From Stress to Success: Overcoming Workplace Challenges and Advocating for Unity and Diversity

Today Diane sits down with the resilient and determined Deb Curtis, a trailblazer in the corporate and small business world. Together, they ignite a powerful discussion on the challenges faced by women in male-dominated industries and the importance of authenticity in the professional world. Deb shares her personal journey of overcoming adversity and ultimately starting her own business, which focuses on empowering women and people of color. From navigating discrimination in the financial industry to advocating for equal opportunities in small business ownership, this episode is a must-listen for anyone seeking inspiration, empowerment, and a call for change. Get ready to be inspired and motivated by the incredible stories of strength and resilience on “The Fire Inside Her.”

Deb Curtis is a beacon of resilience and unity in diversity. Abandoned as a child and overcoming personal and professional adversities, she transformed her hardships into empowerment.

After excelling in a male-dominated corporate world, she founded her own business in 2018.

Her mission is to champion diversity and inclusion in business ownership, helping individuals from diverse backgrounds navigate success.

A proud mother and grandmother, Deb’s life is a testament to the belief that with God, grit, and grace, anything is possible. Her journey is an inspiration to all who dare to challenge the status quo.

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Diane Schroeder [00:00:00]:

Welcome to the Fire inside her podcast. A safe space for leadership, self care, and community. I'm your host, Diane Schroeder, and it is my privilege to be your guide on the journey to authenticity.

Here's an interesting fact about the women in my family. Actually, about my family in general. Only the women have college degrees or graduate degrees. The men in my family, some went to college, some have associates degrees, but the majority for generations have been the women in my family. And yet, I didn't finish my bachelor's degree, until I was in my thirties, and I didn't finish my master's degree until my forties. I carried around a lot of shame in my twenties for not having a college degree, which is interesting because I made really good money for not having a degree in the fire service. And it was actually when I pursued my master's degree that I realized I didn't want to be a fire chief, and I really wanted to find my exit strategy out of the fire service because I really wanted to focus on leadership and culture and how I can help organizations with culture. My guest this week has a very fascinating story. She is resilient and tough, and just her story of determination and the 2 words that are a theme throughout the entire episode are don't quit. Don't let labels. Don't let sexism. Don't let barriers stop you. Be, as she calls it, positively persistent. Deb Curtis is a beacon of resilience and unity and diversity, abandoned as a child in overcoming personal and professional adversities, she transformed her hardships into empowerment. After excelling in a male dominated corporate world, she founded her own business in 2018. Her mission is to champion diversity and inclusion in business ownership. Helping individuals from diverse backgrounds navigate success. A proud mother and grandmother Deb's life is a testament to the belief that with God, grit, and grace, anything is possible. Her journey is an inspiration to all who dare to challenge the status quo. And it's a little unique this week. Typically, we talk a lot about leadership and that avenue. This week, we talk about empowerment and thinking outside of the box and really what it's like to take the leap from a corporate world into entrepreneurship. Without further ado, I welcome Deb Curtis. Deb, I am so excited to have you on the show today.

Deb Curtis [00:03:18]:

Thank you, Diane. I'm equally as excited. So let's roll.

Diane Schroeder [00:03:24]:

Absolutely. First, my question that I have for you, the random question of the day is, what is the last show that you binge watched?

Deb Curtis [00:03:34]:

Oh my gosh.

Diane Schroeder [00:03:35]:

Or is there a show you've binge watched?

Deb Curtis [00:03:37]:

Oh, yeah. Oh, boy. There's a couple of them. Binge watched. Just recently. I'm thinking my husband and I. I don't know the name of it. That one's new. So I won't say that one. Well, this is silly, but We love the reality shows, love survivor. Love just when average people show up on shows, we've been catching up binge watching America's Got Talent because we just like to spin through that. But man, survivor, Good lord, girl. We have not missed a season with Jeff Probst, that little hottie. He has aged a bit So I hope he's listening. I love those dimples, and I will forever be a survivor fan. Will I show up on the island? No way.

