MONEY EXPERT, FINANCIAL ADVISOR & CO-FOUNDER OF WOMEN WORK F#CKING HARD
Kristin O'Keeffe Merrick is a money expert, financial advisor, and the co-founder of Women Work F#cking Hard. Kristin has worked in finance for more than 19 years. She worked as a currency trader, and most recently was Vice President at Morgan Stanley. Currently, she’s working with entrepreneurs and executives, providing creative financial strategies and solutions at her family-run firm, O'Keeffe Financial Partners.
Kristin's WWFH co-founder is Lindsay Shookus, a Saturday Night Live producer who has been nominated for eleven Emmy’s with her fellow SNL producers. The duo met as undergraduates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and have remained closed ever since.
Kristin frequently shares her money knowledge (#MakingMoneyLessWeird) in outlets like Forbes, NY Magazine and Girlboss. In fact, her finance articles published during COVID have been a blessing for all of us somewhat financially adverse: she manages to explain concepts like PPP in a straightforward and accessible way for us laypeople.
Kristin and Lindsay’s friendship is one we all aspire to have: they unconditionally support one and other, yet aren’t afraid to push each other to get out of their own heads when that story they are telling themselves isn’t exactly true.
I had the honor of connecting with Kristin and talking about everything from debunking old tropes to how she wants WWFH to evolve and what she is looking forward to today.
I love the mission of Women Work F#cking Hard not just helping women network but also highlighting the importance of uplifting and supporting each other. How did the idea first come about?
Lindsay and I met on our first day of college and then we moved to the city about a year apart, she’s a year younger than I am (in the city we lived actually around the corner from each other). My day to day was drastically different to her’s, we had very different career paths. I worked on Wall Street and she was an assistant at Saturday Night Live. We both were in these male dominated industries that had so much entrenched bias, and we really had to lean on each other for support... we had to have tough conversations with each other for many, many years -- especially as we got older in our careers, as we became moms. We went through insane times career wise when we became mothers (we had kids at the same time) because it just added so much intensity to our daily life. As a result I changed my career, I left Wall Street and started working for my family’s business (financial advising and financial planning). And funnily enough, Lindsay, when she had a baby, she got promoted to producer. So it was around that time that we realized we were lacking support, we had each other and a few girlfriends, but we didn’t really have the support we needed. And what happened kind of simultaneously was that we both started coming into our own, and having confidence to say what we wanted to say-- and started feeling like we could support others. And that’s a maturity thing, I think that’s a growth thing… I think at certain levels of your life you don’t even feel like you can help yourself in some cases but as you get older you start to realize how the world works (a little bit) and you start to want to want to help other women. My trope trap at Morgan Stanley was that I didn’t have any other skills, I was convinced that I could do nothing else but be on a foreign currency trade desk trading dollar yen all day. That was just a dumb trope that I had taught myself. I had also caught myself in a trope trap that there’s no way I could make this kind of money anywhere else, that this was the only place on earth where I could make money like this, I felt stuck in this trope trap. And everybody has their own tropes and their own messages they tell themselves. We started to push each other to tell each other to get out of our own heads, and then we realized that we could do this for others… so then we started to do a lot more mentoring, a lot more connecting... We’ve always been really good connectors and really good party throwers, party planning is something we’ve always enjoyed doing, even when we were super super young. So we came about this idea to throw a party, we thought let’s just get all of these women in our lives, who we respect, who we like and who we want to party with, and let’s get them all in the same room and let’s see what happens. It’s a little bit of a science experiment but let’s see what happens. And at the same time we decided that we were going to highlight a few business owners, small business owners, whether they needed support from us because their business was struggling or they needed to grown, or wanted connections or whatever that was, so that’s how Women Work F#cking Hard literally began... through a party.
Captures from WWFH's February NYC event.
This year’s party (although February feels like an eternity ago!) was just the best party I’ve ever thrown. It was at this gorgeous space, it was 100 perfectly wonderful beautiful women who all brought something in, whether that was that they were a business owner that were contributing to the party, or they were people that wanted to help these business owners in some way, whether it was like let me help you with your pr, or “I’m a marketing expert, let’s have a coffee” or “hey I'm an investor, let me listen to your pitch and see how I can help.” We had an amazing gift bag which were all female founded goodies that were so graciously donated by all of these small businesses… we had female founded wine, we had female founded tequila, and it was just a really special way for us to launch what we thought was a bigger message of really trying to be a connector, be almost kind of a broker of sorts between business owners, people who are growing their business or are trying to garner resources with people who are wanting to invest, help, mentor, support.
A few of the articles Kristin published in the last year.
How has the pandemic affected WWFH?
The work that we continue to do during this pandemic has been strange, obviously, everything has been strange. I wrote a lot during the pandemic about getting a PPP loan or how to access the PPP process --the PPP process was a disaster and difficult to navigate so basically i just tried to guide women to the right resources they needed to get PPP, to get small business loans, even grant (we’ve been match-making for grants).
The WWFH Mother's Day Guide
And then I had this idea in the darkest depths of COVID and thought: what if we do a little mother’s day guide. And we basically put together 10-15 brands that are struggling during this pandemic and put them all together and sent it far and wide and people can buy their stuff. I created this really cool mother’s day guide, which garnered a lot of attention in its own right (our instagram and blog) but then InStyle picked it up and ran it. Right now we are --obviously-- incredibly worried about this election, we are really focused on making sure people are registered to vote. I don't think us talking about voting is a political thing: we are not telling people how to vote, we are just telling people to vote. We are pretty careful about that-- we are not a political organization and we are not trying to be. But we are trying to heighten awareness about things that matter, and that’s certainly one of them. And I think our next project is foraying into the world of a podcast. We are in the early stages of developing that. I think that could be really fun. We know the most amazing women… The idea is to encourage these women to be vulnerable and to open up about things that they would be doing differently or would’ve done differently. For somebody like you who is super young, wanting to learn from other women… “what are the things that you would’ve done at 25? Or what are things that you did at 25 that were great, that you are happy you did… questions like that, the should’ve/could’ve/would’ve of life that I wish somebody had told me about.
