Serving San Francisco, East Bay, and Silicon Valley

History of FWSF

We owe our existence to the vision of 17 forward-thinking investment women. In 1956, they gathered in San Francisco to create a forum in which to exchange ideas, share experiences and develop their careers. The Financial Women’s Club (FWC) of San Francisco was the first organization for executive women in finance in the Bay Area ‒ and in the country.  (The Financial Women's Club of New York launched six months later.) 

More than 50 years later, our mission is just as relevant. Executive women in finance still seek opportunities to network with other accomplished women, be recognized for their achievements, keep up with issues and trends, and succeed at the highest level.

The Formative Years 

Early meetings of the Financial Women’s Club of San Francisco were held at Gino's, accessible from the alley off Montgomery Street. Janet Codding, Jane Puffer Steele and Margaret Buehler were instrumental in forming the group. Their goal: providing mutual support to, and opportunities to connect with, other professional women in finance. 

"It was very helpful in those early days to be able to call another member," said founding member Marcia Wolfe, vice president and first female partner at Dodge & Cox.

The dress code of the day included suits, hats, gloves and small furs worn around the neck, recalled Alice Williams Henry. She started at Dean Witter in 1950 at a monthly salary of $200. 

Janet Codding, a municipal bond trader on Montgomery Street, was the club’s first president in 1956. She recalled that many women entered the professional financial arena through the back door as secretaries. Lucy Ritter, another founding member, started her career in 1931 as a research secretary at the California Taxpayers' Association in Stockton. She brought with her a master’s degree in political science. 

"I started in business long before the advent of women's lib, because I thought women could be very good at handling money. In the great bull markets of the ‘60s, we made millions in profits. The results speak for themselves. Your work can be measured in terms of results and you are therefore less likely to face discrimination on account of your sex than in other fields," Lucy said.

The Turbulent 1960s

With the civil rights and women’s liberation movements in full swing in the 1960s, the FWC was experiencing a revolution of its own. Not far from University of California Berkeley, where sit-in protests were common, FWC members were experiencing new-found freedoms of expression and opportunity. They were breaking the gender barriers by becoming stock brokers and securities analysts in record numbers. FWC membership requirements evolved to reflect this elevation of duty, requiring applicants to have "decision making capacity" at a financial firm to be eligible.

Women were competing directly with men, recalled Judith Bedell, who entered the investment world in the 1960s with an MBA from New York University and a decade later served as FWC president. She remembered the ‘60s as a time when "men didn't even talk to us, and preferred to refer business to other men." She also recalled the dress code: no pants.

FWC membership was expanding as the business community became more aware of increasing opportunities in finance for women. However, membership remained limited to women employed in the investment field. The 17 founding members (link) who had signed the membership charter on January 18, 1956 pursued a geographic growth strategy. They invited female investment professionals in the San Francisco area as well as in Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties to join.

Expansive Changes in the 1970s

The decade of the "super seventies” was an expansive time for FWC. Fueled by skyrocketing inflation, the price of an FWC luncheon meeting increased to $3, the initiation fee jumped to $20, and annual dues hit a record $25. 

Professional women mimicked the dress of professional men, giving up hats and gloves for tailored business suits. Once populated almost entirely by women in the securities industry, FWC membership become dominated by bankers. The club even changed its bylaws to be gender neutral and for a time, accepted male members.

FWC's mission expanded to include the importance of giving back to communities and making women's influence felt. Women began to network effectively and a public relations board seat was established. Lucinda M.S. Smith of Bank of America's Trust became president in 1974. She described the decade as a time when women were forging ahead in the financial industry, occasionally by filing lawsuits for discrimination, but more often, by working hard. She, as many of her peers, struggled to balance career, family and community commitments. She was elected president again in 1994.

New Programs Abound

As women entered the workforce in record numbers, two FWC presidents (Susanna Coxhead, 1985, and president Ellen Courtein, 1986) spearheaded a membership drive to broaden membership qualifications from the "investment field" to the "financial field." FWA welcomed diverse members from many related professions, including estate planning attorneys, CFOs and consultants. Judy Craig, who later served as president in 1996, formed a working mothers’ support group. Attendees met over brown bag lunches to talk about how to balance diapers and deadlines.

New programs and initiatives defined this chapter in the organization’s history.  FWC expanded its Scholarship Program to involve Junior Achievement. It formed the Directors' Resource Committee, which focused on preparing FWC members for service on nonprofit, government and corporate boards. It also created the Distinguished Member of the Year Award, which was bestowed on Patricia Love Anderson in 1987. The award recognized contributions to the organization, the finance industry, and the community.

In 1986, members gathered to celebrate the club's 30th Anniversary and memorialize their progress in cracking the glass ceiling. An anniversary party was held on September 26, 1986 at the World Trade Club in San Francisco. Highlights included comic sketches about the changing roles of professional women over the decades.

