The announcement is particularly significant because none of the biggest U.S. Wall Street banks (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Citigroup) has ever been led by a woman. And having two women in those jobs leading the exchanges, said Brande Stellings, who leads advisory services for Catalyst, a research and consulting organization focused on women in leadership, could help change the way people think about female leaders in the financial sector.
"Having two gets us closer to normalizing women in leadership positions," Stellings said, "where people will hopefully talk more about their leadership than that they are a woman."
In its announcement, Intercontinental Exchange noted that it had been more than half a century since Muriel Siebert -- the Wall Street pioneer who fought for that seventh-floor ladies' room -- became the first woman to own a seat on the NYSE. Though Catherine Kinney was a co-president of the NYSE in the early 2000s, there were still men above her running the exchange.
Stellings noted that both Cunningham and Friedman have at least two traits in common. They have both have become CEOs at a time when the exchanges are facing industry disruption, from slower growth in transaction fees and new initial public offerings to rapid technological change and tech titans who are planning a new stock exchange,
Both women are also like some 80 percent of female CEOs who rise to the top, Stellings said, in that they are internal candidates with significant industry or organizational experience. Cunningham started as a summer intern on the NYSE floor in 1994, worked for rival exchange Nasdaq, and managed the NYSE's equities, equities derivatives and exchange traded fund businesses as chief operating officer before getting the nod. (She also took time away to go to culinary school and work in a professional kitchen at one point in her career.)
"When we see women advance to these very top positions, it's more likely they have that track record of experience, as opposed to being an external hire," said Stellings. So "the question is, what does the pipeline look like in the finance industry?"
At least a little better than it has in the past, some say, despite an industry grappling with sexual harassment and discrimination problems, a history of male-dominated cultures, and underrepresentation in some areas. Catalyst's research shows that 29 percent of senior-level jobs in the financial industry are held by women, and Stellings notes that investor State Street recently said it was going to push companies to disclose the number of women in its management ranks.
Dan Ryan, a New York-based senior partner in the financial services practice at executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, agreed that the biggest Wall Street banks appear more likely to name a female CEO in the near future than ever before. "There are women running some of the biggest and most profitable areas of these banks," he said. "Whether they get it or not, who knows? But are there women within the succession ranks? Absolutely."
At JPMorgan Chase, for instance, five of the 11 members of its operating committee are women, including asset and wealth management CEO Mary Callahan Erdoes and chief financial officer Marianne Lake. Barbara Desoer is CEO of the Citibank, which accounts for some 75 percent of Citigroup's assets. Anne Finucane is vice chairman at Bank of America, and there are several female CEOs in the financial sector more broadly. Fidelity Investments is run by Abigail Johnson, for instance, and Margaret Keane leads Synchrony Financial.
"There is a significant amount of female leadership," Ryan said, "even if you don't see it every day at the CEO level."