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Stacey Cunningham – from summer intern to first NYSE female president

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The glass ceiling finally cracked at Wall Street last year when Stacey Cunningham was appointed as the first NYSE female president. This is the same Wall Street where Cunningham recalls in her interview with the Guardian, “women’s restroom in the NYSE was inside a small phone booth and the men had a palatial restroom next door with couches and a full-time attendant.”

Around 25 years ago, Stacey Cunningham – NYSE president, joined NYSE as a summer intern. That time, there were just three dozen women working alongside more than a thousand men. Wall Street has a well-known history of gender disparity. In its 227- year history, the first time a woman got a place for trading on the stock exchange floor was only in 1967. Muriel Sieber was the one and she got her trading chair after her request for sponsorship was turned down by nine men.

first NYSE female president - Stacey Cunningham

Stacey Cunningham, NYSE president

“I was a woman trader on the floor, and I never thought about it – I never thought for a moment whether or not that could happen, and whether or not that was an opportunity available to me,”

“And it’s because Muriel paved the way. I think it’s just really important to recognize that any time a woman pushes the boundaries and redefines the boundaries, she’s redefining them for everyone else that follows her,” told Cunningham to The Street after her appointment as the first NYSE female president.

Now that two of the main financial securities markets in the US are led by women (Adena Friedman – President and CEO – NASDAQ), it can finally be said that things are changing on Wall St.

When Stacey Cunningham was appointed as the president of the NYSE, there wasn’t one headline that didn’t mention her gender. Given the history of Wall Street, the mention was worth mentioning at the time. But Cunningham never saw the gender disparity as a glass ceiling. In her interview with Forbes, she says, “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.”

Stacey Cunningham didn't always have plans to work in finance. She was pursuing a degree in industrial engineering when she worked at NYSE as a summer intern. After graduating, she returned back to NYSE as a trading floor clerk. After nine long years of working in the NYSE, she branched out and into a culinary program at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. Upon completion, Cunningham worked at Quest.  “Kitchens, much like the exchange floor, are often chaotic, aggressive and dominated by men–and require the same attitude to get by. It’s a communication style. It’s being direct. It’s being quick,” she says.

In 2007, she returned back to finance, not with NYSE but with its competitor - NASDAQ. After serving as the Head of Sales for US transaction services at NASDAQ, she returned to NYSE in 2012 and in just three years she climbed the ranks to become the COO of NYSE.  When asked about her mid-career stint, she said, "I think if you are willing to have a career that’s non-linear, you actually end up having a lot more opportunity." And when asked about her appointment as the first NYSE female president she quoted, “It means more to me to be the president of this place than it means to me to be the first woman.”

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