Thriving As A Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry: Angela Lucas of Simplex Trading On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male Dominated Industry

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

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Learn from your mistakes: You are not perfect, and mistakes do happen — it’s admirable to be accountable and use those mistakes learning tools and lessons. If you do not know something, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. I am self-taught on everything I have learned thus far and take opportunities to learn from others.

In the United States in 2022, fields such as Aircraft piloting, Agriculture, Architecture, Construction, Finance, and Information technology, are still male-dominated industries. For a woman who is working in a male-dominated environment, what exactly does it take to thrive and succeed? In this interview series, we are talking to successful women who work in a Male-Dominated Industry who can share their stories and experiences about navigating work and life as strong women in a male-dominated industry. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Angela Lucas.

Angela Lucas is Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at Simplex Trading, a leading Chicago-based technology driven trading firm. She has nearly 20 years of experience in the industry and is passionate about compliance and loves the fast-paced, ever-changing environment of rules and regulations. In her role as CCO and Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Officer, Angela is responsible for overseeing and managing the day-to-day compliance responsibilities for the firm.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

No problem! I was born in a suburb of Illinois and I have two brothers and a sister of which I am the eldest. As I reflect as an adult, I had a great childhood. Family is most important to me and I’m lucky my siblings and parents all live close to each other, so we see each other often. I try to emulate and instill this same value into my children as well. I remember when I was dating my husband, I told him when we buy a house my one requirement is we need to have a neighborhood that has sidewalks. Sidewalks are very important to me. In my mind that meant kids riding bikes, walking to school, playing with other kids freely and safely (at least that is how I remembered growing up!). That is exactly what we have today, a home in a great neighborhood that has sidewalks!

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

When I graduated college, I was in search of a job at an advertising agency. However, at the time, no agencies were hiring so I ended up working in sales. While I worked very hard, I decided that a sales position wasn’t meant for me and then joined a private equity firm as an executive assistant until a position opened at an agency. Within a few months, the firm’s CCO left so I met with our CEO and offered to take on their responsibilities while they looked for a replacement. After a few months, the CEO approached me and asked if I wanted to make this a more permanent position as they really liked how I stepped up and took the initiative to learn the ropes. I immediately jumped at the opportunity and immersed myself in everything compliance, learning everything and anything I could. I asked questions, became friends with the legal counsel to pick her brain and I studied and took the Series 7, Series 63 and Series 24 exams, as well as a FINRA exam. From there, I knew I was in the right career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Only one? I have so many interesting stories! The first that comes to mind pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic and Simplex’s Business Continuity Plan (BCP). As CCO, I must have a business disaster plan in place. This plan has been tested, but given the nature of our business, we have never been able to fully execute. Pre-pandemic, our industry never thought to function fully remote. Fast forward to March 2020 and the exchange floors closed, people were not allowed to come into the office and we were forced to all work remotely. As difficult and confusing of a time it was for so many reasons, I was secretly elated because I finally got to test and activate our BCP. This is something a CCO plans for nearly their whole career and often never gets to activate. In summary, the plan worked as it was intended, and I was extremely proud of our team for implementing everything as laid out. This was a rewarding moment in my career and one that I spoke of often during conferences and interviews in the months and year that followed.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Confidence: As a woman in a male dominated industry, you need to have confidence and thick skin. There have been many times I’ve walked into a room and been the only female — I’ve even been given coffee orders at prior companies! When this has happened, I smiled, walked to the head of the table to take my seat and said that while I don’t drink coffee, I would happily take a hot chocolate if they’re getting some. You must have the confidence in yourself to be able to joke along with it, but also assert yourself so others don’t take advantage of you.
  • Organization: This trait is key to any compliance position. There are so many balls in the air at one time that it’s crucial to stay focused and organized to keep items moving forward. Every day is a new day and with it will come new challenges and obstacles — a new rule could be presented, a new inquiry could be sent your way, a new exam announced, a surveillance report could stop working as intended — so it’s imperative I stay on top of everything and keep myself organized.
  • Ambition and Resourcefulness: These are big for me. I have always been “hungry” to learn. Although it was a bit uncomfortable to step into the compliance position when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped in right away at 21 years old and said, “YES! I will learn it all!” At that moment, I remember calling people I didn’t know to ask questions and finding my own opportunities to learn. As I moved along in my career journey, I continued asking questions, being bold and not being afraid of making mistakes. I’ve tried and I’ve failed at times, but eventually I succeeded — and it paid off. Despite the many bumps and mountains climbed, I absolutely love where I am today and I love the career path I chose.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you help articulate a few of the biggest obstacles or challenges you’ve had to overcome while working in a male-dominated industry?

