Experts in workplace gender dynamics agree. Ursula Mead, founder and CEO of job-review platform InHerSight, noted that although none of the big Wall Street banks is helmed by women, now two of the major exchanges are, the Nasdaq having appointed Adena Friedman as CEO at the beginning of last year. “I think having two women lead the exchanges can go a long way towards changing the perception of women in finance,” she said.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said Cunningham’s appointment should serve as a reminder that more still needs to be done for women to achieve parity in finance and other male-dominated fields. “A single appointment does not totally destroy longtime practices and approaches but it does signal that there’s a real opportunity,” she said. “Disrupting the boys’ club culture is a good thing. This could be an opportunity to begin that.”
For women to be better-represented in corporate leadership, support needs to come from corner offices, as well. Cunningham credited the mentors she had over the years with pushing her to believe in herself and her ambition. “I think it’s so important for women to not hold themselves back,” she told NBC News. “I’ve been very, very fortunate to have mentors that have pushed me.”
By highlighting mentorship, Cunningham identified a critical, but often absent, component that helps young women grow in their careers, according to experts. “[It’s] one of the things that has been missing in too many fields, especially those that have been traditionally dominated by men,” Graves said.
Finance is no exception. “We still see there’s work to be done around mentorship and sponsorship programs in the industry,” Mead said.
Women at financial firms tend, in general, to have a positive view of their industry, but they are dissatisfied with the number of women in industry leadership roles, and in the opportunities afforded to them by official mentorship programs, women-focused initiatives or affiliate groups. Mead said that although women hold nearly 30 percent of senior level jobs at financial firms, they make up only around 5 percent of president and CEO-level positions.
“I think it’s really important that we continue this trend of trying to increase women’s representation in management, in senior leadership, in the C-suite,” she said, because those examples become beacons for the next generation of young women entering the workforce.
Cunningham also alluded to this, telling NBC, “The fact is that any time a woman does something or any individual, any time they redraw the boundaries, it’s helping everybody that follows them.”
Read more on nbcnews.com