A Chinese proverb says that “women hold up half the sky,” and if that is true what does it mean that women make up only 16% of executive and board positions in the financial services industry and less than 10% in fund management?

This is just one of the many questions tackled Wednesday by the National Council for Research on Women at its event, “From Turbulence to Transformation, ” which took place in New York City.

The event, hosted by Goldman Sachs [GS] and sponsored by Deloitte, asked how we can move from turbulence to transformation economically and in terms of gender equity. And the answer seems to be clear: by including women.

Although Melanne Verveer, the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for Global Women’s Issues, wants to put women’s economic progress on the front burner in the political sphere, her efforts are hampered by the fact that women still have a tough time accessing markets and trade, she said.

To overcome this imbalance Goldman Sachs launched its “10,000 Women” initiative, with the understanding that investing in women means a higher return on the gross national product of a country and a household. Goldman set aside $100 million over five years to bring business education to 10,000 qualified women business owners in developing countries.

Nonetheless there is still a long way to go. Despite the Harvard Business Review’s provocatively titled article “The Female Economy” in September, Christine Grumm, president and chief executive of the Women’s Funding Network and one of the panelists Wednesday, doesn’t buy the claim that women drive the world economy.

“If it’s a female economy than let’s see the money,” she said to a room full of applause.

Yet there are a number of women who are cracking the glass ceiling in the financial industry. Ann Kaplan, a former Goldman Sachs partner, co-founded Circle Financial Group, a collaborative wealth-management platform for women, which provides not only a community, but information and tools to help women move towards their financial goals.

Maria Chrin, a co-founder of Circle Financial also founded Circle Wealth Management, a registered advisory firm focusing on women investors. “We are in the midst of a wealth revolution where women demand control of their financial matters and seek an empowering wealth management approach,” Chrin said in The National Council for Research on Women’s “Women in Fund Management” report. “It requires an objective model based on trust that is product-free, collaborative and understanding of the specific requirements of each client.”

Two other firms to look out for are: Silver Bridge Advisors, a wealth management firm that recently launched a Women’s Perspective series to educate female clients about their finances, and Golden Seeds LLC, an organization founded by Stephanie Hanbury-Brown, formerly of J.P. Morgan, to invest in women-owned and run organizations.

So while gender equality is still a long way away there are many women who are making strides, according to the NCRW report.

Here are a few:

*Renee Haugerud, founder, managing principal and chief investment officer of Galtere Ltd., one of the largest women-owned hedge funds, with assets under management as of June 2009 of $2.5 billion.

*Meridee Moore, founder of Watershed Asset Management, manages approximately $1.3 billion in discretionary capital for institutional investors such as endowments and foundations.

*Traci Lerner, founder of Chesapeake Bay Partners

*Marcia Page, founder and partner at Varde Partners

*Jennifer Pomerantz of Highbridge Capital

*Karen Finerman of Metropolitan Capital Advisors, Jane Siebels, of Green Cay Asset Management, Nancy Havens of Havens Advisors, and Jamie Zimmerman of Litespeed Partners helped form the HFRX Diversity Index, a fund which tracks the returns of firms owned and operated exclusively by women and minorities.

Read the Twitter feed from Wednesday’s event here



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