Quantcast

How Lauren Simmons Blazed A Trail As The Youngest And Only Woman Trader On Wall Street

She made history as the youngest woman to be a full-time trader for the NYSE. Now she's taking on television as a financial voice for her generation.

BOSS UP

When Lauren Simmons stepped through the doors at 40 Wall Street, it didn't cross her mind that her first day as a stock trader was one that would go down in history. In fact, prior to a chance encounter with fate, the then 22-year-old had no intention of working for her new company, Rosenblatt Securities, or the New York Stock Exchange at all.

"I had no clear direction of what I wanted to do," says Simmons. "I didn't know anything about equity trading. It wasn't a passion of mine in the sense of I've been working my entire life to get to the New York Stock Exchange."

It was, however, an opportunity of a lifetime. So early that morning before the sun hit the sky, she slipped on her heels, painted her lips, and made her way to what has been deemed by some as the geographic center of American capitalism. For it was on Wall Street that Simmons would earn recognition for being the youngest female trader and the second African-American woman in 226 years to hold the title, and just the beginning for a woman who refuses to be confined by conventional career paths.

Journey to Wall Street

Photo Credit: Ida John

Life for Simmons is anything but normal. At 25 years old, she's traveling the world as a motivational speaker for women and youth, is the executive producer of a biopic coming out starring Kiersey Clemmons chronicling her journey to Wall Street, and in the upcoming year will be the host of her own financial TV show. Oh, and there's a book in the works, too.

"This is what I wanted to do, which was so much more rewarding than, you know, the life of being a trader," she says.

Just a few years ago, Simmons had her heart set on a career in architectural engineering with a focus on designing and building homes. When she didn't get into her desired program, she switched to genetics with a minor in statistics in hopes of becoming a genetic counselor. Inspired, in part, by the desire to help families like hers who have loved ones with disabilities, and also by her love of numbers. But after writing her senior thesis and realizing that there was a lack of technological advancement in the field, she decided that genetics was no longer a path she wanted to pursue. She did, however, know that without a doubt, she needed to be in New York. So in December 2016, just after graduating from Kennesaw State University, she hopped on a plane to the Big Apple without a job lined up.

Ironically, Simmons says she wasn't always a risk-taker, but growing up with a twin brother who didn't let his disability handicap his life inspired her to pursue the one she wanted. "He never looked at his disability as a disability; he always would say yes to everything," she says. "And I just felt for me like I'm an able-bodied person, I don't have a reason to say no or to not do anything. The biggest roadblock for everybody is themselves and setting these limiting beliefs, and he really showed me that there really is no such thing as that."

"The biggest roadblock for everybody is themselves and setting these limiting beliefs, and he really showed me that there really is no such thing as that."

In New York, Simmons hit the ground running, applying for a number of jobs, and using LinkedIn to set up in-person meetings with over 300 executives, senior HR managers, and CEOs she found on LinkedIn. A tactic, she says, helped to separate her from the thousands of applicants hitting the inboxes of HR reps for what would often be only one position. While her strategy helped her to get some face-time with decision-makers, it didn't get her the response that she was looking for. Many expressed doubt in her goal of switching career paths, shooting down her desire to shoot for the stars, which Simmons says is, in part, due to generational differences.

"I think for the older generation, everything needs to be linear, meaning if you want to get a degree in genetics, then you're going to get a job at a hospital or something very linear and direct," she says. "I think the millennial generation, and even Gen Z is like, it's OK to want to switch jobs. It's OK that you got a four-year degree in something and you want to do something completely different."

Despite the resounding no's, Simmons continued to fight for that one yes. "There was a reason why I had this gut feeling that I needed to be in New York," says Simmons. "I didn't know what it was and what that was going to look like, but I knew I would find that job and I knew that it was going to work out."

For nearly three months, she continued to hustle her resume to anyone who would take a meeting with her. Her resilience paid off when a gentleman who worked at a large financial firm connected her with a colleague in equity trading. But there was one catch— she had never worked in the financial industry before, let alone at the biggest hub for trading and investing.

"I tell people you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in these spaces," says Simmons. "The biggest growth comes from putting yourself in a new environment. When I get answers like, 'Oh, but I'm not qualified' or 'I'm this or that,' I'm like, OK, so let that person tell you no. Don't stop yourself from doing it because you've already told yourself no before the opportunity even came your way."

"I tell people you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in these spaces. The biggest growth comes from putting yourself in a new environment."

The next day, she would get her first introduction to the trading floor.

Youngest Woman on the Trading Floor

Photo Credit: Ida John

At 5:30 in the morning, Simmons would join her colleagues on the trading floor of Rosenblatt Securities to start a nearly 12-hour shift. As the only woman on the trading floor, she certainly was one you could not miss. "The first day I went around and literally was introduced to everybody, which is 250 men, and most of their names were John. They were like forget about our names, just guess and it most likely is John, which turned out to be very true."

