The world of finance is notoriously male-dominated, and has a reputation for being unwelcoming (at best) and hostile (at worst) to women. In finance, women make up more than half the workforce but only 2% are CEOs in S&P 500’s financial services firms. Of all mutual funds managed in the United States, just 2% are run by a woman or team of women. (Not sure what a mutual fund is? I’ve got you - here’s an overview.)
Why is this particularly problematic? Because the world of finance is both fascinating and well-paying. Many women may not even consider a career in finance because of the gender imbalance, or may write off money and personal finance as too complex because so much money talk is gendered (written for men, by men).
These bleak statistics make the story of Muriel “Mickie” Siebert even more fascinating. In 1967, she became the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Born in Ohio, Siebert visited the NYSE for the first time as a teenager, and she was immediately intrigued by the scene on the trading floor. The energy, constant dealmaking, and controlled chaos struck a chord in her, and she remarked to her friends that she would like to work there one day.
Siebert returned to Ohio and studied at Case Western Reserve University from 1949 to 1952, but never earned her degree. During her time in college, she enjoyed her business classes, recalling, “I could look at a page of numbers, and they would light up like a Broadway marquee.” Sadly, her father fell ill and Siebert left college early. She never returned to finish her degree, but was awarded over 20 honorary doctorates throughout her life.
Two years later, in 1954, she made her way back to New York City and pursued roles in the world of finance - starting first in research, where her analytical eye and attention to the numbers propelled her success. Her first job in finance was for Wall Street firm Basche & Company and earned her $65 weekly. Over the course of several years, her income grew rapidly. By 1965, she had made partner at Brimberg and Co, earning “several hundred thousand dollars a year.”
Despite all of her rapid success, Siebert faced a wage gap, taking home only 60% of what men in similar roles earned. Frustrated by the inequality, she sought a firm that would pay her equally. Another Wall Street titan advised her to pave her own way, and Siebert decided to take her financial future into her own hands by pursuing a seat on the NYSE and eventually, opening her own brokerage.
In 1967, thirteen years after she relocated to New York, Siebert fought relentlessly to secure her seat on the exchange. In the 175 year history of the NYSE, every seat had previously been held by a man. Up until Siebert’s request, no woman had asked to purchase a seat.
Her quest to secure the seat - which would allow her to trade on the floor of the stock market, and therefore have very direct control over the flow of assets - was challenging. (A seat is an important component to owning a brokerage, allowing Siebert to buy and sell securities on behalf of her future clients.) First, she needed a sponsor. She asked nine men - who refused - finally securing a sponsor when she approached the tenth.
After confirming a sponsor, Siebert had to fund the seat. She reports getting caught in a Catch-22, where the NYSE required her to secure a loan for $300,000 of the $445,000 seat price...which banks were reluctant to lend her until she had secured the seat. Notably, this financing arrangement was a requirement that had not been demanded of other (male) applicants.
On December 28, 1967, Siebert was elected to the NYSE, after several years of effort to align sponsorship and financing. Notably, she was the only woman (among 1,365 men) for the next decade. Shortly thereafter, she opened her own brokerage firm, Muriel Siebert & Company - the first woman owned-and-operated firm of its kind. Today, the company continues to uphold the values Muriel followed when creating the firm, including a respect for other people’s money.
Siebert had a unique vantage point on women and money, and she observed differences between the men and women she traded with, noting: “[Women] do hold their stocks longer - they are not in and out, I think women are more patient, where men have a little more...drive for the quick profit. And [men will] often make the dime but they’ll leave a quarter behind.”
Like many successful women, Siebert is a powerful example of paying it forward. Later in life, she would donate time and money to supporting other women in business and finance. She is quoted as saying, “Women are coming in to Wall Street in large numbers, and they are still not making partner and are not getting into the positions that lead to the executive suites. There’s still an old-boy network. You just have to keep fighting.”
She also railed against mens-only clubs, fighting to get access for women, and lobbying the NYSE to install a women’s restroom near the luncheon club she frequented on the seventh floor. As a woman of Jewish faith, she regularly experienced anti-Semitism.
Her relentless fight for equality was also grounded in business outcomes. She was quoted as saying, "American business will find that women executives can be a strong competitive weapon against...other countries that still limit their executive talent pool to the male 50 percent of their population.”
Siebert remarked that, “men at the top of industry and government should be more willing to risk sharing leadership with women and minority members who are not merely clones of their white male buddies. In these fast-changing times we need the different viewpoints and experiences, we need the enlarged talent bank. The real risk lies in continuing to do things the way they've always been done.”
Later in life, her advocacy continued. Among many efforts, Siebert launched the Siebert Entrepreneurial Philanthropy Plan, which directed a share of her firm’s profits to support charitable efforts. She was also key to developing programs that supported financial literacy among women, in partnership with the New York Women’s Agenda. Her foundation also developed the Siebert Personal Finance Program, aimed at improving financial literacy, targeted at middle and high school students but offered to adults as well.
Siebert passed away in 2013, and three years later, the NYSE unveiled Siebert Hall. Dedicated in her honor and featuring memorabilia from Siebert’s life, the room represents the first time a space in the Exchange was named for an individual. At the dedication, Tom Farley (NYSE Group President at the time) remarked, “When Mickie became the first female member of the NYSE in 1967, she shattered a glass ceiling on Wall Street. So, when it came time to dedicate our newly-renovated meeting hall - a contemporary counterpart to our more traditional Boardroom - the progressive and ground-breaking Mickie was the obvious choice.”
Siebert’s impressive personal story, and the impact she had on the community, serves as a reminder that we can achieve amazing things. Her success is not accidental, but the result of a smart, driven woman fighting for what she believes is right, and doing well (for herself and others) along the way.
xoxo, Ms. Financier
Learn more about Muriel “Mickie” Siebert:
Changing the Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick by Muriel Siebert
Book Review: A Wall Street Women Who Cleared a Path by William J. Holstein via The New York Times
Muriel Siebert, a Determined Trailblazer for Women on Wall Street, Dies at 84 by Enid Nemy via The New York Times
Muriel Siebert, the first woman trader on the New York Stock Exchange by Joann Weiner via The Washington Post
The Woman Who Kicked Down Wall Street’s Doors by Joanna Scutts via Time
Makers Profile: First Lady of Wall Street (includes video interviews with Siebert!)