John’s Take: Four New Women CFTC Commissioners Was More Historic Than I Thought

When four women were confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission and it was heralded as a historic event, I decided to look into the history of the commission and the number of women who have served and who they served with. At no time have four women ever served together as CFTC commissioners. For only three out of the 48 years of the CFTC’s existence have there been as many as three women commissioners and for only another eight years were there two women commissioners. 

When the CFTC was created in the mid-1970s and the first commissioners were appointed in 1975, the inaugural class was all men. In fact, it was not until the ninth commissioner was confirmed in late 1981 that the commission had its  first woman, Susan M. Phillips. She would serve for just over 5 1/2 years as the only female commissioner. Phillips had the honor of serving as the first female chair of the CFTC as well. 

The second woman to serve the CFTC also had the honor of serving as chair. That woman was Wendy Gramm, the wife of then-Sen. Phillip Gramm of Texas. She was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Gramm later served with Sheila Bair when Bair was confirmed as a commissioner in 1991. This was the first time two women served as commissioners of the CFTC at the same time. 

In January 1993, Wendy Gramm left the CFTC, but later in November, Barbara P. Holum was confirmed and began serving the second longest tenure as a commissioner at just over 9 years. Folwer West beat Holum for the honor by two months. Holum served with Bair, Mary Shapiro, Brooksley E. Born and Sharon Brown Hruska during her tenure, with 1997 and 1998 being a 2 to 2 tie of men to women commissioners at the CFTC.

However, after Holum left the Commission in 2003, the CFTC would never see the number of women commissioners rise above one until the latest four were confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Over the course of the history of the CFTC, there have been five years when there were five male and no female commissioners, with all of those coming in the first five years of the commission’s existence.

There have been two years when  there were four men and no women, 1980 and 2018. There have been 23 years at the commission when there were four male and just one female commissioner.  There have been just two years of three men to one woman and  four years of three men and two women as commissioners. In 2001, when there were just three commissioners, the breakdown was two men and one woman. 

The CFTC had the highest percentage of women during the presidency of William Clinton. There were never fewer than two women on the commission during those years and as many as three. The ratios started out as three men to two women in 1992 and 1993, but in 1994 it moved to three women and just one man. The same three women to one man held for 1995 too. 

That is the closest we have come to the current breakdown by gender of one man, the chairman, Rostin Behnam, and four women. We are still waiting for Caroline D. Pham to be sworn in, but that won’t change the gender percentages.

There are other histories being made with our new commissioners too. The first woman of color who joined the commission was Sharon Y. Bowen, who is now the chair of the New York Stock Exchange. Kristin N. Johnson, Christy Goldsmith Romero and Caroline Pham bring their own diversity identities to the commission. 

Rostin Behnam has made diversity and inclusion a key issue for his chairmanship and named the first chief diversity officer in the CFTC’s history. Chairman Behnam has the most diverse group of CFTC commissioners ever to work with, and this will be an important time in the history of the commission and our industry as a result. 



A young woman wearing a hijab on a pink background.

Asma Awass

I am a Finance and Business Analytics student at UIC. I am an active member of my university’s boxing club and I also enjoy the creative arts.

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