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5 Pioneers Who Paved the Way for Women in Finance

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Women’s rights have come a long way, from earning the right to vote to serving on the U.S. Supreme Court — and that’s true for women’s finances, too. For example, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, which prohibited sex-based wage discrimination. And in 1974, women could own a credit card in their name for the first time, thanks to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

But as of 2019, only 21% of businesses were women-owned, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There’s clearly room for improvement, especially with pay parity, says Ismat Mangla, LendingTree senior director of content.

“Women are still overrepresented in lower-paying occupations,” Mangla says. “Women still face discrimination as they climb the corporate ladder. Women bear the brunt of caregiving, whether it’s for children or parents, and are often punished for taking time off to be the primary caregivers of children. Research shows that motherhood usually means a decrease in a woman’s earnings, while fatherhood does the opposite for men.”

Still, it’s useful to look back and see how far we’ve come to gain inspiration as we move forward. It’s also important to recognize the people who’ve broke through finance-related barriers to help us get to where we are. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are five women who’ve helped shatter various glass ceilings in the world of finance.

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No. 1: Abigail Adams, investor

Abigail Adams was the first documented female investor in the U.S., despite being considered her husband’s property by colonial standards and not being legally allowed to manage money. She was also the first lady, married to second U.S. President John Adams (1797 to 1801), as well as mother to President John Quincy Adams, who served from 1825 to 1829. Through her smart investing choices, she was able to create wealth for her family.

Even more impressive, Adams was self-educated, atypical of her time.

No. 2: Maggie Lena Walker, bank president

Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman — and the first woman of color — in the U.S. to be president of a bank. In 1903, she founded St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, based in Richmond, Va.

The bank grew to more than 50,000 members in its first two decades in operation, and notably survived the Great Depression after consolidation with two other black-owned banks in the 1930s. The result of this merger, Consolidated Bank and Trust (for which Walker chaired the board of directors), existed as the country’s oldest bank in operation under Black ownership until 2005.

According to the National Women’s History Museum, Walker’s “entrepreneurial skills transformed Black business practices while also inspiring other women to enter the field.”

No. 3: Janelle Jones, chief economist

Janelle Jones was the first woman of color to be the chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, appointed to the position in 2021 by President Joe Biden.

Currently, she serves as chief economist at the Service Employees International Union. Her work has focused on topics such as racial inequality, unions and unemployment.

Not only is she a trailblazer for modern times, but she’s also a finance figure to look out for.

No. 4: Janet Yellen, U.S. Treasury secretary

If you follow financial news, Janet Yellen’s name is familiar. She serves as the secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and was previously the chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — the first woman to hold either of those positions.

Her time at the Fed, which began in 2014, was also notable for job and wage growth during a time of lower interest rates.

No. 5: Gail Pankey-Albert, stock exchange seat holder

Gail Pankey-Albert was the first Black woman to hold one of the highly coveted seats on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) floor. She accomplished that in 1981 after working several jobs on the NYSE straight out of high school. Her previous roles included punch-card carrier and squad messenger.

She went on to become vice president and director of floor operations for financial firm Fahnestock and Co. Inc. Later, she launched an institutional trading firm of her own and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration from New Jersey’s Thomas Edison State University.

“We’ve made a lot of strides, but we still have a long way to go,” Mangla says. “The onus is on our society to make structural change and build systems more equitable for all. The number of women investors is surging, but it’s still not where it needs to be. To build long-term wealth, we need women to be educated and savvy investors.”

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