Despite progress made in making our workplaces more diverse, there are still several industries where the glass and concrete ceilings are more prevalent. One such industry is the financial industry. Wall Street is notorious for being mostly male and mostly White, but one trailblazer is changing that and making a name for herself. At 23 years old, Lauren Simmons made history as the youngest and only full-time female trader at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Simmons, now 24, is also the second Black woman to be a full-time trader at the NYSE. It was recently announced that a movie is being filmed about Simmons and her life story. Simmons sat down to discuss how she overcame being the “only” in her industry and gives advice for how organizations can foster a culture of inclusion.
Janice Gassam: How did you overcome being a Black woman and being so young in such a male-dominated industry?
Lauren Simmons: I mean honestly, the role is gender-neutral…so for me, I’ve always been of the mindset that there’s a reason that they hired me for this job. I’m not going to stay in my head and constantly think ‘I’m the youngest, and I’m the female and the only African American’…I’m here to do my job, and I want to do my job well…a lot of that energy I put towards being really successful in my role, passing my Series 19, and making history. I just want to prove that other people…can do it as well…this is a job that anyone can do, and that’s my mindset…
Gassam: What advice do you have for someone who is the “only” in their field?
Simmons: I would say, don’t put additional pressures on yourself…yes, you represent a standard…and people are going to look up to you and see the example you set, but when you put yourself at a point where you’re putting pressure as to ‘I have to do everything right,’ it will start to eat at you…the main thing to focus on is the role that you’re in, and being amazing at that role…from there, you are setting the standard by breaking glass ceilings…if you’re going to be in a place where you are the only one, I would encourage people to have a voice and to be the voice of all the other minorities that are not in the room, whether that’s being the only woman, or the only Latina…or the only African American, etc.
Gassam: What do you think your industry can do to become more inclusive?
Simmons: Well…one, you have to actually want to be inclusive…I know inclusion, diversity, women’s empowerment is a hot topic and it’s a buzzword…people are latching on to buzzwords, but don’t actually have the belief of making it happen. I believe a company that wants to make it happen will have diversity at the top. Everyone in their executive roles won’t be all-White men…I think if you really want to talk about diversity, you’re going to have to bring in diversity, and you’re going to have to truly mean it…honestly millennials are going to change the narrative…they’re going to get fed up and they’re going to be the ones to make their own hedge funds, their own private equity firms, their own financial institutions…and they will be the ones to incorporate diversity all around.
Gassam: How do you feel about being the pioneer in this particular domain?
Simmons: So…you get a ceremony to write your name into history…you sign your name next to the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts…signing your name into the New York Stock Exchange book. I was with my whole family and a New York Stock Exchange archivist came up to me, in front of the entire room and he was like ‘You’re the second African American.’ And that moment to share with my family…that was amazing…it’s still amazing to say that. But when you realize that this was 2017, as happy as I am, it’s also disheartening…why am I the only one? I do it not to get the accolades that I’m the second African American…I mean that’s wonderful…but I do it to encourage more women to be in these roles and to not let fear stop you from doing amazing things…continue to break glass ceilings until it’s normalized…that’s the message that I ultimately want to get across.
This piece has been lightly edited for clarity.
credit – forbes.com