The lack of diversity both in gender and skin color didn't escape her notice. Yet years of attending a predominantly white high school and working in male-dominated environments throughout college prepared her for this very moment. "There was a reason they said yes to me," she states with unshakeable confidence. "Your job does not care if you're tall, skinny, fat, blue, black, or orange; it cares that you do well in your job. And I just wanted to do really well in my position."

Life on Wall Street was a drastic change for the young college grad but in an exhilarating way. Her days would range from administration work in which she would arrive early to set up everyone's computers, attend meetings before the open and after the close of the stock market, and run around with her high heels echoing across the trading floor in an attempt to get the price of the opening stock for institutional clients like Google and Apple, whom she traded a notional value of $150 million a day. "I didn't go to school for finance, let alone the stock market or anything related to it, so I had a lot to learn within a short amount of time, but I loved it."

"I didn't go to school for finance, let alone the stock market or anything related to it, so I had a lot to learn within a short amount of time, but I loved it."

Unsurprisingly, the long hours both in and outside of work left little time for a social life. While she got along well with her male colleagues, there weren't often invitations extended to join the boys' club for after-hour drinks and the likes. Outside of the workplace, inclusivity was a foreign language. Still, Simmons credits having male mentors like Richard Rosenblatt for helping her navigate the financial terrain. And to this day, she has yet to be embraced by other women for mentorship, something she hopes will change with her generation.

Before she could officially claim the title of equity trader, however, she first had to pass a mandatory test for securities professionals that, at the time, boasted a low 20% passing rate.

"The men on the trading floor were making open bets on if I was going to pass," she says in an interview with Express. "Everyone thought I was going to fail. When I found out I passed, I didn't scream, I didn't get excited, I just opened the result's paper and closed it. And everyone was, like, 'Did you pass?' And I was like, 'I did.' And there was silence on the trading floor. You could only hear the machines whirring. Everyone was in shock. I rang the bell that day."

"Everyone thought I was going to fail. When I found out I passed, I didn't scream, I didn't get excited, I just opened the result's paper and closed it. And everyone was, like, 'Did you pass?' And I was like, 'I did.' And there was silence on the trading floor. You could only hear the machines whirring. Everyone was in shock. I rang the bell that day."

It would be another few months before she would learn that she not only passed the infamous exam but was only the second African American to do so. Nearly a year after starting on the trading floor, the media started to pick up that there was a new girl on the block breaking down barriers. Her story hit outlets like Forbes, Harper's Bazaar and CNBC, flashing images of the baby-faced beauty who was keeping up with The Johns.

Her newfound notoriety also opened her up to a world that she didn't previously consider. Soon she was picking up speaking engagements and encouraging more women and minorities to fearlessly pursue careers in finance, and inspiring her generation to strive towards financial freedom.

"I started getting exposure to the opportunities that I was given and realizing that my purpose was bigger than trying to make white men wealthy," she says. "I really wanted to see more people of color and women and younger people being able to infiltrate those spaces."

Beyond Wall Street

Photo Credit: Ida John

Back in the comfort of her childhood home where she's traded in the now silent streets of New York for the soft rustling of the wind through southern grass and trees, Simmons is educating me on which stocks are worth investing in given the current state of the market. Just a few days before, the Dow plummeted a shocking 3,000 points, an extreme loss that hasn't occurred since the Black Monday crash of 1987.

"The travel industry is going to be shot for the next 21 months because 93% of countries aren't allowed to travel," she says. "Once the travel ban is lifted, it's going to be a while before travel and airlines and cruises kind of bounced back. I believe that the market is going to reset to its bottom at least two more times."

That same day, Simmons posted on Instagram for the first time in three months offering her followers a chance to ask any questions, and ensuring them that "this will pass." She has since been regularly going live, using her platform to lessen fears about the stock market and offer financial advice, a foreshadow of what's to come with her financial talk show set to air in 2021. As the self-proclaimed "Suze Orman of her generation, for her generation," she hopes to bring a fresh perspective on the topic of personal finance, encouraging millennials and Gen Z to develop better spending habits with an emphasis on building generational wealth.

"I know people are eager and there are so many companies who are like invest now as early as you can," she says. "And while I think that is true to a certain degree, I definitely put an asterisk at the end of that sentence. Because if you have student loan debt, if you don't have anything in savings, and you haven't saved for retirement, why are you putting the extra cost that you should be really putting into yourself into the market?"

"70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck," she continues. "Trying to build generational wealth is building up a budget and building up savings. Obviously getting to be able to buy a home at some point, but having revolving credit card debts is not actually preparing for your future and isn't going to create generational wealth, and preparing for your future is not stock market. You want to be thinking about your future, and that is always first and foremost. No credit card debt, student loan debt, you know, start to actually build out that wealth beyond your savings account— beyond your retirement account."

