Through divorce, Sheryl Hickerson learned the hard way that a man is not a financial plan. After 25 years of marriage, and standing outside a Michael’s Craft store, with her two grandson’s hands in her own, her husband called to tell her the big news, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”
Sheryl is the founder of Females & Finance, a 3000-strong private membership dedicated to fostering recruitment, training, and advancement of women in financial services and financial technology roles.
Today, Sheryl joins the podcast to share what she’s learned from her 30+ years in the financial services industry – including time spent working with other women who experience sudden divorce late in life, and how she’s created a safe harbor to share their stories and give them permission to be who THEY want to be “when they grow up (a.k.a. NOW)!”
Overcomer Playlist Recommendation
Pearls of Wisdom
- Why making a man a financial plan simply doesn’t work – and why so many women learn this the hard way after 25+ years of marriage.
- What Sheryl learned from interviewing hundreds of women about their experiences in financial services – and how it led her to start her membership.
- The three big financial takeaways from Sheryl’s divorce – and why you absolutely need a trustworthy financial advisor to navigate your biggest decisions.
- How to get really comfortable saying “my money”.
Tweetables“Do not listen to your best friends. I don't care if they're financial service advisors. Don't. They are too close to you and it would not serve you well.” – Sheryl Hickerson Click To Tweet “It’s okay to say ‘my money’” - Sheryl Hickerson Click To Tweet “I felt like such an absolute failure because here I was, a financial advisor that couldn't keep their own finances in order and I just toted around a lot of shame because of that.” - Arwen Becker Click To Tweet “There's a lot of wisdom in talking about it because it relieves such a great amount of shame when you realize that you're not alone.” – Arwen Becker Click To Tweet
- Females and Finance
- Love Warrior (Oprah’s Book Club): A Memoir
- She Handled It, So Can You!: An Inspiring and Empowering Financial Guide for Women
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Connect with Arwen Becker
Arwen Becker: Hey, everyone. It's Arwen here. Before we start the show, I just want you to be aware that there is a small bit of salty language. So, please just be aware of that if you have little ones in an earshot. Enjoy the show.
Sheryl Hickerson: The situation I was in start unfolding a path right in front of you of their story of what happened and then the next one puts the next cobblestones down and gives you the steppingstones to sort of heal, to put things back together.
Arwen Becker: Welcome to She Handled It, a podcast dedicated to sharing empowering stories of women who have faced major adversity and how they overcame it. I'm your host, Arwen Becker. I'm a wife, mom, national speaker, author, entrepreneur, and athlete. But on my journey to these triumphs, I battled many life-altering challenges. Thankfully, I found freedom when I realized I was not alone. I invite you to join me each week as I explore the inspirational stories of determined women who overcame life's toughest moments, ultimately, how she handled it and so can you.
After finding myself divorced at 24, I had to go out and get what everybody called a “real job” and that's because I have a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from the University of Washington. And at this point, I had never had to pay for really any of my own bills ever, and yet the stipend that I was receiving for running the wildlife rehabilitation center I worked for was just not enough to pay my bills and to live on my own. And so, at that time, I actually had a friend introduced me to the Amway Corporation, which some of you out there may have had some experience with that. And Amway actually has a really great personal development program. So, I love to educate myself and so I dove headlong into reading books and I was reading books about relationships. And now since I was divorced, I had to make friends so reading about friends and leadership and all these different pieces, but I continued to treat the financial books as though they had the plague.
It was like, “Eww, let somebody else handle that part of it.” And I had been married to a financial advisor and four short years later, I would find myself married again to a financial advisor. At that point, I recognized that I had made him responsible for my own financial security. And this choice that I had made, it persisted well over the next decade and actually a little bit further past that as well, making a man a plan. During the Great Recession, I guess I really learned the hard way because owning a financial planning firm by that point, we hit 33% down in 2009, once the Great Recession had really gotten underway, another 33% in 2010. Because of that fallout and our willingness and desire to keep our company together and serving our clients and keeping our employees, something had to give, and for me, that was my personal home.
