"Women Work Fucking Hard" Founders Lindsay Shookus & Kristin O'Keeffe Merrick on Shaking Up Overly Male Industries
It’s been two decades since Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live producer Lindsay Shookus and financial advisor Kristin O’Keeffe Merrick first met as students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After moving to New York City, Shookus landed a gig as an executive assistant in SNL’s talent department while Merrick found success as a trader on Wall Street (she most recently served as Vice President at Morgan Stanley before leaving the banking world to join her family's firm, O’Keeffe Financial Partners).
As they quickly ascended the ranks of their respective industries, the best friends remained each other’s sounding boards. “Our careers couldn’t be more different, but we’ve always supported each other and given our honest feedback,” Merrick said when we recently sat down with the duo for InStyle's February "Badass Women" issue. “We’ve gone through so many life changes and transitions together,” added Shookus. “And whenever you're struggling, it’s so important to have a cheerleader who’s there for you and can remind you of the great things you’ve done. Because sometimes you just can’t remember them yourself.”
As they continue to champion each other both personally and professionally, Merrick and Shookus are inspiring others to do the same. They host an annual “Women Work Fucking Hard” networking event, which spotlights female entrepreneurs and encourages women to help each other succeed in business. “A lot of female networking these days feels very corporate and involves a conference or a panel,” said Merrick. “We just want women to have fun and make new friends.” And, as Shookus put it, that’s what really matters in the end. “Developing meaningful friendships at this stage of the game is so satisfying," she said. "It really fills your bucket.”
Here, the BFFs get candid about paying it forward, fighting double standards, and proving themselves in male-dominated fields.
LINDSAY SHOOKUS: When we became friends, I had no idea the job I have now [TV producer] even existed. But you, on the other hand, always knew you’d go into finance.
KRISTIN MERRICK: I wanted to make money! But trading on Wall Street was a soulcrushing job. It wasn’t cool to see women shit all over each other when we should be opening doors for each other instead. So, after 15 years I quit the banking system and became an adviser. There’s this notion that it’s impolite or gauche to talk about money. I want to promote financial literacy and make money less weird for women to discuss.
LS: We know how important it is to connect women to other women who will help them succeed. A few years ago I met a struggling single mom who had started her own skincare concierge business. I wanted to introduce her to people, so you and I hosted our first annual “Women Work Fucking Hard” networking party to spotlight her.
KM: You and I are connectors by nature. We want women to kick off their shoes, have some wine, and uplift each other. I didn’t have many female mentors in my former career, but now I try to be one myself. And pretty much anyone who’s ever lived in [your hometown] Buffalo, N.Y., has come to 30 Rock for an informational interview, right?
LS: Hey, I try to pay it forward. I was hired as an assistant at SNL in 2002. Now I fight for my staff to get more money and recognition. In September, I promoted my entire office.
KM: Retention is a huge problem for women in finance. If I exhibited any emotion in the dealing room, I was told I was being an “emotional woman.” Meanwhile, the guy next to me was just “being a man” when he smashed his phone into pieces. The double standard became harder to manage when I became a mom, because there was just no flexibility.
LS: I became a producer and learned I was pregnant within a five-day span. I wanted both things badly, just not at the same time. I cried and hid my pregnancy for an absurdly long time as I proved myself in the job. Five and a half weeks after my daughter was born, I went back to work. A lot has improved since then — and NBC now offers longer maternity leave — but we need more females in power positions to really change things.
KM: That’s right. Every badass woman I know empowers other women and also keeps her shit together. You’ve always been your own biggest competitor, but you’ve plowed through some very stressful times recently that I don’t know if I could’ve survived.
LS: A badass is someone who strives to keep getting better and self-reflects, and I believe I am who I’m supposed to be today because of those challenges. I’ve tried to become a more emotionally intelligent person through therapy and meditation, but I can’t control the fact that some of the things written about me aren’t true. I love my story; a lot of people don’t. But I don’t give a fuck, and that in itself is such progress.
For more stories like this, pick up the February issue of InStyle, now available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download.