Lauren Simmons is not your average trader.
When she first got onto the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange last year, the 24-year-old Georgia native expected to see a few women out there with her. She soon discovered she was not only the youngest, but the only full-time female trader currently staffed at the NYSE at the time, and one of the first African-American women to be a trader at the NYSE.
"I think it's surreal that I've made history," Ms. Simmons said. "Maybe, when I'm older, I'll understand it."
The Kennesaw State University graduate had originally pursued a career in genetics counseling. Ms. Simmons has a twin brother with cerebral palsy and wanted to learn how to alter DNA so that future children wouldn't have genetic abnormalities. When she realized the technology wasn't there to support her ambitions, she looked into other options.
"I wanted to find an industry where I could salvage some of my degree," she said. Ms. Simmons, who graduated with a degree in genetics and a minor in statistics, searched for something that would enable her to utilize her minor when she moved to New York City. She kept a spreadsheet and connected with more than 200 people before finding a job.
Her efforts paid off. Through a LinkedIn contact, Ms. Simmons connected with Gordon Charlop, managing director and partner at Rosenblatt Securities, who invited her to come down to the trading floor of the NYSE. Once there, Ms. Simmons was introduced to Rosenblatt Securities founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, who offered to hire her, pending her successful completion of the Series 19 exam, which according to a memo by the NYSE is a prerequisite for trading-floor clerks.
"One of the things about trading, they make decisions in microseconds," Ms. Simmons said.
Ms. Simmons believes that it's her confidence that sold him, a fearlessness that has earned her comparisons to Fearless Girl, the bronze statue boldly staring down the bronze Charging Bull statue on Wall Street. Ms. Simmons said she feels very connected to the Fearless Girl statue, which came to Wall Street on March 7, a day after Ms. Simmons' first day on the trading floor. But that's not the only parallel she sees.
"I'm five-one. Very petite, and I don't take no for an answer. And if I do get a no, I figure out a way to go around it," she said.
Ms. Simmons may have been surprised to find that she was the only woman on the trading floor, but she is now taking speaking engagements around the globe to speak to women and millennials about navigating the finance world. Since June, she has spoken at eight different conferences and universities in Philadelphia, Arizona, Georgia and Canada. She recently returned from a women's leadership conference in Ireland and she has more speaking engagements lined up.
For Ms. Simmons, her ambitions don't stop at the New York Stock Exchange. In time, she wants to get into a private equity firm. And, like the female executives she looks up to, she hopes to build her own company.
"I want people to be fearless, to know I'm not an anomaly, and I want more women to get into their heads, whether it's someone who's in entry level roles or an older woman who wants to make a career move, that it's important to live your life fearlessly and just not have self doubt," she said.