And yet as a financial advisor getting foreclosed on was devastating. And I felt like such an absolute failure because here I was, a financial advisor that couldn't keep their own finances in order and I just toted around a lot of shame because of that. And yet that was really the starting point of my rebirth, to start looking at what is it that I needed to do to not make it anybody else responsible for my security financially, but what was I needing to do to get educated. And as I continued to do that myself and for us to rebuild and move past that time, I also started giving women's events in 2017. And I fell in love with it because I saw women who are just like me, who had financial failures in their past.
Maybe it was from divorce, maybe it was mismanagement of money, maybe it was just that they hadn't learned the skills and actually put things in place because they, like me, relied on somebody else to do it for them. And then we're finding themselves in their 50s and 60s having to start over and yet I’m always amazed because women can and they do. So, recognizing that I could teach women through my own failures and the frustrations that I've had in the way in which I, as a woman, have seen women dealt with in the area of finance. And really what happens is it changed this entire outlook for me personally and it allowed me to start really looking to inspire women to change, to get educated in the area surrounding their money so that they could stand on their own two feet, even if there's a spouse standing next to them, but with that degree of certainty that they've also done the things to take care of themselves personally.
It was during that time that I was introduced to an advocate for women and an absolute powerhouse, Sheryl Hickerson, an international speaker on social and digital marketing strategies for financial services organizations. She's worked with thousands of professionals to grow the presence of financial services through online platforms. In 2018, she started where we met, Females and Finance, a private online membership organization dedicated to fostering recruitment, training, advancement of women in financial services or financial technology roles. This is when she and I connected. And what's so awesome and incredible is today, the membership of Females and Finance, which she will talk about is nearing 3,000 professionals with absolutely no signs of letting up. And after 30 years in the financial services industry, Sheryl has dedicated her professional life to promoting better networking and diversity initiatives within her community.
Arwen Becker: Sheryl, I am so happy to have you on the show today. Thank you for joining me.
Sheryl Hickerson: I have been really looking forward to this and listening to your story as you lead in, wow.
Arwen Becker: Well, you and I were talking a little bit. Why don't you take us back to June of 2017? What is it that was going on in your life personally?
Sheryl Hickerson: June 1, 2017, I remember it literally like it just happened and I was walking outside of a Michaels Arts and Crafts Store.
Sheryl Hickerson: I had my two grandsons in tow. They are identical twins, Jays and Carter. And I remember they were fighting over a sour cream crunch donut. There was one left in the box in the bag and they were trying to figure out who should have one. I said one break it, the other gets choose. And I remembered standing outside and my phone rang. And I picked it up and my ex-husband says, “I don't want to be married to you anymore.” And I kind of sat there, I remember looking. It was really hot. I can remember exactly where I was, exactly the placement of the cars in the parking lot. I can still hear the chatter and I said very professionally, “You know what, I'm tied up right now with Jays and Carter. Can I give you a call back once I get them home?” I picked up my grandson's hands. We went to the car. I got them in. I went to my son's house, didn't say anything to him. I said, “Hey, I'm sorry. I had to come back early. I have something come up.” Very professional.
I think when you work in financial services and something profound happens, I feel as if we are not, especially as women in financial services, we don't have those immediate reactions like we go right into business mode, if you will. And part of it's my age probably too. I’m almost 50 and I got home and he was gone. Gone. What happened over the course of the weeks that follow are he didn't come home and they always make it sound very romanticized. Like he left or like I feel like there's these old Clark Gable kind of movies. They put on the hat. They tip it to you and go, “See you.” No. They empty bank accounts, ladies. They empty bank accounts and they leave and I had just for some context had just left my very secure, wonderful job, May 31. So, June 1, the very next day, this was very much by design for him, I had left my job, and I had decided I was going to go out and work for myself and this was something we had sort of talked about. And so, it needed to hurt. He wanted this to be personal. And it was. So, much like you, the man with the plan, until the plan is not working.
