As part of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the SEC is spotlighting Christine Connolly, Assistant Regional Director (Examinations) in the Los Angeles Regional Office and Co-Chair of the SEC’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Committee (AAPIC). Let’s learn more about Christine, how she got to where she is and her insights on the celebration of AANHPI Heritage Month.
Q: What unique perspectives do you bring to your role at the SEC that you may draw upon to help enhance diversity, equity and inclusion, both internally at the agency and externally in the community that we serve?
A: Paying homage to the UnCovering Taskforce, let me uncover. My name is Christine Connolly. I was born and raised in Central California. I use she, her, and hers pronouns. I am of Chinese descent; third generation on my dad’s side and fifth generation on my mom’s side. I am the first in my immediate family to attend a four-year university and go on to attend law and business schools. I’m also the proud mom of a rising college junior. I bring these lived experiences to work, which adds to the diversity of the SEC. And when I think of investor protection and Main Street investors, I think about my dad, who worked for the electric company for 30 years hoping to save enough for retirement. I also think about my son and the need for financial literacy education for our next generation.
Q: As you mentioned, you are the first in your immediate family to attend a four-year university, and later went on to attend law school and business school. This is quite an achievement. What motivated you throughout your academic years and inspired you to study law and business?
A: Not attending college and graduate school was not an option. My parents and grandparents stressed the value of an education and only talked about when I would be going to college, not if. My Gong Gong (maternal grandfather in Chinese) and Popo (maternal grandmother in Chinese) ran a small neighborhood grocery store. They worked tirelessly to support our family, including saving to help pay for my brother and me to attend college.
While pursuing an undergraduate economics degree, I took a job as a file clerk for an employment law attorney. This attorney became a mentor and inspired me to attend law school. However, near the end of my second year of law school, I wanted to drop out. At this point, I was doing paralegal work for the employment law attorney and had become disenchanted with the idea of practicing law and litigating. Somehow my Gong Gong got wind of my plan. Needless to say, I finished law school, but also tried out business school classes. Learning about operational management and organizational behavior really piqued my interest. So, in my last semester of law school, I applied for a JD/MBA degree. Upon reflection, I’m thankful I completed both law school and business school. The critical thinking skills that I developed during law school are invaluable and translatable into any profession; the same for project management and leadership skills while at business school.
Q: At the SEC, we emphasize the importance of mentorship, sponsorship, and internships as conduits for creating personal and professional opportunities. Is there a person, experience or event that was pivotal to helping you get to where you are today?
A: Mentorship and sponsorship come in all shapes and sizes and the best of these relationships appear organically. I had the honor of being selected by the SEC to attend the Partnership for Public Service’s Excellence in Government Fellows Program (shout out to the many SEC EIG Senior Fellows across the agency!), the premier leadership development course for federal employees. The program was life-changing, both professionally and personally, as it challenged me to take inventory of my skills, identify growth opportunities, and articulate my leadership brand. I also had the opportunity to meet and learn from my cohort fellows. So much resonant learning. I often recall an exchange with a cohort fellow on our way back from a field trip to Mount Vernon. The cohort fellow asked me to share about myself and what I did. I immediately launched into talking about my position at the SEC and my day-to-day work. Just as I was starting to explain the SEC’s examination process, my cohort fellow interrupted and said, “No, not your occupation, your vocation – what is your calling?” This was such an “aha moment” for me. Near the end of the EIG fellows program, Assistant Regional Director (ARD) positions in Examinations became available. The work I did during the EIG program gave me the confidence to apply and helped me to realize that my calling is to serve and support my colleagues, which is what an ARD position is all about. I continue to draw upon the lessons learned during my EIG experience and my cohort fellows are the voices in my head that support and guide me through leadership challenges.
Hard work, dedication, and kindness are a recipe for success – both professionally and personally. At work, we often thank and recognize each other for hard work and dedication, and these are well-known ingredients of success. But kindness is just as important. At the SEC, kindness means serving and supporting investors and, for me, serving and supporting my colleagues as we work together to achieve the SEC’s mission.
LARO Assistant Regional Director (Examinations) and AAPIC Co-Chair at the SEC
Q: What barriers have you encountered on your career path, and what advice might you give to help others overcome similar barriers?
A: Throughout my career journey, I have been fortunate to have mentors and colleagues who have supported and championed me while also challenging me. I’ve always been my biggest barrier. When I attended the SEC’s Women’s History Month Panel Discussion Breaking Barriers for Women at the SEC, the conversation around “imposter syndrome” so resonated because it’s all too familiar. My comfort zone is over-planning and taking a cautious and measured approach. However, I’ve come to recognize this isn’t always effective or even doable, and I have been challenging myself to trust my skills and judgment and to take chances—even if, as a trusted colleague has said, you fail spectacularly.
Q: What has been most rewarding in your role as Co-Chair of the SEC’s AAPIC or while serving as the AAPIC representative to the SEC’s Diversity Council?
A: Being a diversity, equity, and inclusion influencer at the SEC. During the pandemic, there was a rise in anti-Asian hate and violence. There were so many conversations at every level of the SEC about what we could do and how to support our colleagues. I was so fortunate to work with colleagues in the San Francisco Regional Office to deliver a town hall featuring Dr. Russell Jeung, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition that tracks and responds to incidents of hate and violence against AAPIs in the United States. Stemming from that town hall and related small group AAPIC member discussions, the AAPIC recommended bystander training, which launched as micro-aggression training that is ongoing and available across the SEC.
Also, I’ve had the opportunity to organize and share programming that celebrates my culture, especially Lunar New Year and Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrations. Last year, for AAPIC’s Lunar New Year Celebration, I was honored to moderate the discussion with Gund Kwok (which means heroine in Chinese), the only all-female Asian lion and dragon dance troupe in the United States. And this year, I was privileged to moderate the discussion with cultural storytellers from The Vietnamese Boat People Podcast, Tuk Tuk Box, and Cooking Off the Cuff. The discussions were so rich; allowing people from different backgrounds to share, understand, and connect.
Finally, being an AAPIC Co-Chair has given me the opportunity to meet and work with colleagues across the SEC who I would not ordinarily have the chance to meet and work with. The AAPIC currently has seven Co-Chairs across several SEC divisions, offices and regional locations. Also, Division of Enforcement Director Gurbir Grewal and Division of Trading and Markets Director Haoxiang Zhu recently became our AAPIC Executive Sponsors. Gurbir and Haoxiang have been so supportive and very responsive, especially with our recent planning for AANHPI Heritage Month. Additionally, Commissioner Hester Peirce has been our Commissioner-sponsor for many years and is a wonderful AAPIC partner.
Q: You have a son who is a rising college junior and student athlete. Is there any professional or personal advice that you would give to your child?
A: Hard work, dedication, and kindness are a recipe for success – both professionally and personally. At work, we often thank and recognize each other for hard work and dedication, and these are well-known ingredients of success. But kindness is just as important. At the SEC, kindness means serving and supporting investors and, for me, serving and supporting my colleagues as we work together to achieve the SEC’s mission. Also, do what calls to you. When you find your calling, work is a vocation, not an occupation.
Q: What hobbies/interests do you enjoy outside of work?
A: I’ve become a baseball fan after watching my son play since he was seven. Baseball is a thinking game and I appreciate the mental preparation and toughness that’s required to play well. And, I enjoy reviewing the stats and dabbling in scorekeeping.
I also enjoy practicing Pilates and ballet. At the beginning of the pandemic, I found a wonderful virtual ballet studio for adults and started dancing again, including getting back up en pointe after 30 years. Mindful movement is so important and Pilates and ballet are just that.
Modified: June 1, 2022