ERIE, Pa. — Martina Edwards, the first Black woman to hold a seat at the New York Stock Exchange, shared an all-too-familiar conversation during a Speaker Series talk at Penn State Behrend on Nov. 10.
“’How did you get here?’"
"I was asked that a lot, and I had to figure out how to respond in the most tactful way possible. For me, that was by saying, ‘I interviewed, I interned, and now I’m here. How did you get here?’”
Edwards grew up in Alabama, in a two-bedroom mobile home with livestock in the yard. She entered finance after a faculty member at Tuskegee University encouraged her to learn about investing.
By 2004, she was working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, managing trades worth more than $1 million. It would take 13 years for another woman of color to get there.
“It was a challenge, being the only one in the room who looked like me,” she said. “I didn’t have anyone I could go and talk to. The other analysts I trained with were in the Merrill Lynch headquarters. They could see each other and have lunch every day. I was on the floor of the exchange, where everything moves in milliseconds.
“Here’s how I managed that: I shut out the noise and dealt my shares. I did the work. My goal wasn’t to just be good, but to be excellent. I had to prove that I belonged there. And performance was my currency.”
Today, Edwards serves as chief of strategic partnerships at Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, a Georgia nonprofit that provides capital to underserved business communities. In three years, she has raised more than $25 million in grant funds, including the largest individual and corporate gifts in the organization’s history.
“When I look back at my life, but for access, opportunity and a whole lot of support, grace and mercy, I would not be where I am today,” she said. “So, I consider it a moral imperative to pay it forward. I firmly believe that you have to take the time, talent and treasure that others have invested in you and, where you can, pour it into others.”