Diane Schroeder [00:04:25]:

No. I have a thing with bugs. I'm not a big fan.

Deb Curtis [00:04:29]:

You'd be good as a firefighter though. Come on.

Diane Schroeder [00:04:33]:

You know, I've gotten soft in my old age. That's what I've realized. I used to think I was this really tough bad ass chick, and what I've learned is No. Actually, I'm kinda not as tough as I used to be.

Deb Curtis [00:04:46]:

You know, that's funny you say that because I think the older we get, just the less risk it taking we are. I'm a weenie. I get scared quick. If somebody comes around a corner, I'm like, boom.

Diane Schroeder [00:04:58]:

Well and I don't like bugs. I really like to shower, and I spent a lot of time in my youth backpacking and traveling really fun and exciting places and sleeping on the ground, and I have decided I'm not a really big fan of that anymore because it hurts for weeks.

Deb Curtis [00:05:15]:

We like our own bed. And our own pillow. Even hotels, I have trouble sleeping in hotels. There's something about it that just I'm not comfortable. My own bed, I'm gone.

Diane Schroeder [00:05:27]:

I agree. I absolutely agree. Sleeping in my own bed, there's nothing quite like it. Well, thank you for sharing the show that I have 2, like, different worlds. I binge watch shows with my son and then sometimes with my partner, and then I have my own shows. And currently, My partner and I are binge watching the bear on Hulu.

Deb Curtis [00:05:47]:

The bear sounds scary.

Diane Schroeder [00:05:50]:

No. It's not. It's about a chef. It's really wonderful about diversity and teamwork and just kinda processing trauma. All the things. We were huge Ted Lasso fans and watched every episode of that, which is an excellent show.

Deb Curtis [00:06:06]:

Wow. Thanks for sharing. Yeah. That's good to know.

Diane Schroeder [00:06:10]:

And my son and I watch a lot of All-American. I'm not sure if you've heard of it. I had never heard of it before, but it's kind of inspired by a true story of a football player from Crenshaw that ends up in Beverly Hills, and it's really heavy. And I have to remind my son because he's 11, like, this is not really what it is like to be a junior in high school. Lower his expectations. He's not gonna get a convertible. But, anyway, I digress. Alright. Well, again, I'm so excited to have you here. What caught me the most is your unity and diversity. I've spent over half my life in a male dominated profession that was 96 percent male dominated And I think I had, like, those blinders that the fire service was the only male dominated profession in the world, which is silly when I say that now as I've grown as a leader and just grown up. Really, the whole world feels like it's male dominated at times, and it's really hard to move ahead as a female or a person of color or you name it unless you're a privileged white male. And so I am loving that as I expand my circle, I'm meeting these amazing advocates to inspire and want to continue to just change the conversation and really change how the world looks. So with that, if you could just share a little bit about why you are inspired and what got you to where you are today.

Deb Curtis [00:07:41]:

Yeah. Well, thank you for all of your years of firefighting and protecting probably many many families and homes and businesses, you know, The first responders? That's you. Oh my goodness, girl. God bless you. Yeah. I stand for the blue, the first responders are military. We need all of you, and I'm so grateful to hear that you're on the other side now enjoying a different career and so kudos to you. You don't get enough credit. Oh, yeah. There's a new Firefighters. It's a reality show. It's in real time LA. Have you seen that 1 here?

Diane Schroeder [00:08:23]:

I've kinda heard about that. I haven't seen it, but I did hear about it. It'd be interesting to see that.