Arwen Becker: Or it doesn't exist anymore.
Sheryl Hickerson: Yeah. And truth be told, my ex-husband didn't even show up to divorce court. I literally have not seen him since.
Arwen Becker: Wow. My goodness.
Sheryl Hickerson: I was married, for context, 25 years.
Arwen Becker: Twenty-five years. So, it's so shocking, Sheryl, how many women that I've sit down with over these last three years, the overwhelming sense with women who have gone through divorce is between the 25 and 33-year mark, and to see how devastating that is and how many women just like you are in that position, and now picking up the pieces, but I'm always shocked at how well they do that. And that's certainly part of your story.
Sheryl Hickerson: Well, and that's exactly to your point, Arwen, is that I was very shamed into being quiet about what happened because I couldn't tell anybody that, right? And then I decided to tell one person, just one person, and all of a sudden, they said, “Well, actually, did you know that I was married?” I like what? And then all of a sudden, stories are unfolding, unfolding, unfolding in front and it's like these women who have already much like you and the situation I was in, start unfolding a path right in front of you of their story of what happened and then the next one puts the next cobblestones down and gives you the stepping stones to sort of heal to put things back together. That's what the women did.
Arwen Becker: Yeah, absolutely. And it's so relieving when you do take that first step, and you admit to somebody that you trust. I mean, there's a lot to be said, I mean, through a lot of the hell that I've gone through financially and the rebuilding that happened, there's a lot of people I wouldn't talk to about that but those that I do have a good relationship with that I can trust that the pearls of my heart and my failures and the things that could be used against me can be trusted with that individual. So, having somebody that you're not just here to dump and gossip, because that stuff can be used against you, and I've had that happen too but there's a lot of wisdom in talking about it because it relieves such a great amount of shame when you realize especially that you're not alone, that other people have gone through that and then we can go, “Alright. Okay. So, maybe you're further along in the journey. Let me see where you are. Let's talk about that and give me hope that my current problems are temporary.” You know what I'm saying?
This was years ago, but you've been in this industry for a long time. Maybe give me a little more context really of what you were doing in the years leading up to that time period and then of course, when you launched Females and Finance.
Sheryl Hickerson: Yeah. So, I figure when you're at bottom, and that was pretty bottom, right? I got a mortgage that's coming and no money, and I got car payments to make. No money. All of a sudden, you're like, "Well, I can just be whoever I want to be when I grow up.” And I'll also tell you, the one thing that I did treat myself to and admit this freely and openly and I give this advice, I treated myself to 52 weeks of therapy after I got divorced every single Friday, that one hour with Kaye was my time. No one was getting in the way. No one was getting any part of it. I dedicated that to my healing because I wanted to figure out what I did. One is I wanted to understand how I got there and, two, I didn't want to repeat the process. And so, as I'm doing these building block exercises and I'll share with you the first person I called is somebody that you love and respect and that's Judy Hoberman.
Arwen Becker: Love Judy.
Sheryl Hickerson: Judy is my friend. She's my family I met along the way. That's how I describe her. And she was my very first phone call. And I'm going to say that she was the very first person that said, "You will get through this. You will be angry, aggravated, whatever. Don't let it swallow you. Don't let it eat you alive. And let's move past.” So, one of the things I decided was I can be whoever I want to be when I grow up. So, now what I decided was all along as a professional speaker standing in front of hundreds and thousands sometimes of people, it was just a lot of men in financial services. It's not shocking. I'm not saying anything that's like, wow, proprietary. It’s known. And it's not so much that but it was how was I showing up every time to these events, and not questioning where are our women? Where are the people of color? And so, what I decided to do was use 2017 for not only the healing process of Sheryl and making sure that I got better, but every time I got a little bit more healed, I got a little bit bolder in my questioning.
