A real alpha woman

27.08.2020 | Author: Silvia Ihring | Photos: Ida John

Lauren Simmons is sitting in a room with dark walls and brown furniture, looking slightly to the left.
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How Lauren Simmons has built up her own strategy to success.

Lauren Simmons has no patience for stereotypes. After all, she has put a few myths to bed herself. As a young African-American woman with a taste for colourful clothing, she hardly fits the briefcase-and-suit cliché you may imagine for the typical financial expert. For two years, from 2017 to the end of 2018, she was the only female stockbroker on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). At the age of 22, she was the youngest woman in the history of Wall Street – and only the second African-American woman. Lauren Simmons, now 25, had to fight tooth and nail to earn a little respect in her industry, having had no previous experience in the world of finance. The determined American had written and sent out applications to over a hundred companies before she finally got a job as a trader at the prestigious Rosenblatt Securities. Nowadays, Simmons no longer works at the stock exchange, but she is active worldwide as a speaker and financial expert, encouraging other women to really deal with the subject of money and to strive for their dream jobs. This message is also one of the themes of a film currently in production that tells the story of her and her still-young but unconventional career – and for which she is hands-on as executive producer. The release date has not yet been fixed.

Ms Simmons, can you tell us what it is exactly about the world of finance that gives you such a thrill?

I originally studied genetics and statistics, but these fields weren’t technologically challenging enough for me. I have always loved numbers, and that’s why I was open to anything and everything finance-related after my studies. Money is at the foundation of so many things, whether we’re talking about private life or business. But that’s exactly why nobody should be afraid of it. When you’re familiar with financial issues and handle them confidently, you are strong. Capital makes us truly independent, so we should get to grips with it.

When you first applied to become a trader in 2017, you knew nothing about securities trading. Weren’t you a little bit nervous when you started this job?

Absolutely. I put a lot of pressure on myself, wanted to absorb every last bit of information quickly and show all my critics just what I was made of. I was sitting in front of the computer at 5:30 a.m. doing as much research as possible before the stock market opened at 9:30. In the meantime, though, I have learned that you shouldn’t pretend to know it all. Questions are not just completely legitimate, they’re also important.

A picture of the New York Stock Exchange. People standing in a crowd in the middle of the picture surrounded by monitors arranged in circles.

How can someone go about learning to deal in money when the financial world is still relatively foreign?

I can whole-heartedly recommend just using the internet and start researching. Seek out podcasts to listen to, YouTube videos and books. I gained all my knowledge on the trading floor, and by surfing on platforms like CNBC and the online stock-market portal MarketWatch, and also through internal briefings given to traders. One of the good things about these modern times is that we have access to all kinds of information.

You jumped straight from zero to 100 – that was very brave.

So many people doubted me. But in the end, you know yourself best. And if you trust in yourself, anything is possible. “High risk, high return,” as they say in the financial sector. The biggest risk I ever took was moving from Georgia to New York without any prospects of a job. I wrote over a hundred people on LinkedIn, but all I got was one rejection after another – it was either because of my lack of financial knowledge or because I didn’t happen to graduate from an Ivy League university.

Extreme stress is just a part of everyday life at the stock exchange. How did you cope with this when you were there?

I meditate regularly and keep a gratitude diary. And before I criticise myself, first I praise myself. In the end, managing the stress is about keeping a positive self-attitude. However, keeping the motivation up is not always easy.

Why do so few women dare to enter the world of finance?

It’s a fact that hardly any women apply for jobs as stockbrokers on the New York Stock Exchange. The type of person who works on the trading floor is definitely an alpha animal. This mentality puts many women off.

Have you ever felt that you had to change who you are to be able to assert yourself on the trading floor?

I’m used to being on my own among men. Even back in high school, I took courses in building-services engineering and somehow always found myself in a female minority. You can do things your way and still be successful. There is no single right way. I didn’t want to imitate male behaviour, I didn’t want to play it cool. When I started my job as a stock-exchange trader, I carried on being charming and cracking jokes – in short, I just kept being myself. This strategy has worked pretty well for me so far.

A portrait of Lauren Simmons looking directly into the camera.

How can your generation of millennials change existing gender stereotypes in the world of work?

Young women – and young men too, actually – are sticking to existing protocols less and less. They realise that the power to shape things as they want is in their own hands. We don’t wait for opportunities to be handed to us, we create them for ourselves – and in this way we create change.

Did you have a mentor?

Richard Rosenblatt, the CEO of Rosenblatt Securities, has always stood by me. Before my first day at work, he said to me: “Let’s address the elephant in the room right away.” That I’m a woman, I’m Black, and that’s what’s going to stand out. But he also told me not to focus on that too much. If anything ever happened, the company would be on my side. Rosenblatt taught me to use my position to my advantage. If I am more at the centre of attention, I can better show what I am made of.

So you had backup...

Yes. But I was also treated differently by colleagues. Especially before I passed the Series 9/10 Exams. Every candidate who wants to acquire a trader licence must pass this test of 200 multiple-choice questions. I was always hearing that 80 per cent of candidates fail. When I passed it, everyone was shocked. But from then on, I was part of the team, fully accepted and involved in everything. Performance is quite simply the best weapon.

Where do you get your composure from?

From my mother. She always marched fearlessly through life. Even though she was a single parent, she took risks and taught me not to be intimidated by anyone. It was great to be able to tell her back then that I was the only woman on the New York Stock Exchange. But I had no idea that my story could be considered inspiring.

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