Deb Curtis [00:08:29]:

Well, we've been watching it. We just started. So this is funny how we we met each other today. It's don't know how many fire stations there are in LA, but it's crazy. And you go along with them on the rides and witness everything. I mean, this is the real deal. It's not just a acting show. It's amazing. So thank you for all that you've done and that you still do. And it's woman power. So women and empowering women, amen to that. Anyways, you know, my family life was challenged. I grew up as an abandoned little girl. I'm not gonna dig deep about that past because I really wanna get to why I'm so much of a unity and diversity advocate. I grew up in a family that was very broken, and my dad won custody of me after I was abandoned as a little girl at age 9. And I didn't have a college education because he couldn't afford it. We lived a very frugal life. And so in high school, I recall the days my senior year, everybody, everybody, what do you talking about, where are you going to school, what university. And I was the 1 that said, I'm not going. And they kinda looking at me like, are you crazy? I mean, back then, that was you know, I graduated in ‘85 in high school, and everybody was going to a university. Except the few and far between that couldn't afford it for whatever reasons. And that's another subject I'd like to talk about. You know, today's we're hearing about it today, the diversity of who gets to go to what universities. It just boils me to no end because Today, if I was that young senior looking to go to a certain university, I wouldn't make it because of just my background and my grades. And my grades suffered because of the family hurts that I had to go through. It wasn't that this girl wasn't smart enough she went through hell. The system does not support. Thank you. Man, talk about relevant today in the here right now, and then we're looking back pass. It's the same story over and over and over, and that's exactly where I'm going. So my first career professional job I was a customer service rep at a finance company. I was there for 18 years, and it was a very male dominated industry. Secondary auto loans. We financed paper, I call it loan paper, for people that had bad credit and they wanted to get a second chance and they would buy an auto at the auto dealers. Back then, they didn't have GMACs, Ford Motor Credit, it truly was either the bank is gonna finance it, and if they turn you down, our finance company was gonna finance it. Well, along with that came servicing the customers, and then they would fall behind on their payments. And I live in the state of Wisconsin. If they fell behind in their payments, we would have to send out a right to cure default and then go to court to get judgment and then actually go drive around the state of Wisconsin looking for your car that you financed to repossess it. And we didn't have repo companies back then. So I started out as a customer service rep doing this worked my way up to an assistant manager. I was number 1 in collections number 1 in loan sales, because I would visit all the auto dealers, number 1 in customer service, and moving up the latter, you know, looking good. And it came time for me that I wanted to be promoted to a branch manager. And I was flat out, told, and this was in the nineties, you don't have a college education, number 1, and you're a female. We don't promote women. They could be that vocal about it back then. And I'm like, what? And they're like, we just don't. You repossess cars and it's a dangerous territory. I said, I'm out there every day with my managers sitting in the front seat, going with him on all the calls. I can do this. They just said, no. So I remain positively persistent, Diane. I I wasn't gonna give up, and they knew I wasn't gonna go away. And finally, they decided to promote me on a probationary period. You know, did you know women get probationary periods and men don't?

Diane Schroeder [00:12:49]:

I'm not surprised.

Deb Curtis [00:12:51]:

Yeah. So I had a 6 month probationary period to prove to them that I can do the job, and I of course, I did. I surpassed them all. And my husband today were married, and we both worked when we were previously married in this company and toward the end, we compared salaries, and there is no doubt in my mind and he knows it too, the men were paid way more than the women. So they promoted me with very minimal increase in my salary But you know what? What mattered to me was that promotion on my resume at the top with my accolades of high performances because I didn't have that university education on the bottom of my resume. And resumes were really important back in those days. Right? So I did well. They didn't give me the pay, but I managed I was on that job for 18 years, was branch of the year numerous times, and I'm most proud of the fact that I paved the path for other women to finally get promoted. Isn't that cool?