I started interviewing hundreds of women to ask them three main questions. How did you get in financial services? So, the recruitment. How did you train yourself? And how did you advance yourself? Because I wanted to understand retention and attrition because I had always sort of had the dream of one day I'm going to start a networking community that wasn't like, “Hi, my name is Sheryl. My favorite color is pink.” It was and you know, we've been to those kind of events.
Arwen Becker: Yes.
Sheryl Hickerson: Anybody listening inside/outside of our profession, these events truly do happen. I wanted something that was richer, and instead, I would come to someone like Arwen and say, “Arwen, how can I help you be better? What can I do? Who can I connect you to? Who do I know? Where can I put you?” Those become meaningful to you, your practice, the work that you do all the women you serve, but it also because I get to selfishly learn from you. I get to spend time in your presence and say that's what she's doing. That's how she did that. And then from there, I did that 1Z, 2Zs and the one, the two became the 100 to 200 became the 1,000 to 2,000 and it continues to this very day. We have yet to have ever formally advertised this in like paid advertisement for a community like mine. It has literally been word of mouth much like how you heard about it. I tell people. I can't know all the great people. I depend on great people to tell me about great people.
Arwen Becker: Right. And I so love what it is that you're doing, Sheryl, because when I started doing women's events in 2017, this is when my life so I haven't been a standalone advisor really only about a year-and-a-half prior to that and then doing all of the lead generation, but then getting involved in doing these women's only events, it was so obvious that there was such a huge part of the community that was being missed by traditional marketing because traditional marketing, like you said. I mean, I hear different stats. I'd say 85% I think is what went into my book, 85% of financial advisors are men. And again, that doesn't make it bad but it means that the lens in which all the marketing materials, the communication, the speakers from stage, those tend to have a very male-dominated focus or lens to it.
And so, it's such to your point as to what I started to see as I was going, “Oh my gosh, it's so obvious.” We need to have a way in which women can be trained to do and even men because I know you have men in the group too, your allies, but those who are really focused in understanding the very basic component that women currently hold more wealth in the country now than men, do over the next 20 years worldwide. They will hold more than 60% of the wealth worldwide.
Why in the world as an industry do we not spend more time educating, talking, focusing, running through a filter that women go, “Oh, I understand that. I relate to what's being talked about,” whether it's coming from a man or a woman?
And that is what you are fostering to be able to encourage women and men who really do have a heart for serving women to step into that space and be that conduit and that safe harbor that so many women need.
Sheryl Hickerson: That’s exactly it. That's exactly it. You know, it's funny you mentioned the thing about not having the money. I'll tell you. I'll open up my little bit of crazy. I remember my son. No, we all have her. We tuck her away now and then but she's in there, you know? And I remembered my son coming over because I hadn't come out of the house in three days. And he comes over. My son's almost 32 and he says to me, "You know, mom,” and I was sitting in the kitchen and I don't know what clicked or connected. He was talking about money. I went crazy through the house. So, every woman listening to this, this is normal. This is very normal. I went through the house and unplugged every single thing that was in the house, our pool, turned the air conditioner off. I turned the refrigerator off, electric stove got unplugged, the washer and dryer, everything. And I came back in this sweat and the tears and I realized that I couldn't pay my electric bill next month. And without a job, without income, and the bank accounts were empty. And I remembered a financial planner came to me and said, "Well, you're welcome to come to one of our Second Saturday that talks about divorce.” And I paused and my very first question was, "Well, how much was it?” And I believe that class was $50 and I didn't have $50 to spend to go to a Second Saturday class. And I was not going to ask anybody for $50.
