NEW YORK — FOR Mother's Day this coming Sunday, you might want to consider giving stock. At least that would please Wall Street. According to a number of market experts, there is a special need to intensify the effort to include more women in the market - whether as individual investors, or as professionals such as brokers, portfolio managers, and traders. ``Women should take a greater interest in investing, because it is such an important part of their independence,'' says Hildegard Zagorski, an analyst with Prudential-Bache Securities.
Although women control most of the wealth in the United States, according to federal statistics, they ``tend to be conservative investors'' who prefer savings accounts, certificates of deposit, or money-market accounts, Ms. Zagorski says.
A study released late last year looked at the habits of women in the financial decisionmaking process. Its author, Ralph Estes, a professor of accounting at Wichita State University in Kansas, found that women ``have been taught that they just don't have skills in the financial area.'' He says the result of this ``cultural conditioning'' is that women, even when they are equal to their male counterparts in education, age, and other measurements, tend to be ``significantly less confident than men in the [financial] decisionmaking process.''
That, he thinks, is one of the reasons that most of the top officials and stock traders in brokerage houses, banks, and insurance companies are men. But by not actively hiring more women for top management, financial institutions may be passing over some of the nation's most talented individuals, Dr. Estes says.
The role of women is bound to increase in at least some areas, Estes says. Today women do dominate as bank tellers. Although women make up only about ``8 percent of the partners in the Big Eight accounting firms, I predict that in another generation women will predominate in accounting.''
That's because the majority of accounting students throughout the US are now women, says Estes. Significantly, the United States Supreme Court decided last week to allow a woman to challenge Price, Waterhouse on what she felt was gender bias in being passed over for a partnership.
And women have increasingly joined brokerage houses as professionals during the 1980s, a point made by Hollywood in the recent film ``Working Girl.'' Some professional groups, such as Financial Women's Association of New York Inc., which has about 600 members, compared with eight when it was founded in 1956, are eager to promote greater gains for women in the world of finance.
Most investment companies tend to be ``gender neutral'' in terms of advertising, says Brian Mattes, a spokesman for the giant Vanguard Group of Investment Companies, in Valley Forge, Pa. During the first few months of this year, Mr. Mattes helped work the open phone lines to Vanguard's customers or potential customers. Often, he says, the women who called asked ``very sophisticated financial questions.''
Actually, women are already major owners of stock.
But many of those women are probably widows or older women who have inherited stock from their husbands, who were the ``actual active investors within the household unit,'' says a spokesman for the New York Stock Exchange. The Big Board last looked at its ``typical'' individual investor in 1985, so much of its data are already outdated.
But one statistic does stand out: Women, according to the NYSE, make up roughly half of the stock-owning public. Based on the 1985 analysis, of the 47 million Americans then owning stock in the US, whether through a pension plan, a mutual fund, or individually, slightly more than half, 22,509,000, were women, compared with 22,484,000 men.
But the overall pattern, insist not a few academics, such as Estes, is that the world of Wall Street and high finance is still largely a male world.