Diane Schroeder [00:13:57]:

It is. You're ahead of your time because it was my experience in the late nineties, early 2000s when I got into the fire service that the women who came before me were like, hey. Look. It was hard. We blazed the trail, but you're gonna have to go through the crap we went through because it was hard for us, so it's gonna be hard for you. Instead of, let me help you. So thank you for doing that. It makes sense

Deb Curtis [00:14:23]:

Well, thank you for doing it as well. I wish I could say that was the only time that happened in my 30 year career. But it was not. So I continued on. That was working for secondary credits. So then I jumped into retail banking, business banking, helping small business owners obtain credit. And I started to help out people that had better credit trying to navigate that side of the financial industry, which still then and still today is dominated by white men in corporate America. I wanna be very careful. I'm not here, and I know you're not here either to bash, any gender or any skin color or white or black or whatever we are, we're here to make awareness. There were some good men supervisors, white, who I really looked up to but there were more that made it extremely difficult for me, and toxic environments, disparate treatment in between. All the way to my last stop before I said that's it. The corporate chains are coming off. And my last stop was this more of the same disparate treatment. I was the only woman on an all male sales team. And we called it the good old boys club. And the guys knew. They knew. They were friends. They followed each other from bank to bank to bank to bank. They just had an inner circle that I was never part of. So it just made it very difficult for my career. And I saw a lot of things in the past with other employers and in the present that it dawned on me that I have gotta get out because I'm not gonna go anywhere. And after 30 years, I got out. I took all the hurts of my past, and I created my small business, which is solutions today for women and people of color to not go through what I went through and help them acquire established money making businesses through the SBA. Took a long road for me to get there. A lot of hurt. You too. I'm sure you traveled a lot of hurts along the way, but it's stuff that makes us stronger. And I'm so passionate about advocating for unity and diversity. Girl, Diane, you have no idea. I have clients now. I I have a couple that are well qualified in their African American, and they've been going through a lot of disparate treatment with front end white male businessmen, whether they're the brokers listing the business or the lender, the bank lender, assuming they can or they can't get credit for the business. I help with that. I navigate that and and I retain clients and we push through. So I'll pause there because I've gotta just cool myself off a bit here.

Diane Schroeder [00:17:27]:

Well, thank you so much for sharing parts of your story. I really appreciate that. Thank you for being the guide to say, look, this was my experience. It wasn't great all the time. Here are the potholes that I had. The potholes that you may have are different, but we're gonna do this together because you've been through and you know the other side. So what a blessing, and thank you for that. I also you know, going back to not bashing. I mean, you can't survive in a male dominated profession without allies. I always think that the mentors that were most influential in the beginning of my career were white males. And so I really believe in this vision of, you know, this partnership. And I'm not trying to kick anyone out -- if they have the same vision. I really believe that most people do. Most humans at their core want to be kind and successful and, you know, do good in the world. I believe that not all humans do, but most do. I don't like being lumped in 1 particular group. I'm sure you don't like being lumped in a particular group, and I don't think the, you know, the white males do. And yet, that is the reality that we face. That when there is adversity, it seems that it's, you know, a small group of people keeping the underrepresented groups from thriving and succeeding.

Deb Curtis [00:19:02]:

Yeah. And it's still today. And it's not that it's everywhere, but it's around enough.

Diane Schroeder [00:19:09]:

Right. And it's kind of insidious. I mean, sometimes it's, you know, I always would say, I don't have a glass ceiling. I don't have to worry about, you know, pay difference because I was in a civil service system, so it was all based on rank and grade. However, when I started to promote up into leadership positions, that's when I noticed it. That's when I didn't have necessarily the protection of civil service. And when people had a choice, they could choose and not based necessarily on qualifications. That's a hard lesson to learn and go through, and I think you can take that and become bitter, or you can become better and spread the word to help others.

Deb Curtis [00:19:51]:

You're right on. Bitter doesn't win.

Diane Schroeder [00:19:55]:

There's a saying. When you become bitter, you're wanting someone else, you're drinking the poison. Like, you're the 1 who's affected by it and churning over it when most people don't give it that much thought. You know, the people you're bitter towards They're not sleeping any worse at night or thinking about it, and you give all your power.

