DFS Superintendent Blog: When Women Have a Seat at the Table, We All Win

By Linda A. Lacewell, Superintendent of Financial Services

Ninety-nine years ago today, women won the important Constitutional right to vote. New York was on the frontlines of that women’s rights movement, launched in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., with a convention organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. And we must remember Congresswoman Bella Abzug, nicknamed “Battling Bella” for her fight for gender parity and economic justice, for ensuring that the nation recognizes the day in 1920 that women won the right to vote. Thanks to them, I proudly remember voting in 1984 when the first female Vice Presidential candidate representing a major political party was on the ticket.

Since then, we’ve come a long way, and our influence cannot be ignored.

Trends indicate that by the end of 2019 women will make up the majority of the college-educated workforce. We are earning more college degrees and are a force in the labor market, yet men still earn more money. In addition to the pay gap, women hold two-thirds of the almost $1.5 trillion in student debt and - due in large part to the pay gap - take longer to pay it off. Despite our qualifications, just 5% of S&P 500 companies are headed by women, while about 27% of board seats are held by women.

New York continues to lead the fight for women’s rights beyond the 100 years since Stanton, Nott, and Abzug led the charge. Just last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation requiring equal pay for substantially similar work. Two years ago, he established the New York State Council on Women and Girls to ensure that every future policy and program enacted takes into consideration the rights of women and girls in New York State.

As Washington continues to erode reproductive rights, Governor Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act which codifies Roe v. Wade into New York State law and protects women's reproductive rights by ensuring New Yorkers can make personal healthcare decisions and medical professionals can provide crucial services without fear of criminal penalty.  The Governor has also ensured that insurers cover medically necessary abortions at no cost-sharing.  In 2016, to eliminate an unfair financial burden on women, the Governor signed legislation to combat regressive taxes on feminine hygiene products, estimated to save women $10 million a year. The Governor’s 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda expands women’s rights even further.

Under Gov. Cuomo’s leadership, the agency I lead, the New York State Department of Financial Services, has issued laws and policies to protect the rights of women, from ensuring that mothers receive screening for maternal depression to mandating that many insurers cover in vitro fertilization and fertility preservation services. This builds upon the Governor’s prior actions to ensure that women have access to vital, preventive services at no cost-sharing, including screening and diagnostic imaging for detecting breast cancer as well as breastfeeding counseling, education, equipment, and supplies. My agency also recently approved a new bank led by women to operate in New York, and I have recruited outstanding women professionals for my leadership team.

When women have a seat at the table, we all win.

Fortune 500 companies with the highest number of women directors on their boards are more profitable, reporting a 42% greater return on sales and a 53% higher return on equity than the rest, according to a study by Catalyst.

And women don’t only affect the green of the bottom line – women also decrease companies’ negative impact on the environment, an important fact, considering the climate change crisis. Firms with more gender-equal boards are sued less often for breaking environmental regulations, suggesting they are more aware of safeguarding the environment, according to a study in the Journal of Corporate Finance.

Like climate change and reproductive rights, many important issues are at stake as the 2020 presidential race continues to heat up. The issues we are fighting for today will lay the foundation for women well into the future, the same way the protests of the suffragettes paved the way for me to vote and to serve the state of New York today.