Cynthia DiBartolo’s journey to the New York Stock Exchange floor was fraught with challenges and difficulty.
In July 2021, DiBartolo’s firm, Tigress Financial Partners, became the first disabled and woman-owned floor broker to become a member of the NYSE.
Floor brokers are members of firms who execute trades on the exchange floor on behalf of the firm’s clients. They are physically present on the trading floor and are active during the New York Stock Exchange opening and closing auctions.
Tigress was one of 17 firms to help underwrite trading app Robinhood’s IPO.
Tigress’s inclusion in the underwriting of Robinhood came during a pivotal time for Wall Street. In mid-2020, Wall Street banks, which are predominately run by white men, came under intense pressure to improve diversity following the Black Lives Matter protests.
Companies vowed to improve their practices via philanthropic programs, diverse hiring practices, and internships for underprivileged candidates. DiBartolo crafted a diversity questionnaire to make it easier for companies selling stock or issuing debt to find and vet minority and women-owned firms. American Airlines has already adopted the survey, and JPMorgan has begun to create a database to help automate the process.
Prior to launching Tigress Financial in 2011, DiBartolo served as a compliance director, an attorney, and as a risk management director for some of Wall Streets’ largest firms. However, her life would change in 2009 with a diagnosis of throat and neck cancer.
DiBartolo became severely disabled following life-saving surgery that compromised her ability to eat, speak and swallow. Through reconstructive surgery, DiBartolo was able to regain her ability to speak, but can only do so several hours a day.
Cancer not only took DiBartolo’s voice but also her career, as she recalled in an interview with CNBC’s Bob Pisani. “You see, there was no place for an attorney, risk management director, compliance director who couldn’t speak,” she said.
During her recovery, DiBartolo began to understand just how marginalized people in the disabled community were. “During the time I didn’t have the ability to speak, I realized how marginalized I was not just in financial services, but in society,” she said.
Inspiration from her father convinced her that she needed to act; “They took your tongue, not your brain.” her father told her. Using her experience from decades on Wall Street and tenacityDiBartolo launched the first and nation’s only disabled and woman-owned financial services firm.
Today, Tigress Financial employs a diverse staff, with 80% of the firm being made up of underrepresented minority communities.
DiBartolo is also a chairperson at Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, an international human and civil rights organization. She is the founder & chairperson of the Diversity Broker-Dealer & Asset Management Coalition, an advocacy and thought leadership group that strives for best practices in diversity and inclusion on behalf of all certified minority, veteran and women Broker-Dealers & Asset Managers.