Cultural anthropologist Melissa Fisher ’85 has always had an interest in women pioneers. As a girl, she would delight in her grandmother’s stories of being one of the few women attending the University of Pennsylvania law school in the 1920s. “The other students said they knew her by the click-clack of her high heels in the hallway,” says Fisher, a visiting scholar in the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis at New York University.
That image of a woman standing out in a man’s world inspired Fisher’s interest in the first generation of women working on Wall Street. In her new book, Wall Street Women (Duke University Press, 2012), she details stories from women who pioneered in professional finance in the 1960s and 1970s. They began as anomalies in a world dominated and populated almost entirely by men, and went on to positions of wealth and power. The stories are told in the women’s own words (all names were changed in the book and this article*) in a series of interviews that began in the 1990s, went on through the market meltdown of 2008, and concluded in late 2010 with a roundtable discussion among the women. They cracked the glass ceiling, making success in the financial industry a possibility for other women, and their influence still resonates. They also helped to feminize the market, according to Fisher, who believes, like many, that women provide a necessary balance, a long-term focus, and an aversion to risk that today’s market requires. Although the number of women on Wall Street has decreased in recent years, there are those market- watchers who believe a feminized market is a safer one for the average investor.