As a young woman and a minority on Wall Street, the odds were against Lauren Simmons. However, the 23-year-old college graduate didn’t let societal norms and expectations prevent her from chasing her dreams. Currently, Simmons is the youngest as well as the only female and African-American woman employed full-time as a stockbroker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
In 2016, Simmons graduated from Kennesaw State University with a bachelor’s degree in genetics, but the Georgia native later realized that dealing with numbers is where her true passion lies. “I fell in love with the numbers and the fast movement, and the men in trading jackets. Everything was moving so fast, and I’m loving it,” Simmons told BBC’s Joe Miller.
Because of artificial intelligence’s rapid growth, The New York Stock Exchange is one of the few remaining trading floors to still use human brokers. Even as their human brokers decline, the trading floors of the NYSE still lack diversity, being overpoweringly dominated by men. Despite this, Richard Rosenblatt, the founder and CEO of the firm who hired Simmons, has been a broker since 1969, and the aggressive nature of the industry didn’t attract many women. “Trading in a trading crowd was a very physical thing,” Rosenblatt told BBC. “You and I would look at each other and try to figure out: How big an order did we have? How nervous did you look? How aggressive were you going to be?”
Despite Rosenblatt’s efforts to recruit more women today, many aren’t too keen about it. For Simmons, the general reaction that people have towards her chosen career is disbelief. “They are like you’re a woman, and you are 23, and you are a minority,” Simmons said. “What are you doing, how did you get this job?”
Today, Simmons remains the only full-time female broker on the floor. Working in an industry with an evident absence of women comes with obstacles for Simmons. “You have to walk quite a bit of a ways to go to the female restroom,” she told BBC, noting how nearby the men’s restroom is in comparison. Furthermore, the male work attire can be a bit of a challenge as well. “Everyone here wears a jacket or they wear a blazer. It comes in men’s sizes. When I saw it, I felt like I was wearing my dad’s coat, or something.”
Regardless of the expected challenges that come along with being in a male-dominated field, Simmons is breaking barriers for other women who aspire to be brokers. At only 23, Simmons became just the second African-American woman in history to sign her name in the book that contains the constitution of the New York Stock Exchange. And her boss is confident that she won’t be the last. “Today, people think differently,” said Rosenblatt. “You still like to win, but it doesn’t really matter much if you lose to a man or a woman. So, it’s a different world. A better world.”