And so, it's like, how is it possible that you go from that today to where I'm at? And I fully recovered, and then some, and a lot of it I think when you're at bottom, it gives you a really good time to look at how your foundation is structured because it's really up close, like you're looking at the ground. This is a good foundation to build on. It's not okay. I need to work on my foundation. You need to build your walls and then you keep building from there. That was very important for the success that we've been able to experience with Females and Finance, and personally for me where I've been able to put some trajectory down.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. So, when you went through all of this, I mean, so here we are years later, and you're having all of the success, I mean, when you look back at that time period, I mean, you've mentioned a couple of things. And let me tell you, I am totally in your camp about the whole therapy thing because that was the saving grace of not only my company but my marriage in 2018 and 2019. And I kicked myself that I had found the name of the guy in 2017 and made all these excuses as to why I didn't call him but yet I knew there were significant problems and one of them was I didn't feel like we could afford going to somebody weekly. And I don't know who said, "Yeah, divorce is a lot more expensive than going to a once a week therapist.” But it undid a lot of these financial ways of thinking that I had that caused so much of the rifts between he and I over all these years. He, of course, just saw it in a different way. So, when you think back to that time period and everything that you learn from it, I mean, what would you really say are those three big key things that you took away from such a difficult period in your life?
Sheryl Hickerson: Well, I will tell you one and that was I started having money dates with myself. Because when you have no money, it is so easy to start zero. I'm keeping that very real. Like, you can literally just write balance, zero. And you go from there, right? Because it makes it very easy and so money date became a significant part of who I was. I think the other thing too was I heard from a very good friend that when you schedule your follow-up with your advisor, whoever they are, all of them, talk to your property-casualty person, talk to your life insurance person, talk to your financial planner, talk to your banker. Go make an appointment with every single person that has any touch of your money 401(k) and say, "Let's talk about my money,” and get really comfortable saying “my money”.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. That’s good.
Sheryl Hickerson: My money because I will tell you for so very long I was about “our”. No, no, no, no. My money. Where is my money? I want to see my money. How did I spend my money? I found out that we have a tendency to be I think we're selfish when we do that as women because we're natural nurturers. And so, it's the one time we get to be very, very selfish with ourselves. So, it is okay to say my money. So, make your well-woman exam, make your financial advisor all of your financial service professional exams at the same time. And they will also tell you that in the thick of any financial doubt, problem, experience, situation, do not listen to your best friends and I don't care if they're financial service advisors. Don't. They are too close to you and it would not serve you well. You need to have people who are at least once removed if not further beyond that because they can then sit down and objectively say to you, and here's the one thing I found out. All my friends said, "Keep that house. Keep that house. You need to keep your house.”
I'm living in a four-bedroom, three-bath house with a pool by myself. I am not outdoorsy, Arwen. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, there's no camp in here. There's no raking. No, I get upset if my nails are not, you know, no. So, one of the things that the financial advisor I worked with, she said, “Do not listen to your friends. Sell that house.” The reason why I found out again through therapy is that it was an emotional tie to a piece of property and who I am and where I make my home is in my mind. It has nothing to do with the actual structure or the land. You can build a home anywhere if it's in your head.
Arwen Becker: Yeah. And women make that mistake all the time. That's why I had mentioned the gal coming in and she has no liquid assets, and she just has a home. And it's like, "Well, that's our home and that's where our kids and that's where our memory is, but you can't spend a home. Home is not going to put food on the table.” but you're absolutely dead right. And the whole thing about having friends, not to mention, the reason why you don't have your friend be your financial advisor is because if you're unhappy with something they do, then it can ruin the friendship.
Sheryl Hickerson: I want to add one thing to that and when your financial advisor tells you X, do not go to Facebook and ask all of your friends if this is right. Please, for everything the love of money, do not do this. You have paid a professional to tell you. Susie next door is not a professional. She loves you. She wants the best for you. And I think that that part's great and you let her bring you cakes and breads and everything else but when it comes to the actual dough in your bank account, don't. Just don't. Everybody's got an opinion like they have an asshole.
Arwen Becker: Right. Exactly. It’s typical. Yeah.
Sheryl Hickerson: So, please, please, please, for somebody who has been through this, don't take your financial advisor's advice and put it out into social and then collect 600 different ideas. Trust in the person or find a new person. If you really feel in your gut it's not right, find a new person. You have the right to do that.
