American women rise to new heights

On Wall Street, in an auto factory and the art world, American women are making inroads at the top of their professions. Here’s a look at seven making an impact.

Stacey Cunningham

Woman smiling (© Richard Drew/AP Images)
Stacey Cunningham (© Richard Drew/AP Images)

Stacey Cunningham, a stock trader’s daughter, began working at the New York Stock Exchange as a summer intern and later as a clerk on the boisterous, still male-dominated trading floor. Today she’s president of the world’s oldest and largest stock exchange. Armed with a degree in industrial engineering, Cunningham took a mid-career break to attend culinary school before returning to the financial world. Her advice to those starting out? “If you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not growing quite as much as you could be,” she told Forbes magazine.

Geisha Williams

Seated woman gesturing with her hands (© F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Geisha Williams (© F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Geisha Williams, whose family came to the United States from Cuba when she was 5, says she “never imagined a world where I could be CEO of a major corporation.” But the Pacific Gas & Electric Corporation executive is now the first Latina to run a Fortune 500 company. At the first utility she worked for, she was surprised when a mentor told her, “Geisha, someone has to run this place. Why not you?” She now exhorts other women to seek the toughest jobs.

Lorna Mahlock

Portrait of Lorna Mahlock in uniform (Private 1st Class Morgan Burgess/USMC)
Brigadier General Lorna Mahlock (Private 1st Class Morgan Burgess/USMC)

Lorna Mahlock earned a page in Marine Corps history in April 2018 when President Trump nominated and the Senate confirmed her as the Corps’ first African-American female general. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, she immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, and enlisted in 1985 as a teenager. Six years later she was commissioned as an officer. She served three tours in Iraq. The brigadier general now directs Command, Control, Communications and Computers and is chief information officer. The Marine Corps has opened all positions, including combat, to women. “It’s been a steady rise,” says Mahlock.

Kaywin Feldman

Woman in red shirt with arms folded (Minneapolis Institute of Art)
Kaywin Feldman (© Minneapolis Institute of Art)

Trained in classical archaeology and art history, Kaywin Feldman directed her first museum at age 28 and has built audiences and expanded collections at every stop in her career. But she still remembers the board chairman of a Texas museum once telling her, “You are far too young and far too female to have a curator ever report to you.” Feldman, 52, is now the National Gallery of Art’s first female director.

Ellen Stofan

Woman with arms crossed standing in front of space shuttle Discovery (Mark Avino/NASM)
Ellen Stofan with the space shuttle Discovery (Mark Avino/NASM)

Ellen Stofan was 4 when she witnessed her first rocket launch. This daughter of a rocket scientist and a science teacher became a planetary geologist, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s chief scientist and now the first woman to direct the National Air and Space Museum. “I want every single child who comes into my museum to see themselves,” Stofan says.

Karlie Kloss

Woman smiling (© Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)
Karlie Kloss (© Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Fashion model Karlie Kloss’ face is among the most recognizable in the world, on magazine covers, on television as host of Project Runway, and on Instagram, where she has 7.8 million followers. She’s also a self-described nerd who’s helping girls learn to code with her free Kode with Klossy summer camps. She told ABC News she wants to offer girls “something more meaningful than just a picture backstage at a runway show.”

Deborah Manzano

Profile view of woman speaking into a microphone (© Sean Proctor/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Deborah Manzano (© Sean Proctor/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Auto industry veteran Deborah Manzano remembers the first time she watched a car being built and rolling off the assembly line. “It was like a miracle. It gave you chills,” Manzano told an in-house Ford Motor Company publication. She now manages the Dearborn, Michigan, plant that makes Ford’s F-150 pickup trucks. She encourages girls to take the science classes required for high-paying, high-tech jobs in manufacturing.

Freelance writer Julia Bahl contributed to this story.