By: Moira Forbes
When news broke that Stacey Cunningham had been named President of the New York Exchange, it was hard to find a headline that didn’t make mention of her gender. Cunningham’s rise to the top of one of Wall Street’s most high-profile, male-dominated arenas shattered a 226-year-old ceiling, but the depth of coverage around her history-making appointment caught the industry veteran off guard. “I knew that the fact that I was a woman taking this job would be part of the story. I didn’t realize how much of a story it was going to be,” recalled Cunningham.
Having launched her career as an intern on the trading floor as in 1994, Cunningham never viewed gender as something that either defined or limited her career, a perspective which fueled an initial hesitance to embrace the “first female” label her story now so often carries. “I took it for granted. It wasn’t something I saw as a barrier. There wasn’t a ceiling I was seeing that I was punching through,” she says.
The same determination in not making gender a factor in the opportunities she pursued ultimately contributed the barriers Cunningham was able to break in reaching Wall Street’s top ranks, and she now realizes why spotlight on her trajectory matters.“I do hope that one day gender won’t be as much a part of the conversation. But it’s so important to so many people, and knowing that I’m helping somebody else recognize more opportunities is really rewarding.
I recently sat down with Cunningham to discuss growing up on the floor of the world’s largest stock exchange, the double-edged sword of working in a male-dominated industry and how she’s harnessed the power of her differences, then and now. Edited highlights below.
On Succeeding In a Male-Dominated Arena
Since her internship days, Cunningham has learned a thing or two about how to “play her own game” in the unique work environment of the trading floor. While Cunningham is quick to admit that learning to thrive in an arena customized for men was not without its challenges, she ultimately turned the reality of being outnumbered into a career advantage. “Being a woman in a male-dominated industry cuts both ways. There are pros and cons. I certainly saw the benefit of having a higher profile on the trading floor. I would walk around people knew who I was, because there weren’t that many women down there. That helped my career in many ways.”
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