"Trying to build generational wealth is building up a budget and building up savings. Obviously getting to be able to buy a home at some point, but having revolving credit card debts is not actually preparing for your future and isn't going to create generational wealth, and preparing for your future is not stock market. You want to be thinking about your future, and that is always first and foremost. No credit card debt, student loan debt, you know, start to actually build out that wealth beyond your savings account— beyond your retirement account."

It's been a year-and-a-half since Simmons left Wall Street, a move that she says didn't come without criticism. In a recent interview, she shared that many thought her decision to leave the trading floor to be "foolish" and dismisses what she refers to as "dated mindsets" before declaring that no one should stay in the same job their whole life.

"I knew I wasn't going to stay on the trading floor but I knew that it would lead to opportunities bigger than what I would have even imagined," she says. "I was enjoying it, but I gave myself a limit. Two years and then I'm going to go on and do something else."

She credits her mother for instilling a fearlessness in her that's fueled the risks taken to pursue her dreams. She shares a story of the single-parent being in and out of the hospital with her twin brother, and ultimately quitting her job on the spot after an employer gave her an ultimatum of putting her job first or her kids. "She definitely taught me to be fearless and do things that are right for you, and have a passion and purpose. She's always told me don't ever give anyone the power to be able to control you. You have the power to do whatever you want to do and make sure that you take life as that."

"You have the power to do whatever you want to do and make sure that you take life as that."

With each leap of faith, Simmons continues to leave a legacy that will be spoken about for generations to come. Even if that road comes with a level of uncertainty. "There were a lot of periods where things weren't happening, and it's realizing that everything isn't going to happen instantaneously," she says. "I look back at my story as inspiration for me on a daily basis when things aren't going the right way, just realizing it's going to happen the way that it's supposed to happen. Even if that doesn't align with my time, you know?"

As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. And this story— her story— is one for the books and the big screen.

For more of Lauren, follow her on Instagram.

Featured image by Ida John; all images courtesy of Lauren Simmons

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

If there's one thing Historically Black Universities are known, it's fostering a sense of interconnectedness for collaborative genius to thrive. Of all campuses, it was on the soil of The Mecca, Howard University, where She'Neil Johnson-Spencer and Nicolette Graves rooted their friendship and aligned their passion for beauty and natural brains. Today, the two have founded a skincare brand of their own, Base Butter, that has not only carved out their niche space in the market but rallied a community of women to glow from the inside out.

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

August invites you to shine bright like the sun which requires you to leave behind the sob stories of being the underdog. Recognize your power as a reflection of the Divine and watch how far you can go. Be mindful of that inner critic when Mercury enters Virgo. For every negative thought, counteract it with three compliments about yourself. When Venus enters her home sign, relationship matters get a whole lot sweeter after the wild ride that was Mercury Retrograde.

Keep reading... Show less

This article is in partnership with Staples.

As a Black woman slaying in business, you're more than likely focused on the bottom line: Serving your customers and making sure the bag doesn't stop coming in. Well, there's obviously more to running a business than just making boss moves, but as the CEO or founder, you might not have the time, energy, or resources to fill in the blanks.

Keep reading... Show less

Lawd, lawd. I'm assuming that I'm not being too presumptuous when I start this all out by saying, I'm pretty sure that more than just a few of us can relate to this title and topic. I know that personally, there are several men from my sexual past who would've been out of my space a lot sooner had the sex not been…shoot, so damn good. And it's because of that very thing that you'll never ever convince me that sex can't mess with your head. The oxytocin highs (that happen when we kiss, cuddle and orgasm) alone can easily explain why a lot of us will make a sexual connection with someone and stay involved with them for weeks, months, years even, even if the mental and emotional dynamic is subpar, at best.

Keep reading... Show less

"Black men, we're in constant warfare. Every day is a fight outside of my house, so why would I want to come home to more fighting when that is the very place where I should be resting? There are loved ones who I don't speak to as much anymore because they aren't peaceful people. A huge part of the reason why I am happier without my ex is she was rarely a source of peace. The older I get, the more I realize that peace really is the foundation of everything; especially relationships, because how can I nurture anything if I'm in a constant state of influx and chaos? Guys don't care how fine a woman is or how great the sex may be if she's not peaceful because there is nothing more valuable than peace. If the closest person to me is not a source of it, that can ultimately play a role in all kinds of disruption and destruction. No man wants that."

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Exclusive: Find Confidence With This Summer Workout Created By A Black Woman For Black Women

Tone & Sculpt trainer Danyele Wilson makes fitness goals attainable.

Latest Posts