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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

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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