Timothy Geithner raised an intriguing question at a symposium at the U.S. Treasury marking Women’s History Month in partnership with The White House Council on Women and Girls. “What if women ran Wall Street?” he said, referring to an article in last week’s New York Magazine. Only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, he noted, and 17 percent of seats in Congress are held by women — although one of them, Nancy Pelosi, is Speaker of the House.
Many of the nearly one dozen women who took part in the symposium have shattered the glass ceilings in government and business — two areas that in the past discouraged women from moving up to senior management positions.
Mary Schapiro heads the Security and Exchange Commission and is trying to reinvigorate a financial regulatory system to protect investors. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, has been a key adviser on tax policy and economic growth and is an expert on the causes and recovery of the Great Depression. Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), has fought to expand the FDIC and limit the influence of the Federal Reserve. And Elizabeth Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, is Obama’s leading candidate to head a new consumer watchdog agency — as part financial regulatory reform.
Schapiro remembered a speech she gave as chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission several years back in which she described searching the audience for just one or two female faces for empathy. “It takes certain resilience and a certain toughness to go through those very isolating experiences in a field that is particularly male dominated,” Schapiro said.
“The critical test of justice in any society is whether people face equality in the opportunities available to them, whether they have a chance to advance and excel on the basis of merit and effort and drive and dedication,” Geithner said.
CNBC host Maria Bartiromo moderated the first of two panels in the symposium and asked panelists about the barriers they have faced as women ascending to their positions. Warren joked, “The good news is there is never a line in the ladies room.”
“For young people today perseverance is important,” Romer said. “I think being flexible is unbelievably important in a tight job market. The ability to get the ideal job is going to be much harder so you are going to have to say, 'Let me make the most of where I am now.'”
The four panelists were optimistic about the sluggish job market and economic recovery, saying it is the perfect opportunity to go back to school. “Obviously, getting the job is critical, but getting a job with something you love to do is really the right answer for the sort of long-term economic success and long-term happiness,” Schapiro said.
The panelists were split on whether there has been positive change on Wall Street even with financial reform in the pipeline. Schapiro has seen change in how corporations and their boards govern their activities. She said they have been more focused on risk management and issues such as excessive executive compensation. “I haven’t seen anything change,” Bair said. “I am very concerned that the culture that led to this crisis is still there.”
“If we don’t retrain ourselves as a people, both men and women, then what we will be doing is having one of these events 30 years from now and women leaders in finance will still fit on a very small stage,” Warren said.
Additional Maria Bartiromo Links
Maria Bartiromo: After the Collapse (The Fiscal Times)
Maria Bartiromo: The Glass Ceiling: Cracked but Not Shattered (The Fiscal Times)
Maria Bartiromo: The Real Secrets of Success (The Fiscal Times)