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The Changing Numbers of Women on Wall Street, in the Workforce, and in Boardrooms

The New York Times recently published a few intriguing articles about women that I wanted to share with you.

Women are working in the financial industry in fewer numbers these days, despite more than 20 years of increased hiring and promoting, according to the article “Where Are the Women on Wall Street?” What is responsible for this decline? As The Times notes, fewer female graduates are seeking careers in the financial industry and women are abandoning the industry faster than men. And when women are laid off from a financial job, it’s harder for them to return to the industry because they face an environment that’s more hostile to women than men. While this is disappointing news, The Times adds, on a positive note, that women continue to maintain “a strong presence in some areas in finance, including wealth management.”

Although there are fewer women on Wall Street, they have gained ground against men in the workforce overall. As the article “Women Now a Majority in American Workplaces” reports, women now outnumber men on the nation’s payrolls. Becoming the majority of the workforce is a milestone for women. But it’s hard to ignore that this exciting achievement is due to the recession hitting men harder than women. The Times points out that men tend to work in economically vulnerable industries – manufacturing and construction – while women tend to work in more stable industries – government, health, and education.

Finally, the article “Getting Women Into Boardrooms, By Law” reports that Norway, Spain and the Netherlands have passed laws that will place quotas on corporations that mandate the number of women they must have in top-level positions, with a 2015 deadline for compliance. The Times notes that other European countries are considering similar legislation.

The issue of imposing quotas is controversial. On the one hand, as a general proposition, some consider the imposition of quotas to ensure diversity is viewed as laudable and to others it is viewed as undermining what women have accomplished in terms of gender (particularly, women’s) equality over the past three decades. Some observers cite quotas as tantamount to so-called “reverse discrimination.” On the other hand, quotas can remediate “systemic discrimination.” In the US, quotas, as a general matter, must be judicially sanctioned, whereas “goals or targets” are invariably linked to a good faith effort that stops short of discriminating against others. Thus, while quotas are implemented under limited and particular circumstances, corporations do set targets and goals to ensure diversity in their workplaces.

Which of the three articles above interests you the most and why?