Deb Curtis [00:20:16]:

They're thinking about themselves.

Diane Schroeder [00:20:18]:

Yeah. You give all your power away. What would you say then is a good strategy for when you experience gender discrimination. You know, I'm I'm curious to hear your perspective on that just because you have a very different path than I know, and I know my listeners are predominantly women in male dominated professions. And, you know, I do have a lot of male listeners as well that are allies. So what strategies would you give to say, look, if you think you're being discriminated against you probably are, first of all, to trust that within yourself. But then how do you navigate it?

Deb Curtis [00:20:57]:

You're talking to the right girl that has done it wrong more times than ever and finally did it right the last stop. So the culture of corporate silence is real. I call it the corporate culture of silence because when women are treated disparately, whether they're discriminated or they don't get the same favor as the guys get, or in some cases, promotions. It's not about your merit and your hard work. It's about who knows who? How many times does that happen? When you have a toxic supervisor that's just mean in front of everybody, I had 1 of those you have to start logging everything down, writing dates and writing everything down. I, twice in my career contacted the HR department for help. I'm a big fan of integrity and full transparency, but in a positive fashion like I was back in the nineties when they didn't promote me. I stayed very positively persistent because I knew If I got angry and mean about it, they wouldn't promote me. So I had to keep that positive attitude. But contacting HR you're gonna have to do it to put your complaint on record, but there is no doubt that we'll put a target on your back. Because HR represents the employees. So my lesson that was learned this last stop was don't quit. After you put in the complaint with the HR department, It's a simple email, but you wanna make sure you're tracking everything prior in writing, whether it's emails or what have you as to what's been happening. Your peers that you work with, the guys that know you're being discriminated against or treated differently, the girls that know, they all know you guys talk about it when the boss isn't around. I've been there. I had so many people say, I can't believe the way he treats you. And that's just awful. But when HR comes around and does interviews, they're like, everything's fine because of fear of retaliation. We know how that works. So that's why you have to track everything, but you still gotta contact HR and then put the complaint in. And in my case, I tracked everything and contacted an attorney the final round. And here's the message, don't quit until you have an attorney representing you, and they're going to make you hang on in that position as long as you can if it truly is disparate discrimination. And the reason being is if you quit, you can't go after the employer anymore. So I didn't quit. I hung on as long as I could. And my case is still not over. And it will probably go on for a couple of years because there are so many cases that are on back file of discrimination and despair treatment, but all the proof is in the pudding. Emails were HR agreed that there was disparate treatment against me and discrimination and that they remedied it. I have it all in writing. It's the craziest show that's the key if your listeners want to know. And I worked with a workplace attorney that I met in a networking group on LinkedIn He was the best coach ever, Jack Tuchkner, TUCKNER. He's on LinkedIn. He represents women in the workforce that are being treated differently. We're talking pregnancy. We're talking menopause. You know, all of the stuff that we go through And he coached me on how to handle this. I'm gonna tell you right now, Diane, I wanted to quit. And he's like, you can't. Otherwise, they win. For once in your life, Deb, you're not gonna quit. Now I'm gone because they pretty much pushed me out but the story is not over yet. And that's the good news because if I would've quit, then I'm toast. And that's what 99.9 percent all of the women do. Change the narrative, ladies. Change the narrative. And if you want me to direct you to who helped me, You'll find me in the show notes. I'll help direct you.