Arwen Becker: Right. Yeah. It's like somebody getting a recommendation from their doctor on their cancer treatment and then going, “Hey, everybody (who really has no experience doing this), can you give me your opinions on whether or not this is good or not?” I mean, it's ridiculous and everybody's situation is unique. And that's another problem. Even if on the surface it seems similar, it's not. I'm shocked at how different one situation can be from another but yet people still having the same amount of “money” in their bank account, situations are still very, very different.
Sheryl Hickerson: Yeah. Well, the third is like listen to professionals like I said. So, it's like make the money date for yourself, schedule your annual reviews for your well-woman and your financial advisors, and then listen to the professionals and stop going to social and asking people because, one, variance. One small variance can be so incredibly impactful. And I will tell you why I qualify that. I used to be a life insurance underwriter for years and years and years. And I remember a very wealthy family came and they had a million-dollar policy that they wanted to split three ways. And that particular insurance carrier didn't go to percentages like beyond that, like the points, right? I'm going to tell you who wants to be the 33%, the 33%, and the 34%? You think 33 and 33 are not going to be real happy with 34 because it does make a big difference. It's money, right? $10,000, $100,000. So, that small variance can see the magnitude of it is later on. So, just really stop going to social media and asking people for money advice.
Arwen Becker: It’s so good. All right. So, rapid-fire, final three questions. So, what would you say best piece of financial advice you were given, your recommended book or your favorite book, and then your favorite quote?
Sheryl Hickerson: I would definitely say pay yourself first. Every check you get, don't pay your bills first. You pay yourself first. We've living through pandemic right now for sure. Pay yourself first. My very favorite book in the entire world is Love Warrior. I love me some Glennon Doyle. She's very good. Abby Wambach and I want her to be my best friend. And, hey, I can do it.
Arwen Becker: That’s right.
Sheryl Hickerson: I actually have sitting right in front of me to remind me every day a quote by Bette Davis, "What other people think is none of my business.” It keeps me out, keeps me free. As soon as I start to go, "Oh, that doesn't bother me. That's not my business.” So, those are my big ones for that.
Arwen Becker: I love that. And you know, it's interesting that quote that you use the last podcast I had with Abby Havermann, that was one I brought up because she had told me that one at some point. So, we were talking about that. So, how can our listeners get ahold of you?
Sheryl Hickerson: Yeah. The easiest way if you go on any social media account, it's going to be Bionic Socialite to find me personally. Otherwise, just look for Females and Finance. And I like the wizard behind the curtain, if you say.
Arwen Becker: Yes, you are but yet you're always out there and communicating with the women and the handful of men that are on there too. And we also appreciate it because it just brings this feeling of community to an area which as women, we do tend to find ourselves as the minority in the financial business, but you just like me, also want to take it a step further and being able to not just have a bunch of white women because it tends to be that way but really be able to reach out into that community and be able to draw in greater diversity, because that's how we change communities. It's by finding people within those communities who speak the language that are connected and money is a connecting point. And it's the way in which we impact lives. So, I love the fact that you have done all of that and you were such a joy to me, and you have been this person that in just such a short period of time came on the scene and you've been so willing to walk my journey with me too as I was getting my book done, all that kind of good stuff. So, I appreciate you coming on today.
Sheryl Hickerson: Absolutely. Proud of you.
Arwen Becker: Thank you so much. Well, that brings us to the end of today's show, but please follow me on social media. Pick up a copy of my new book, She Handled It So Can You, or you can reach me at BeckerRetirement.com or my training and speaking company, LIFEwithArwen.com.
Arwen Becker: Thanks for spending time with me on the She Handled It Podcast. If you enjoyed today's episode, please be sure to subscribe so future interviews are automatically downloaded directly to your device. And if you want access to the show notes including links to all the resources mentioned, visit LIFEwithArwen.com/Podcast. Thanks again for joining me. Now charge forth, because if she handled it, so can you.
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