- Lauren Simmons was the youngest-ever female trader and only the second Black woman in the role.
- In 2018 she left the prestigious — but low-paying — job on Wall Street to pursue entrepreneurship.
- Looking back, Simmons says her time at the NYSE was valuable, but leaving was an easy decision.
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I am many things — when listed on paper — that don’t make sense. An anomaly, if you will.
I am a woman, African American, and I am young. I didn’t major in finance, nor did I attend an Ivy League school. I’m also from the south, so it’s assumed I’m inherently uneducated.
But despite all of those things, in 2017 I made history by becoming only the second African American woman equity trader in the New York Stock Exchange’s 225 years, in addition to being the youngest.
There are people who try to reduce the significance of this accomplishment and say it bears no importance, or “why make everything about race.” And I do agree, in this age, it’s a shame that there are still race and gender barriers that need to be broken.
But the hard truth is that these barriers still exist, and so we must continue to mark and celebrate these wins as they come.
For the most part, I enjoyed my time as a trader at the NYSE.
It was a fast-paced, exciting new environment, in which I gained a lot. I was also only making $12,000/year on the floor, so my enjoyment and eagerness were pure. While I’m forever grateful for that opportunity and stepping stone, I appreciate it more so for the life experiences that it has lent me because truth be told, all that glitters isn’t always gold.
I have always been a woman and I have always been black. Both are a part of my identity. But at that time, it had honestly never crossed my mind. Back then, the only thing that I cared about was doing well in my role and passing the Series 19 test, which historically has an 80% fail rate. I always intended to learn from my colleagues, so imagine my surprise when my asking for suggestions on passing the Series 19 was met with a sea of blank stares.
Clearly, no one was going out of their way to help me. In hindsight, many of them wouldn’t have had the advice to offer regardless, considering they hadn’t passed the test themselves. My employer often told the story of how in his day they could go in for testing and bring along a 6-pack of beer for the test administrator while they basically graded their own tests — with the correct answers. It was then that I learned I was very much in a sink or swim environment.
While no one was overtly racist, sexist, or inappropriate to my face, it was glaringly obvious that there was an unspoken camaraderie that I would never be privy to. At first, I was invited to parties and warmly introduced to clients; feeling as though I belonged. That energy swiftly changed as my story — being the youngest female equity trader on the floor — captured the attention of the media. Then I began to get shut out.
It was not all difficult. I did have a handful of professionals around me who were champions of my success, and I did lean into them deeply, like Richard Rosenblatt, the executive governor of the NYSE. He still graciously remains a close mentor of mine. Another ally was Bobby Greason, my direct supervisor and head floor trader at Rosenblatt. He taught me that these mishaps don’t define us or our future.
I don’t share this story to play the victim, but to shine a light on the truth.
I also want to (hopefully) acknowledge and stand in solidarity with others who may be experiencing the same on their own journeys. For every 10 people who may be trying to pull you down, there’s at least one champion helping to push you up; it’s not the quantity of the people who have your back, but the quality.
There are various points in life where you come to realize you’ve taken everything you could from a specific role or path in your career and you make a decision to either stay on the same trajectory or pivot, possibly in a new direction, if an opportunity arises. I had come upon a crossroads of either staying in corporate America or becoming an entrepreneur and continuing to bet on myself (as I have done so many times before, successfully). I chose to leave the trading floor and never looked back.
Now, I work tirelessly on a handful of various endeavors. I have a book coming out and an AGC studio film based on my life experiences in pre-production. This summer, I’ll be hosting my debut television series “Going Public,” which aims to democratize IPOs by allowing retail, at-home investors in on the action.
Overall, my life goal is to be part of a movement promoting change and giving minorities — whether women, people of color, or younger generations — the tools necessary to help forge their own paths to success. Perhaps one day, male-dominated industries will be a thing of the past and we’ll have an accurate economic representation of what America actually looks like, in its entirety.
This piece isn’t to discourage other women from entering industries that are male-dominated, but rather to arm themselves with the power to know it can be done. Just know you’re going to have to work that much harder for it.
At the end of it all, it wasn’t a hard decision to leave the NYSE. I had to be (and will always be) authentically Lauren Simmons. I knew this chapter of my career was no longer bringing me joy and that some experiences are just meant to be short-lived, like a series of chess moves on the way to your next win. I had a lot of opportunities on the horizon and like my mentor, the uncanny ability to make swift and decisive moves, with unapologetic force.
Lauren Simmons is a personal finance speaker, author, producer, and former stock trader for Rosenblatt Securities.