Feature

Muriel Siebert, 1928–2013

The woman who shattered Wall Street’s glass ceiling

Two decades after she became the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange, Muriel Siebert was still battling against the crusty ranks of an overwhelmingly male financial establishment. In 1987, she lobbied to get a ladies’ room on the seventh floor of the exchange, outside the entrance to a luncheon club where brokers networked and struck deals. The exchange’s male members protested, but they backed down when Siebert offered to have a portable toilet delivered to the floor instead. “When I see a challenge,” Siebert later said of her strategy for business and life, “I put my head down and charge.”

Born in Cleveland to a dentist and his wife, Siebert arrived in New York City in 1954 “with $500, a Studebaker, and a dream,” she once said. She was hired as a $65-a-week trainee in the research department at Bache & Co. covering the aviation industry, “at a time when railroads still dominated transport discussions on Wall Street,” said Bloomberg.com. “It wasn’t long before jets revitalized the industry, and eventually commercial jets came along,” said Siebert. “I was at the threshold of a major chapter in economic history.” She started urging her clients to buy stock in Boeing, and by 1965 “she was earning $250,000 a year and had her eye on more.”

Siebert decided to strike out on her own, and attempted to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. “She was turned down by the first nine men she asked to sponsor her application before a 10th agreed,” said The New York Times. Her election to the exchange on Dec. 28, 1967, was a historic day for women, but it would be a long time before it was repeated. “For 10 years,” she said, “it was 1,365 men and me.” Siebert served for five years as New York’s state superintendent of banking, and was a pioneer of discount brokering. In anything she undertook, Siebert “didn’t sit back,” said SmithsonianMag.com. She used her position to push for more women on Wall Street, donating millions of dollars from her brokerage to help women get started in finance.

Siebert “was known across Wall Street as Mickie,” said The Wall Street Journal, and she eventually earned broad respect among her colleagues for her advocacy of financial literacy and her push for a fairer shake for women in the finance industry. But she never considered the job quite finished. When she was honored for her efforts in 1992, Siebert used the lunch celebration to warn that women’s struggle for equality on Wall Street was far from over. “Firms are doing what they have to do, legally,” she said. “[But] there’s still an old boy network. You just have to keep fighting.”

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