportunities for women.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933 – 2020): “Notorious RBG”
I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.
We’d be remiss not to include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on our list of trailblazing women in finance. While not a financier herself, RBG had a direct hand in women’s financial rights. Because of her advocacy, women can today open a bank account or credit card without permission from their husbands, and they can get a mortgage or business loan without a male co-signer.
Women entrepreneurs today
According to the latest State of Women-Owned Businesses Report from American Express, there are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. that employed 9.4 million people in 2019 alone.
There’s no denying that 2020 brought its share of challenges, but the future looks bright for women-owned businesses. The Small Business Trends Alliance recently surveyed women business owners across the country to learn more about the state of women in business today. More than half of those surveyed plan to grow their current location or open a second one, 83% plan to invest in marketing, and 43% plan to hire more staff.
Women business owners are resilient, their businesses are growing, and they’re here to stay.
Financial tools for women-owned small businesses
We at Bluevine dedicate ourselves to helping women-owned businesses access the same opportunities as their male counterparts. That means providing flexible financial tools so they can invest in growth and better manage their money—much like the trailblazing women before them.
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