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Meet the Street: Gloria Steinem on Women and Money

The feminist icon discusses women on Wall Street and what men can learn from female executives.
Author:

Gloria Steinem is a classic, like Jackie O.


Gloria Steinem
Writer, Editor and Founder,
Ms. Magazine

Recent Meet the Streets

65-Year Veteran
Floor Broker,
Michael Pascuma

Deloitte Research's
Carl Steidtmann

American Economic Planning Group's,
Jordan Heller

Hooke Associates,
Jeffrey C. Hooke

She founded

Ms.

magazine, the first national women's magazine run by women. Steinem's name is synonymous with the 20th century movement to further equal rights for women. She continues to write and give lectures, and is currently lending her time and energy to a new program at Smith College that teaches women how to attain financial independence and security.

Here Steinem shares her thoughts on the opportunities for women in business, and how far women have come generally in achieving financial equality.

TSC: The investment management business has always been dominated by men because it is centered around money and, implicitly, power. Do you expect we will ever see a woman CEO of a J.P. Morgan, a Morgan Stanley or a Goldman Sachs?

Steinem: I do. But I think it's more likely there will be, first, a woman who has started her own firm that becomes major. Women are an "immigrant" group, in some ways. Just as the Irish started their own businesses because there was a bias against the Irish, and Jews started their own businesses because there was a bias against the Jews, it's similar for women.

TSC: That's interesting you should say that, because Muriel Siebert is certainly one of the pioneers on Wall Street, although opportunities for women on Wall Street do not seem to have changed radically since she entered the business.

Steinem: It's not just one person; it's a critical mass to really change things, but I'm sure that Muriel Siebert at a minimum has caused other women to go into the financial field: Just seeing her there makes women know that it's possible.

TSC: What do you think has been the biggest gain that women have achieved financially over the last 30 years, and what would you say is still their biggest drawback financially?

Steinem:

The biggest gain is equal pay and comparable pay, because most women are not at these upper reaches that we are talking about, at Goldman Sachs, and so on. Most women are in "pink-collar ghettos" -- that is, jobs that are almost totally female. Service jobs. Clerical jobs.

TSC: And advertising and marketing, particularly in the financial and investment fields?

Steinem:

Well, everywhere. The corner restaurant. About 70% in the paid labor force is in "pink-collar ghettos." So equal pay and comparable pay means the most to them.

TSC: So are you saying that women in these ghettos have achieved fair or comparable pay?

Steinem:

They haven't achieved it, but they've moved toward it. We've gone from

earning 59 cents

for every dollar that men make, to something like 76 cents on the dollar.

TSC: What, then, would you say has been the biggest gain for women over the last 30 years?

Steinem:

Financially? Autonomy. Not being dependent on someone else. We haven't accumulated capital in the same way that men have, but at least we have moved from dependence to independence.

TSC: Your first marriage last year at the age of 66 was certainly a very interesting news story. What are the financial advantages for women in this day and age of being married, if any?

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Steinem:

Some of the financial advantages are the same as would come from sharing an apartment, or sharing a house. You only need one washing machine, one car, one rent. There are financial advantages in terms of health insurance, life insurance

but not necessarily taxation because we haven't completely solved the marriage penalty.

TSC: What do you think female executives might be able to teach men?

Steinem:

It's not about biology. So, it's not

all

women or

all

men. It's about experience. And the experience of growing up female in this society is different, in such that you are more likely to lead by example and by cooperation, rather than by memo and by hierarchy.

You may need memos and hierarchies in some situations, but in most you don't. You need to work as a team. Women are often better at that. They tend to give credit to others more easily. It's the same reason that women are better labor negotiators, for instance, or conflict negotiators. They understand how to leave the other side with some dignity and come out with some solution that is positive, that doesn't entail the defeat of some of the employees.

TSC: Do you think it's possible that if we had more women at the CEO level that these companies would have a chance of being more profitable?

Steinem:

I think they would. There would be, on the average, better use of employees. When you have a hierarchy, you end up with the advantage of the judgment of an individual person, not the advantage of the collective talents of a group. That's because the hierarchy tends to submerge the talents and individuality of the people who are lower down in it.

When you have a more lateral organization where people are able to make suggestions, to take on projects autonomously, you get an accumulation of talent, instead of just one person's talent.

TSC: What key point do you hope to give your audience at Smith College Friday evening when you speak on a panel along with four other distinguished women who have graduated from Smith?

Steinem:

Smith has taken the lead on financial literacy and confidence for women as a subject that everyone, regardless of their specialty, should study. So it's not necessarily about women going into the financial field, although many may. It's about each person being confident in the financial field for what they need individually.

TSC: And what will you be discussing in your speech at the WomenVenture conference of women entrepreneurs next week?

Steinem:

Women are starting businesses at a greater rate than men. I think that's partly because of the "immigrant" syndrome that I was discussing; as they experience discrimination in someone else's structure, so they leave and start their own. It's also because they need a flexible schedule, and becoming their own boss is a way to create that.

The whole area of women starting their own businesses is good for women and it's good for the country; it's where most new jobs come from. It's not the Fortune 500 that create new jobs; it's disproportionately small businesses, usually.

TSC: Finally, what advice would you give female executives for getting ahead in today's world?

Steinem:

To be innovative, not imitative. To forget about measuring up to the behavior of others and use the advantages that you may have as a woman, and as a particular woman.