Finance remains a male-dominated profession, especially at the top. But there are now more opportunities in finance for women, thanks in large part to women who have pioneered in the field.
If you want to take on a leadership role in finance and are looking for models, then here are 10 top women investors who have achieved great success—often by being willing to stand out, take risks, and refuse to accept no for an answer.
Dubbed the “Grand Dame of Dividends,” Geraldine Weiss was one of the first women to make a name for herself in finance and to prove that women could be successful investors. She learned about investing by reading books, listening to her parents’ conversations, and studying business and finance in college.
Despite her studies, no investment firm was interested in hiring her as more than a secretary. In the face of rejection, she started her own investment newsletter in 1966 at the age of 40. To avoid further gender discrimination, Weiss signed her newsletter “G. Weiss.” It wasn’t until 1977, when she appeared as a guest on the popular PBS-TV program “Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser,” that she revealed her identity, after achieving a consistently successful track record.
Weiss’ value-based, dividend-oriented stock-picking strategy outperformed the strategies recommended by other newsletters and has achieved above-average returns even in poor markets. She published her newsletter, Investment Quality Trends, for 37 years until she retired in 2002. The newsletter still exists and still follows Weiss’ strategy.
Without ever graduating from college, Muriel Siebert obtained entry-level research positions in finance, eventually made partner, and went on to found the brokerage firm Muriel Siebert & Co. in 1967. The process of getting her firm registered with the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) involved numerous rejections from men who declined to sponsor her application and difficulties in obtaining the necessary financing to meet the exchange’s expensive entrance requirements. She persevered, and her firm became the first woman-owned member of the NYSE.
Siebert went on to bring her financial expertise to politics, another male-dominated field. As New York State Banking Department superintendent from 1977 to 1982, and the first woman in that role, she helped prevent bank failures in a tumultuous market. As a Republican, she also made a bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Siebert passed away on Aug. 24, 2013.
Abby Joseph Cohen has been a respected and honored portfolio strategist for decades. After serving as a Federal Reserve Board economist in 1973, Cohen worked as an economist and quantitative strategist at major financial firms, including T. Rowe Price, before joining Goldman Sachs in 1990. She became a partner in 1998. Her positive and accurate forecasts of the 1990s bull market made her a star in finance and the media.
Cohen retired in 2018 as chief strategist and president of Goldman’s Global Market Institute. She remains an advisory director and senior investment strategist.
Cohen has also held prestigious positions with organizations including Cornell University, the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute, Major League Baseball, and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mellody Hobson is co-CEO and president of Chicago-based Ariel Investments. She is a proponent of financial literacy and regularly appears on national television. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2015.
Hobson is also chairperson of Starbucks and a director of JPMorgan Chase. She also served as chairperson of DreamWorks Animation until its sale to Comcast and was a long-standing board member of the Estée Lauder Companies.
Hobson, who has been president of Ariel since 2000 and was named co-CEO in 2019, started her 30-year career at the company as a summer intern. She was recruited by founder and co-CEO John W. Rogers Jr. while she was a student at Princeton University.
Billionaire Abigail Johnson became chair and CEO of Fidelity Investments in 2016, after serving as president and CEO since 2014. She is the daughter of former Fidelity Chair Edward C. Johnson III and granddaughter of the company’s founder. She owns nearly 25% of the company, and her net worth is estimated at about $15 billion.
There is no question that being born into the right family helped Johnson get where she is today. That said, as one of the largest mutual fund companies, with nearly $2.9 trillion in assets under management (AUM) as of 2021 and a 75-year history, Fidelity has too much at stake to put someone in charge based on name alone. Johnson earned an MBA from Harvard and worked as a customer service representative, an analyst, and was an equity portfolio manager with Fidelity for about a decade before earning her first executive position there.
Private investor Lubna Olayan was CEO of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based Olayan Financing Company, the Middle East arm of global investment company Olayan Group, for 33 years before retiring in 2019. One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent companies, Olayan’s portfolio focuses on public equity, private equity, and real estate.
Olayan entered the family business—which was started by her father in 1947 as a trucking business—in the early 1980s, when it was not common or socially acceptable for Saudi women to work at all, let alone to work in business. A champion for women in the workforce, she employed more than 500 women.
In addition to her high-profile position with Olayan Financing, she became the first female board member of a Saudi public company when she joined Saudi Hollandi Bank in 2004. She also has been a board member of the Egyptian Finance Company and the investment bank Capital Union. More recently, she became chairperson of Saudi British Bank in 2019 and also serves as the chair of Alawwal Bank.
Deborah Farrington is co-founder and managing partner of StarVest Partners, a New York City-based venture capital firm. She is one of the pioneers of investing in software as a service (SaaS). StarVest, which was founded in 1998, is one of the largest woman-majority-owned venture capital firms in the U.S.
StarVest was an early and primary investor in NetSuite. Farrington served as lead director and chair of the compensation committee of NetSuite until its $9.4 billion sale to Oracle in 2007.
She has been included multiple times in Forbes’ Midas List, a ranking of the top venture capitalists. In 2018, Farrington was awarded the Foreign Policy Association Centennial Medal for Achievement in Financial Services. Like Johnson, she earned her MBA from Harvard Business School.
As chief investment officer (CIO) of the fixed-income group at Franklin Templeton, Sonal Desai oversees a whopping $156 billion in fixed-income assets. She joined Templeton in 2009 as director of research for global macro and assumed her CIO role in 2018.
Desai started her career in academia and later became an economist before working in finance. After earning her PhD at Northwestern University, Desai taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh, but a desire to shape policy led her to join the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1990s. In 2000, Desai pivoted once again and worked at an investment bank and a hedge fund before joining Templeton.
Suzanne Shank co-founded Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co., which became the first minority-and/or-women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) to be a top 10 U.S. municipal bond underwriter. In 2019, the firm that she founded (and led as chairperson and CEO) merged with Williams Capital Group to form Siebert Williams Shank & Co., where she is CEO.
Shank initially studied STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), completing a B.S. in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology before earning an MBA in finance from Wharton. After graduating from Wharton, Shank gained experience at a number of Wall Street firms before launching her firm.
Shank has also been keen to inspire and support the next generation of Black investors. She is currently a member of Wharton’s graduate executive board and Spelman College’s board of trustees, where she focuses on providing access to underrepresented minorities.
As CIO of Soros Fund Management, Dawn Fitzpatrick manages the fortune of billionaire philanthropist and legendary hedge fund manager George Soros, his family, and foundations.
Fitzpatrick began her career in finance in the 1990s at O’Connor & Associates, as a clerk on the American Stock Exchange, until ultimately rising through the ranks to head the firm. O’Connor was acquired by UBS as the bank’s internal hedge fund. Before joining Soros in 2017, she had a 25-year tenure at UBS, becoming one of only a handful of women to ever manage a major hedge fund.
Many women in finance still face gender discrimination and lower pay for comparable work. But the barriers are lower and the options more plentiful today than when Weiss, Siebert, and Cohen entered the field.