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Why Are There So Few Women in Finance?

Betsy Kelder

Executive Director, Invest in Girls

What’s difficult to find at most commodities, securities, or financial investment firms?

Women employees – and especially women of color.

Fewer than 2 out of 5 employees in commodities, securities, and investment fields are female, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 5 percent in the financial advice industry were black or African American; only 7.8 percent were Latinx or Hispanic. 

The numbers for diversity and inclusion are even starker when looking at dollars instead of people: financial firms owned by women and minorities managed just 1.3 percent of the $69 trillion funds in the asset management pipeline, according to the Knight Foundation

Underrepresentation of women in finance

Too rarely are high school girls encouraged to explore and seek out financial careers or even to be fully comfortable with math; studies show only 12 percent of girls feel confident making personal financial decisions. Young women who do consider finance careers can easily be discouraged by not seeing enough faces like theirs, especially in senior leadership roles; fewer than 6 percent of the CEOs in S&P 500 companies this year are women, according to Catalyst. Only 21 percent of board seats in those top firms are held by women.

The tide is changing – but slowly. The number of women or minority-owned financial firms rose slightly from 7.3 percent in 2016 to 8.6 percent in 2017. Women’s interest in business school is up, too; the Graduate Management Admissions Council says 46 percent of recent applications to MBA programs were from women.

Changing the numbers

Everyone can help swing the balance more. We can all help girls see possibilities beyond what they see every day. And we need to ensure that starts early, that school-age girls (and boys) have access to personal finance and economics classes.

Programs like Invest in Girls help those already in the financial industry share their experiences through mentorships or even by hosting student field trips to financial offices and C-suites. Girls of all racial backgrounds benefit by seeing people who look like them working, succeeding, thriving and, yes, sometimes struggling to move up in finance. 

Hiring managers can look a little deeper for female job candidates. When women are offered financial jobs or when they do run their own firms, they perform as well as men; getting to the interview is often the hardest hurdle.

Teachers, parents, and kids themselves can urge schools and school boards to offer more personal finance and economics classes, which strengthen career options and lives outside of work. Though there’s been real progress in recent years, only 21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance, according to the Council for Economic Education’s 2020 Survey of the States. Young women of color are even more likely to lack access.

Together, everyone can make it easier for women to learn, find role models, launch careers, and thrive in the financial world.

“This was a hard industry for me to enter,” a woman banking officer said recently. “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through that.”

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