For the first time since the group was established in 1792, the New York Stock Exchange will be headed by a woman.
While Stacey Cunningham realizes she’s shattering a 226-year-old ceiling, she says she didn’t consider her gender as a huge factor when it came to pursuing opportunities that led her to break into the top ranks of the male-dominated finance industry.
“In large part, I have the people that preceded me to thank for that,” she tells NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro. “And while I didn’t know it at the time — and I never had met them or other women that had entered the financial market space and really trailblazed — they’re the ones that helped define my career because I didn’t have to think about it.”
Cunningham, who’s transitioning from her position as the NYSE Group’s chief operating officer, thinks her female predecessors offer an important lesson to younger generations who are exploring career paths. “If you’re willing to push the boundaries, you’re helping all those that follow you.”
She says she certainly thinks about her gender now. In her high-profile position, she wants to build a diverse team.
“I think the more women you have in an industry, the less likely we are to struggle with people not being treated appropriately. So if we focus on having more diversity in our industry, I think we’ll be better off. ”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On how Cunningham sees NYSE’s role
Our goal is to help companies raise money so that people who have an idea — an entrepreneur, a dreamer — can scale that idea and make it available to the masses, not just the few with means.
On whether the NYSE’s long run of growth can continue
There’s always going to be a need for companies to raise money. … We do it a little bit differently now — there are global companies that are coming to us, there are technology companies. We are the largest listing venue for exchange traded funds and exchange traded products. So, I don’t see that slowing down.
On the messages her position sends to younger women
I think if we’re waiting until people are considering careers, we’ve waited too long. I recently had a conversation with my cousin, who was relaying a story that her daughter had been talked out of joining a robotics class because she would be the only girl in the class and she’d get make fun of — even though she was passionate about robotics and really enjoyed it and was really good at it.
We need to help [youth] realize that they can do whatever they want and to follow their passion. If you love what you do, you’re much more likely to be successful at it, and to drive change and real success in your business. That’s what we want people to be thinking about is not what gender lines they ought to be following but what passions they ought to be following.
On whether the finance industry should have a #MeToo reckoning
I think the more women you have in an industry the less likely we are to struggle with people not being treated appropriately. So if we focus on having more diversity in our industry, I think we’ll be better off.
On her goal of diversity
I’m focused on building a team that is a very diverse team with diverse backgrounds. We just announced this week that Betty Liu would be joining the New York Stock Exchange as the executive vice chairman. Betty and I are both women, but we have entirely different backgrounds, entirely different experiences.
I think it’s important to build a team with different backgrounds and experiences with different perspectives, and very often, then, you’re going to see that you’ve built a team that has different gender profiles, different race profiles, different socioeconomic backgrounds. But the driver needs to be having a really well-balanced perspective as an organization.
NPR’s Denise Guerra and Ed McNulty produced and edited this story for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.