March 16, 2017

On March 9, SIPA’s inaugural workshop on “Women in Finance: Toward Equality” convened scholars, students, and professional practitioners for a day of wide-ranging discussion about the intersection of women and finance.

Organized by Yasmine Ergas, director of the Gender and Public Policy Specialization, Ailsa Röell, professor of international and public affairs, and Patricia Mosser, director of the Initiative on Central Banking and Financial Policy, the workshop was supported by SIPA’s Center for Global Economic Governance and the CFA Institute.

Ergas described the new workshop as perhaps the first major initiative to bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss the factors that affect women’s participation in the financial-services industry both as professionals and as customers. She sees it as a possible model for future forums that would regularly bring together participants from finance, government, and academia.

Over the course of the day, participants examined the world of finance through the lens of gender equality. Drawing on substantial research, participants discussed the role women play as financial professionals, including obstacles they face in furthering their career and leadership goals and possible avenues for change. They also explored the role of women as customers of finance, with discussion focusing on topics such as access to credit and financial literacy.

A paper by Laurie Goodman, for example, compared women’s and men’s access to mortgages and their repayment performances. It turned out that, while women have a harder time obtaining mortgages, they may actually be better mortgage risks. Other researchers discussed the factors that affect women’s comparative lack of confidence in their own financial competence. A panel of high-level participants in the financial sector provided their perspectives on the dynamics that affect female participation, from life-cycle factors related to care responsibilities to the internal organization of firms.

Dean Merit E. Janow introduced the keynote speaker, Mary J. Miller, former undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury. Miller analyzed the state of gender diversity and its relation to the performance of financial firms, In a context marked by the limited number of women in positions of responsibility and by women’s limited access to financial capital, Miller nonetheless discerned some potentially positive trends.

The workshop concluded with a discussion led by Karen L. Miller of Women’s World Banking on the ways in which banking institutions can learn from experiences aimed at promoting women’s inclusion as clients of financial services. Inclusion can lead to innovation.

One important purpose of the workshop, Ergas said, was to discuss the current state of research in the field. More and more academic attention is being paid to issues surrounding women, equality, and finance, she noted, and it is important to understand the nature of these issues, look at the specific factors, and figure out where to go from here.

To address these academic questions, the event featured multiple panel discussions, which provided important venues for substantive engagement. Scholars from SIPA, Columbia University, and other universities joined researchers and practitioners from organizations including TIAA and Oliver Wyman, to discuss the future trajectory of research in the field.

Panelists also spoke about how developments in microfinance and women's banking have generated innovations for finance in general, how gender diversity can contribute to business success, how the gender bias and pay gaps manifest in finance firms, and how women fare in financial literacy.

“Gender is an important dimension of all sectors,” Ergas noted. “Taking into consideration gender dynamics leads to better policy, and that is fundamental. But it is important to remember that gender equality is a goal in itself. ”

— Matt Terry MIA ’17

pictured: (left) Mary J. Miller; (top right) Laurie Goodman

View the full agenda and guest list