Amazing! Can you share some of the hurdles you had to overcome recently?
The biggest hurdle for us is our full time jobs and our children. And we don’t have an operating budget, it’s just us, doing whatever we can. I think we probably got a little bit stymied by the pandemic, because we were in a really good place. We were going to do a summit this Fall, we were going to have people coming in, matchmaking business owners with mentors. And that’s something we really want to do, but we really want to do it in person. That’s our secret sauce. We love the energy of throwing a party, of having people face to face, having people excited to meet each other… you can’t really do that over zoom (and I don’t really want to try to be honest with you). There’s things that you can do virtually, of course, and plenty of people are doing them and doing them great, but it’s just not for us. So in the meantime we are going to think about other creative ways to get our message out, and that kind of thing, but the future feels exciting about it, it's more about finding the right time and the right way to execute our idea.
Kristin and Lindsay photographed at the NYC WWFH event last February.
Your work helping women with creative financial strategies and solutions is so important. Women many times shy away from talking about money, asking for a raise, even taking financial risks... What are ways women can start breaking the taboo/ being more confident about their finances?
It’s such a good question, such an important question. Basically taking a step back: money is weird. And it’s not really just weird with women, I think it's weird in general, it’s a taboo topic, for reasons that I can go on and on about women have been socialized from a very young age to be even weirder about money than men. Whether we just were not taught about it, whether nobody even mentioned it to us, or whether it was purposefully or subconsciously pushed toward career choices, career paths, interests and hobbies that would not result in larger pay days. For example, I have two little boys and they play with Legos. Legos are a great toy for kids to play with, they can learn how to create things using their brain, and one could even say that they could be a great engineer if they design a great Lego project. There is no Lego equivalent for little girls. And that’s not to say that little girls can’t play with Legos, but girls are not encouraged to play with Legos, they are not marketed for little girls. Little girls are designed to play with dolls, etc.
An article by Sally Weale, one of the many articles and sources that look at the social conditioning and influences that push girls out of STEM fields from a young age.
My point is that even at that very young age, little girls are pushed towards very different things. And that happens when they’re as young as 10 years old, the idea that we don’t push math as much on little girls as we do on little boys. I think that's changing a little bit (I hope it is) -- but I think there are a lot of tropes that push us towards certain interests that over time manifest into a situation where a lot of women feel they are not equipped to understand money. But the truth is that money is not that hard to understand when it is broken down and taught in a very basic way. Money is simple math. There's nothing that complicated about it. It just needs to be explained in a proper, straightforward, simple way for people to wrap their head around it. So what I hear a lot is: ‘oh I don't have the head for it’ or ‘money scares me and I don't understand it’ ... none of it is actually true. Money is really easy to understand when somebody explains it to you. So I think that my goal is to demystify money for women, and I always say my job is to make money a little less weird for women-- to take out the scary stuff that’s involved with money and talk about it in a straightforward way. And to your point, I try to write about it in a way that’s very simple and also very easy to wrap your head around. When I do my talks, the first thing I explain is compound interest: just simple math. I explain investing and debt in their truest form, and I think that once women have this understanding they can feel a lot more empowered and they can take bigger steps towards taking on their own money. And listen we can go down the whole patriarchy, misogynist views of everything, but at the end of the day, we don’t need to do that anymore, we don’t need to talk about those things because women have the ability to manage their own money now (one of the most important things RBG did was allow women to access and manage their own money). We have the ability to manage our own money now... It’s really about getting beyond the fear and the voices in your head that tell you you can't do it.
What’s next for Women Work F#cking Hard ?
I think we are in the early stages of putting this together, brainstorming and seeing how it would look. Ideally, once the election is over, we will have a little more freedom to work on this. With Lindsay, and the show, this is obviously the most important time for them, so they’re so busy. So hopefully post-election we’ll have a little bit of breathing room and can focus on this. That’s really exciting to me. And in a perfect world we would have some kind of gathering in 2021, but we clearly have no idea of how it would look like. It’s so funny that when all of this started in March/April, we were still planning on doing a party in LA later in the year. Our plan was that we were going to throw a huge WWFH party in LA for all our gals out there, and do it big… I remember thinking ‘okay June doesn’t work but we can do July’ and here we are mid-Sept thinking about whether or not we will be able to do our party in Feb. The truth of the matter is I don’t know what/how in person parties and gatherings will look like. I really want to do the summit, I think it’s so important to do. But this is all a matter of timing, when we can all gather safely again, so that’s a little tbd, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to continue to do the work, connecting women and spreading the message that women should be helping other women.
And finally, what do you wake up looking forward to?
What I'm looking forward to... I do really important work but I'm just one woman trying to help women with their money. Every once in a while I get an email, I got one yesterday about this woman who is a single mom, she’s working her ass off trying to keep everything afloat, and she needs help, she needs help getting her life in order. And that’s the kind of thing that gives me a lot of gratitude that I have the ability to do this kind of work. My former career wasn't a gratifying career. It was fun, it was lucrative, but it was not gratifying. I didn't feel great at the end of my day. I didn’t feel like I helped anyone. This [current] career path for me has been a total life changer, and the fact that I can actually make a difference in people’s lives in such an impactful and important way feels really good. I kind of think about that every day. What is the bigger part of what I do each day? It’s not buying a mutual fund for someone or helping someone with their cash flow issues. It’s really about making a major change in their overall financial health, which of course, financial health leads to other things, mental health, physical health.