Wilma Soss. The Feminist And Wall Street Activist You Never Heard Of

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Women making a major difference on Wall Street is now the norm.

But decades before Cathy Wood made a splash then a crash with the tech-focused ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK
ARKK
) exchange-traded fund, there was Wilma Soss.

And did she make a difference or what!

The recently published book “Fearless: Wilma Soss and America’s Forgotten Investor Movement” by veteran authors Janice M. Traflet and Robert E. Wright, show how.

She was fearless in ways that men were not.

When WWII ended and the economy switched from a war footing — producing tanks and warplanes — business fired people by the boat load, many of them women. While some were happy to ditch their jobs, many were not.

How many? 75% according to Traflet and Wright. Women picketed. Those who worked for the New York Stock Exchange were ready for promotion, but since the men were coming home from war they got assigned to the back office. That resulted in some resigning.

Soss saw this happening across the country she spoke up. Writing for Forbes she correctly declared more women than men owned shares in many of the leading companies of the day, and those companies should therefore cultivate women as investors employees and customers.

Still, the ownership of stock by individuals was paltry. Not even as high as 4.5% if people owned a single share, according to Brookings, the authors state.

The findings also meant that America’s capitalism was not a democratic capitalism.

It was from that point the Soss started to change things demanding that corporations individual shareholders get access to shareholder meetings. That’s something we take for granted today. But it was a battle lead by Soss that made the difference.

How much did she upset the status quo? More than you would likely imagine, as the authors deminstrate.

  • “When General Electric
    GE
    CEO Ralph Cordiner tried to evade her questions at the 1961 in Syracuse, Wilma lectured him on corporate law: ‘You are not an act of God. You are a form of labor, and you are running for election in a very grave time.”

Her determination was seemingly indefatigable:

  • “When a board member of another major corporation claimed that he would punch Wilma in the nose if she were a man, she retorted that “when we stockholders pay over one hundred thousand dollars a year to an executive, we expect brains not brawn.”

Yes, this is a book worth reading, not only for its dramatic commentary but also because it shows what can be done with enough force. Sometimes being polite will get nothing done. As Soss showed, when that happens, social norms need discarding.



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