WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If women ran Wall Street, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s job cleaning up the bloodied financial markets might not be so tough.
In opening a Women in Finance Symposium that brought together top female government figures such as Sheila Bair and Mary Schapiro, Geithner said he recently read an article asking what it would be like if women ran the hyper-competitive money hub of the United States.
“It’s an excellent question. But kind of a low bar,” Geithner joked, eliciting laughs from the gathering in the historic Treasury Cash Room. “How, you might ask, could women not have done better?”
The symposium featured the leading female figures working with Geithner to right the financial markets and economy, as well as craft new rules to police banks, Wall Street and the markets.
They touched on their awe at being in their positions of power, as well as the isolating feeling of being in the minority at major conferences and meetings.
“The good news is there’s no line for the ladies’ room,” said Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who heads the Congressional Oversight Panel which keeps an eye on the government’s $700 billion financial system bailout.
Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, was ranked by Fortune magazine as the second-most powerful woman in the world. At the conference, she struck out against the Wall Street culture that Geithner referenced in his opening remarks.
Bair said not much has changed, especially when it comes to the ego-driven paychecks that led to big risks and a financial collapse.
“I‘m very concerned that the culture that led to this crisis is still there,” she said.
Warren said there needs to be a shift in the way both men and women think about financial matters and savings to ensure the United States does not have another destructive financial crisis.
Otherwise, she said, in 30 years there will be another meltdown, “and women in finance will still fit on a very small stage,” referencing the four-member panel.
In lighter parts of the event, the women talked about their successes.
White House economic adviser Christina Romer said she still has “pinch me” moments walking into the West Wing of her office building.
She said her husband recently gave her a reality check after she vented about a marathon meeting with President Barack Obama.
“My husband said, ‘Listen to what you said,'” Romer said.
Reporting by Karey Wutkowski, editing by Matthew Lewis