In 1989, the Financial Women’s Club changed its name to the Financial Women's Association (FWA) to better reflect its professional focus. That decade, it also formed the Peninsula Chapter to serve the burgeoning membership base in that part of the valley.

Economic Shifts Impact Membership

FWA membership composition followed the vagaries of the 1990’s economy.  Downsizing, mega-mergers of financial giants, streamlining in the banking industry, and an influx of New York contenders put pressure on members and their firms. Many members held two or three jobs and worked 14-hour days.

"Quality of life" became the buzzwords. Power breakfasts were replaced with juice drinks at the health club. The technology boom in Silicon Valley spread to other tech centers throughout the country. “Business casual” ushered out Armani suits and crocodile shoes in favor of casual khakis and loafers. Such was the fate of martini lunches, replaced by tall half-caff lattes at Starbucks. Everyone had a cell phone and a PC.   

The Directors' Resource Committee attracted big-name speakers like Kathleen Brown, Marion Sandler and Sheila Wellington of Catalyst to help FWA members secure corporate board positions. Finally, many FWA members held executive level positions and were recognized for their expertise and seniority in their fields.  

In 1996, to celebrate FWA’s 40th Anniversary, past FWA President Leslie Miller and future FWA President Shelly Porges created the “Financial Woman of the Year” event with triple purposes: to raise funds for FWA’s scholarship program, to create greater awareness of the FWA and to promote careers of the most senior women in finance. Over 450 people attended a luncheon honoring the first Financial Woman of the Year, Terri Dial, Vice Chairman of Wells Fargo Bank. Kathleen Brown, former Treasurer of California, delivered the keynote speech. This event became a signature annual event for FWA and has raised substantial funds for the scholarship program.

The following year, FWA launched its first website and developed a mentorship program for FWA scholarship applicants and recipients. 

Impact in a New Century

The new millennium brought many changes for FWA. We now have over 400 members and host 30-40 events each year in San Francisco, the East Bay and the Peninsula. We've expanded our offerings to include programming specifically devoted to professional development and networking, and continue feature speakers from amongst the financial industry's leaders including Alice Rivlin, Abby Joseph Cohen, Hank Paulson, John Stumpf, Liz Ann Sonders, Janet Yellen, Ann Winblad, and Warren Hellman.

The annual gala luncheon honoring the Financial Woman of the Year has grown in size and stature each year. We've had to change venues to accommodate ever-larger crowds and still we find ourselves squeezing in more tables at the last minute to accommodate sponsors. The overwhelming success of the annual luncheon has allowed us to significantly expand our scholarship program to offer awards of $5,000 for undergraduates and $10,000 to graduate students. Since 1995 we've recognized over 200 women studying finance and accounting at Bay Area colleges and universities and funded over $1.9 million in scholarships.

To support the growing FWSF Scholarship program the organization established the FWA Scholarship Fund as a separate 501c3 in 2002. During the economic downturn, when corporate sponsorship decreased, the FWA created the Scholarship Fund Endowment to support the long-term sustainability of the program, despite economic conditions. In recent years the organization has also become more adept at fundraising from individuals, both members and friends of FWSF. We have also been delighted to welcome former scholarship recipients as committee members and board members.

In 2006, FWA celebrated its 50th Anniversary with two key events: First a 'Celebrating the Magic of 50' gala at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in the Merchant's Exchange Building. Over 150 FWSF members and guests attended this black tie optional evening and enjoyed jazz, dancing, and the opportunity to see one another in uncharacteristically formal attire. Second, the organization hosted a 50th Anniversary Symposium called Leadership: The New Global Currency on April 25th, 2006. Keynote Speakers were Cari M. Dominguez, the Chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission & Patricia Dunn, ex-CEO of Barclays Global Investors and chair of the board at HP. Programs included "Careering or Careening? Keep your Hands on the Wheel" with Rebecca Macieira-Kaufmann, Lisa Pieper, and Andrew Rich; and "Is it a Man's World? How Women Can Succeed in Traditionally Male Careers" with Sandy Barbour and Beth Scanlan.

In September 2013 we rebranded and launched a new website, and changed our name to, "Financial Women of San Francisco" (FWSF), a change designed to give prominence to who we are – women working in finance within the San Francisco Bay Area – and our new logo presents a cleaner more modern feel for our organization. In 2016, we celebrated our 60th anniversary, unveiling a new logo with the tagline, “Advancing careers for 60 years.” To celebrate this milestone anniversary, we partnered with Bloomingdale’s for a “Six Decades of Finance & Fashion” show. This sold-out event raised funds for the FWSF Endowment and was a big success.

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