There have been a few. One challenge is that people often assume the CCO is your enemy and that they are there to say “no” or are watching you waiting for a “gotcha moment.” This simply is not the case. Rather, compliance teams should work to build relationships with other departments, and vice versa. For example, I like to have an open-door policy where people are free to come and talk to me and explain what they are working on so we can have a discussion and find solutions together. That way, we are on the same page if policies need to be updated or changed. Working collaboratively on policy changes can help to avoid confusion about what is being implemented, written down and surveilled for. Another challenge I’m still presented with from time to time is being treated as a glorified assistant by those who either don’t know my role or might not know me at the time. This gets really annoying! People will give me menial tasks such as copying, faxing, scanning and scheduling meetings. Although I do this for my own job, I think they assume, “why can’t she just do this for me too?” I don’t necessarily understand it, but it happens more than I would like to admit. Finally, early in my career I have had to navigate what it means to be objectified by men in this business. As hard as that is to admit and talk about, the trading industry is one that is male dominated and can create a lot of wealth for some. With wealth can come a sense of power. Some individuals think that if they reach a certain position in this industry, they can do what they want, treat people however they want, and people will comply for fear of consequences. I want to be known and earn my positions because of my hard work, knowledge and skill set. I don’t want to be known for my perceived wealth, looks or personality alone. Needless to say, I have been at Simplex for almost 12 years and when you find the right company that fits, gender and obstacles become obsolete and you get to focus on the tasks at hand.

Can you share a few of the things you have done to gain acceptance among your male peers and the general work community? What did your female co-workers do? Can you share some stories or examples?

That’s easy: work hard. It doesn’t matter if you have male or female peers. If you work hard and try to excel at what you do, you will gain acceptance amongst your peers. While I haven’t had too many female co-workers, the times I did they followed the same formula — work hard, ask questions and get your work done. At the end of the day, we are all in this together working toward a common goal: make the company better, run smoothly and be profitable. Outside of my compliance duties, I contribute to our work community as a mom and person, too. I enjoy listening and giving advice on matters outside of the workplace. If someone has a problem, I am always there if they need to talk. I am also interested in hearing about my co-workers’ families and lives outside of work. It’s good to remember that we are all people and have lives outside of the office, and it can be valuable to share those parts of ourselves with our coworkers.

What do you think male-oriented organizations can do to enhance their recruiting efforts to attract more women?

Good question. I don’t know if there is a correct answer to this. Benefits are a good starting point, such as a maternity and paternity policies. Personally, a flexible work schedule is a must. As a working mom, I can never predict when one of my children will be sick, or something comes up at school. Whether impromptu events arise, or planned events are upon me, a flexible schedule is a huge perk to this busy mom. If you work hard, get your to-do list done and can prove to be an asset to your team, then, I truly believe rewards should be given, too.

Ok thank you for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman In a Male-Dominated Industry?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Have thick skin: While working in the trading industry specifically, I feel like I’ve seen it all. I have seen traders lose their entire savings and swear and break computers out of frustration and then start crying. I have seen some guys scream at other traders just because they were angry. I, myself, have been screamed at to the point of tears for no reason at all except for the fact they just didn’t like me. One thing I’ve learned that has shaped the way I view situations is to remove myself from them. Most of the time, it’s not personal. You can’t control a person’s actions or words, but you can control your response and how you move forward.

2. Develop a strong work ethic: As a female, some people will find a reason why you are not good enough. You may have to constantly prove people wrong again, and again — and again. Having a strong work ethic will carry you far.

3. Learn from your mistakes: You are not perfect, and mistakes do happen — it’s admirable to be accountable and use those mistakes learning tools and lessons. If you do not know something, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. I am self-taught on everything I have learned thus far and take opportunities to learn from others.

4. Find the right balance: Nothing can be 100% about work. To prevent major burnout in your career, it’s important to establish a work-life balance that fits you. It’s fun to explore new hobbies! When I first started in this industry, I would work 70–80 hours per week, and I never took vacations. If I did, I would bring my laptop everywhere I went. In fact, when I was in the hospital room after having my first two children, I asked my husband for my computer to run 401k and check surveillance reports. That’s just how I was! Years later, I recognize the importance of separating yourself from who you are at work and who you are outside of work and managing my priorities.

5. Follow your passion: It’s not always going to be easy and there may be days you are going to want to throw your hands up. However, if you have a fire and passion for what you’re doing then it’s worth it. There’s no better feeling than genuinely enjoying what you do — so much so that you light up when you talk about it.

If you had a close woman friend who came to you with a choice of entering a field that is male-dominated or female-dominated, what would you advise her? Would you advise a woman friend to start a career in a field or industry that’s traditionally been mostly men? Can you explain what you mean?

I would tell any of my female friends to pursue a field they’re most interested and passionate about — regardless of gender. No matter who you work with, there will inevitably be some obstacles you’ll have to overcome. As long as you handle yourself the best you can and feel comfortable where you’re at, then you’ll be just fine.

Have you seen things change for women working in male-dominated industries, over the past ten years? How do you anticipate that it might improve in the future? Can you please explain what you mean?

In the trading industry, so much has changed over the last 10 years. Ten years ago, there was still a huge on-floor presence and there were so many other prop shops around. These are firms (a majority male-dominated) who’ve been in the industry for what feels like forever, and some refer to as the “good ‘ol boys club.” They made all the money and the rules. Now, there is an increase in the number of females in the trading industry and in particular female compliance officers. I’m looking forward to watching this number only get bigger.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to pick the brains of many people for various reasons. For selfish and insanely silly reasons, I would choose Kristen Bell. She seems like someone who is down-to-earth and relatable. Someone who you could actually have a real conversation with. This is all conjecture as I have no idea who she really is, but in my mind, I see myself laughing with her and I would thoroughly enjoy that.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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Ming S. Zhao
Authority Magazine

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.