Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Wall Street might be described as an environment that runs on masculinity – made for men, especially white men. But in 2018, the world woke up to the news of a brave 23 year old who broke through barriers and crashed through ceilings. Lauren Simmons, a young black middle class girl from Georgia, USA, made history when she became the youngest and only full time female broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. To her credit, she is the second African American woman to occupy such a position in the history of Wall Street which will be 227 years running since its inception in 1792. Her win is a giant leap for different demographic groups. Namely, black people, women, and young people. Her entry is particularly a big deal for young black women who face discrimination on many fronts.
Ideas of competence in Wall Street have been centred on the characteristics of masculinity such as aggressiveness and high-risk behaviour. Instead on the concept of competence which is the ability to execute tasks successfully. Lauren shares with New York Magazine, “There is just a different way that I like to strategize trading. As far as how the men do it, they are very, much more, aggressive, very strong willed. I definitely am strong willed. I don’t think I am as aggressive. I think, I take time to listen to our clients a lot more than they do, but there is no right or wrong way. It is just a different approach that I do.” Lauren acknowledges that the difference in these strategies should be expected. One just needs to get the job done. In other words, for maximum productivity, one must employ strategies that suit ones personality and strengths.
Despite the much publicised and celebrated entry of Lauren on Wall Street, when Rosenblatt Securities posted a broker’s position in May of 2018, of over 250 applicants received, none were from women. For Lauren who is hoping to inspire more women to join Wall Street as brokers, this was disappointing. As she states concerning female representation in her field, “I don’t want to be an anomaly. I don’t want to be the only one breaking the glass ceiling.” As with many female pioneers, it gets lonely unless others take up the mantle.Lauren Simmons carries a winning attitude that the future black female should adopt. She believes in the “impossible” and charges towards reinforced barriers and ceilings. However, her success was not achieved overnight. It was challenged and sharpened by the journey one takes during such periods as unemployment. “I believe I went to a hundred different [networking] events cause I got a lot of ‘good luck,’ ‘reach out,’ and all of them led to a dead end. I remember calling my mom saying, ‘I think I’m going to give up. I think I’m gonna move back to Georgia because this is not working.’” Although she is optimistic, she had a normal reaction of discouragement when her efforts were not bearing any fruit. She says her mother replied saying, “No toughen it out” We all need someone who will cheer us on when we feel we can’t continue. It can be anyone, but it is especially beautiful when it is the women related to us who do it. It can be a friend or a cousin who chooses to defy the stereotype that says women do not support each other.
1. There are crucial lessons we can learn from Lauren’s journey.Networking is a key part of making yourself visible in the job market. Lauren shares, “I reached out to hundreds of people on LinkedIn and that is how I met one of the gentlemen that introduced me to the trading floor.
2. Lauren did not have the correct qualifications for the world of finance. She had no experience in finance, instead she had a bachelors in genetics and minored in statistics. She shares that she had to leverage her minor in statistics. In employment terms, she had transferable skills. In harsh job markets, it’s crucial to be able to highlight your transferable skills because if you are not aware of your competitiveness, it’s easy to get discouraged thinking you can only do the job that matches the transcript or degree you earned.
3. Lauren also demonstrates the willingness and ability to learn and adapt. She confesses she went into this sales trader job not knowing much of what she needed to know.
4. You will go as far as you need to if you do not give up when new obstacles arise. Just when she thought she had her big break. Lauren learned that she had to write a test in order to qualify for the job. According to Global Female Leaders the test has a pass rate of 20%. She shares “I had self-doubts but I studied.”
Some inspirational quotes from Lauren Simmons for the future black female:
It’s about being okay that your mentor is not going to look like you.
You will limit yourself by listening to anyone but yourself.
People will project their fear on you all the time and if you allow it, you won’t get anywhere in life.
Fisher, M. S., 2012. About Melissa S. Fisher [Interview] (1 July 2012).
Maclean, K., 2015. Gender, risk and the Wall Street alpha male. Journal of Gender Studies, 25(4), pp. 427-444.
New York Magazine (2018) Women and Power: Lauren Simmons on the Power of Being the Only Woman in the Room. Available at: https://youtu.be/0A-y4APG8hQ [Accessed 15 December 2019}
LinkedIn Editors (2018) Lauren Simmons #HowIGotHere. Available at: https://youtu.be/drXjCovDECs [Accessed 15 December 2019]