My parents watched me become a brash, cigar-chomping derivatives trader. I was raised by parents who taught me to be fearless. My father was remarkably kind and gentle, though he had learned to be fearless the hardest way – as a Korean War combat Veteran. He was my biggest cheerleader and toughest coach. Women’s History Month has always brought back fond memories of him and how he encouraged me to achieve in the male-dominated world of Institutional Trading at Merrill Lynch.
Before all that, when I started my first job as an after-school stock clerk in 1976 at Betty’s of Winnetka, my mother took me to the bank to open my first checking account. She made a big deal of it. I had no idea what a big deal it was.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1974 that women first had a right to a checking account without a male co-signer1 when Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.
I studied financial history and women’s rights later in life. I was astounded to learn how many freedoms were just recently granted women. “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced” is the theme for Women’s History Month in both 2020 and 2021. This theme seems fitting as we commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote (ratified August 18, 1920).
The year 2020 was such a remarkable year for many reasons, and it was also a year that women collectively marked some public firsts. We witnessed the first woman elected Vice President of the United States, and Janet Yellen was appointed as the first woman Secretary of the Treasury. Yellen was also the first woman to serve as Chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014-2018, making her the first woman to serve in both roles.
While collectively women are making progress, we still have a long way to go. Dr. Yellen describes the consequences:
“The gap in earnings between women and men, although smaller than it was years ago, is still significant; women continue to be underrepresented in certain industries and occupations; and too many women struggle to combine aspirations for work and family. Further advancement has been hampered by barriers to equal opportunity and workplace rules and norms that fail to support a reasonable work-life balance. If these obstacles persist, we will squander the potential of many of our citizens and incur a substantial loss to the productive capacity of our economy at a time when the aging of the population and weak productivity growth are already weighing on economic growth.”1
How we move forward impacts women, their families, our entire nation and indeed, the world. For our country to achieve its full potential, we must strive to eliminate barriers to success for women in the workforce. We need to be fearless as we all work together to achieve this goal.
Note 1. Janet Yellen in her essay “The history of women’s work and wages and how it has created success for all of us” (May 2020 Brookings.edu)
All information presented in this article is the personal opinion of the author only. This article does not constitute professional advice. Past performance does not guarantee future results.