Muriel Siebert, the First Woman of Finance
The fight for equal pay and job opportunities for women has been a long one. In the United States, one could argue that it began in the first waves of feminism in the 19th century. Yet, similar battle cries can still be heard today, namely the demand for equal pay and equal representation, especially in managerial and STEM positions. Called “the first woman of finance”, Muriel Siebert was a pioneer for women in the financial industry, a sector that still lags behind academia and medicine in representation. Though she died in 2013, her dedication to her profession and the economic status of women remains relevant in today’s social landscape.
From the beginnings of her career path, Siebert faced the obstacle of equal pay. Born in 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio as the daughter of Jewish-Hungarian immigrants, she briefly attended college but dropped out to care for her sick father. At 22, with only $500 in savings, she drove to New York City to pursue a career in finance (Armstrong). After many rejections, she got a job as an analyst at Blanche & Co. by stretching the truth and saying she’d completed her degree (“Muriel Siebert Facts”). Over the next six years, she worked as an analyst at three different firms in the city, leaving each firm after learning that her male colleagues were paid significantly more (“Muriel Siebert, ‘First Woman of Finance’”). This lack of job satisfaction for women pervades in the financial industry today. A 2013 survey found that less than half of women in accounting and finance are satisfied with their careers, largely because they feel that they face a different set of obstacles than male colleagues (Chandler). As a woman, Siebert too felt she faced more obstacles than men; she didn’t earn equal wages or equal respect.
In her autobiography Changing the Rules, Siebert wrote,
“I had a dream of earning the same pay as my male colleagues. So I asked a friend what large firm would pay me equally, and he said that the only way it could happen was if I bought my own seat on the New York Stock Exchange.”(“Muriel Siebert, ‘First Woman of Finance’”).
Though a confident and determined woman, winning and keeping a seat on the NYSE was no easy task for Siebert. The only women allowed on the floor of the NYSE then were clerks. The NYSE required Siebert to secure $300,000 in funding from banks to apply for a seat. Two years later she secured a fund from Chase Manhattan and was elected the first woman on the NYSE in 1967 (“Muriel Siebert, ‘First Woman of Finance’”). It would be a decade before another woman joined her. Yet, this lack of female representation in elite financial positions lasts to this day. A Harvard Business School study found that in venture capital and private equity, women held just nine and six percent of senior roles (Chandler). Siebert’s strength and vision in securing an NYSE seat paved the way for other women to pursue senior financial roles; in 2018, the NYSE elected its first female president, Stacey Cunningham.
Though the United States still has a long way to go in terms of equal pay and equal representation, without Muriel Siebert, who knows how long it would’ve taken the NYSE to admit the first woman. Many years have passed since Siebert’s trailblazing days, but by reexamining her experience with equal pay and representation, we can learn a lot about the kinds professional challenges women still face in 2019.
- Armstrong, Nancy. “Remembering ‘The First Lady of Wall Street,’ Muriel Siebert.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 Oct. 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-armstrong/muriel-siebert-dead_b_3818600.html.
- Chandler, Sarah. “Why Are So Few Women in Finance? It’s Complicated.” Investopedia,
Dotdash, 19 Nov. 2018, www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/092315/why-are-so-few-women-finance-its-complicated.asp.
- “Muriel Siebert Facts.” Your Dictionary, Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2010, biography.yourdictionary.com/muriel-siebert.
- “Muriel Siebert, ‘First Woman of Finance’ and Honorary Alumna, Passes Away.” The Daily, Case Western Reserve University, 29 Aug. 2013, thedaily.case.edu/muriel-siebert-first-woman-of-finance-and-honorary-alumna-passes-away/.
- Cover Image: Harry Hamburg— New York Daily News / Getty Images