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Walking up the stairs to my office just this morning, it popped into my head. We follow several stocks in my classes and, over decades, it is the guys who get excited. Their juices flow as we watch the numbers go up and down. The young women are distinctly more reserved. Women have juice, too. Years ago, we had a string of six student Fulbright winners. All women. Pattern or chance?

Our department has ongoing concern about the gender imbalance in finance and investments that other business fields do not seem to have.

The "why" of this is a risky topic to discuss. A guy at Google was recently terminated for suggesting there were basic differences between men and women, so it was unrealistic to expect that all jobs would (with affirmative action effort) come into balance. If not Google, Illinois State University is a free speech zone. Let us give that a test with the topic gender differences.

Jane Austen, three Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mary Anne Evans (publishing under the name George Elliot) were English novelists who blew away the men of their time. Yet in a college text of Victorian poetry, only four of 50 authors are women and represent 33 pages of almost 1,000 in the book. Our son was asked to include Hildegard von Bingen (ever heard of her?) in a history of classical music so there would be at least one woman mentioned. Poetry and musical composition from men but prose from women. Is this pattern or chance?

In my high school class, a girl was told she would not go to college because it was a waste of money for someone who would only get married and raise children. Halfway through senior year, the parents relented but only if she studied a ladylike subject. Home economics was her choice and she later owned a catering service in Scottsdale, Ariz.

My first ISU business classes in 1975 were about half female, same as today. In 1970, a colleague said, a class could be all male. Women born in 1955 and later came into a very different world of professional opportunity than their older sisters. Ideology and ghastly fashion came with it. If any differences between men and women, except sociological conditioning, were admitted, it would be used to keep women in their lowly places. In contrast to today’s very feminine styles, women’s business dress was not as awful as men’s leisure suits but was "severe."

Into the 1980s, boys' interest in dolls and girls' interest in toy trucks remained limited, but differences in men and women should be seen as an asset to any company. A successful business needs a diversity of skills, attitudes and abilities. In the 1990s, the issue became the glass ceiling. Women were in the lower and middle ranks but largely absent at the top. 

Now, in our own day, science showing basic differences between men and women is held to be wrong. I am not qualified to comment on science but as a business professor, I can look for patterns.

Feminists complained there weren’t enough women in Congress but admitted women needed to run to change things. Today, in the House and Senate, the female numbers have gone from just a few to above 20 percent. That is a pattern.

My wife grew up in communist East Germany, which claimed gender equality. Medicine, engineering or hard science, yes, but somehow not management and leadership. That Ossi (East German) Angela Merkel was in politically clean physics and is now Germany's leader.

Today, slightly more women enroll in both medical and law schools. In my 1970s MBA class, there was only one woman; a couple of years later, my wife was the only one in hers. Today these programs seem stuck at 40 percent women.

Check out the Forbes' list of the richest 400. No lack of immigrants or first-generation Americans, but fewer women than when the list began in 1982. There are many highly successful women entrepreneurs, but very few crack that 400 ceiling.

Worse, from our department point of view, was a list of the top 100 financial advisers that listed only five women. Age and tradition is part of that but finance, financial planning and investing are exciting. Shouldn’t everyone want to be part of it? Other voices tell me a different story. "We women," the voices say, "are pretty much doing what we want." Accounting brings order; international business is about language and communication; investing is about risk and uncertainty.

The discussion will go on. Like Congress, you cannot win if you do not run. Our door is open and you will find us very welcoming.

Carson Varner is a professor of finance, insurance and law at Illinois State University.


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