Diane Schroeder [00:25:21]:

Thank you so much for sharing that. So many things were popping up in my head as you were telling your story. And I think you know, a lot of you know, my whole show is based on authenticity. And I think when women in the professional world we tend to wanna try to fit in. And we want to, you know, be someone. We aren't necessarily true to ourselves initially. But that's exhausting and that's hard. And eventually, we become, as we grow, you know, that authenticity starts to speak to us. Like, man, you know, and you you listen to that true voice inside of you. You know, I caught the fire inside you. And once that gets ignited and you become your authentic self, then it's like, wait a minute, you learn what you will no longer accept. And that you are worthy, and that your value is worth so much, and your value doesn't take away from anyone else. You add value. And I think, you know, as this shift, the world is shifting that leaders in successful organizations and companies who get that, that we are value adding. We are not trying to fit you know, widgets in the holes, we are trying to create this beautiful value added diverse workforce where everyone feels safe, everyone feels like they belong, and I agree with you to stick that out and, you know, keep fighting the fight. And during that, it's hard. So how did you take care of yourself? Because that's exhausting when you're in the thick of it and you're miserable and you know you're not being treated well. So how did you care for yourself?

Deb Curtis [00:27:05]:

That is the tough part. And a few times, employer stops. I'll be honest with you. I probably drank too much because of the stress of it all. Or was depressed, or my blood pressure was so freaking high, they wanted to put me in a hospital when I would end up in the in clinic. They're like, you need to quit your job. And I'm like, no. This is the stuff that I gotta keep my job, blah blah blah. You know, this is the impact that many women are going through in corporate America. Well, how did I handle at this last stop? Community, network, friends, circles talking about it. I so wanted to just quit and really Jack, attorney Jack Tuckner, If it wasn't for him and his assistance, he had to beg me. He said, if you quit, you're done. And everybody quits. Don't quit. He's so good. You have to get help that you can lean on. And you know what? He doesn't collect a dime until he wins the case. Because these cases are so real and raw and if handled the right way and you track everything, you're gonna win. And that's where the women in this country and around the world need to be educated on this and start not quitting and taking this all the way to court to win until this tide turns. If we don't, they just keep winning. Not all of them, because they're like I said, we've got great other male white supervisors that I loved so much, but felt many of them were horrific. And they knew it. I feel like they'd know it, that they can just control it, and it's devastating. But until us girls we have to start standing up hand in hand and lean on each other and start taking it all the way to get an attorney on your side to represent you before you quit. That should be the message of this episode. Don't quit.

Diane Schroeder [00:29:15]:

I love how you tied in community because those are my pillars. It's you can be your authentic self through self care leadership and community. And in community where you can share your story and you're like, wait a minute. I feel the same way. And, you know, I just heard someone else share the same thing. There's this sense of connection that, you know, instead of being siloed and being separate, you realize that our journeys may be different, and we can still have connection, and that community is so, so important. You know, you mentioned your blood pressure about a month before I left the fire service. My blood pressure was out of this world. My body was screaming at me, like, to the point where I was really concerned for my health. And I thought, something's gotta change. Like and realizing that change had to come from me, you know, I can't expect the system to change. So either I have to change myself to be strong enough to change the system and stick it out or, like you said, people quit, and then nothing ever changes. And I believe that some people just abuse their power. And not just men. There are women out there who will abuse their power and you know, I call them the mean girls. There are still some mean girls out there that can't get the collaboration over competition.

Deb Curtis [00:30:42]:

Right on.

Diane Schroeder [00:30:43]:

You know, I just try not to pay not much attention to them because I believe good will always prevail.

Deb Curtis [00:30:50]:

That's right. That is right.

Diane Schroeder [00:30:53]:

What is your vision for the business world where women and people of color and underrepresented groups and indigenous and minorities take the lead. What does that look like? And how does that, you know, translate for you and the work that you do with small businesses?

Deb Curtis [00:31:13]:

So a lot of women that are in corporate today and stuck in these situations. There's so many of them and I hear you and I feel you girls and just know I'm gonna say it, I love you. I know what you're going through. And it's not too often you hear it. I used to drive home just cry my eyes out screaming to God. Like, why me? Why again? You know? Don't quit. And then when you do quit, You're gonna be so motivated to be a voice of reason like I am and like you are right now. The more that we to the other side as we are right here, right now, I'm going to be that voice of reason for all of your listeners that are stuck and help you get unstuck and get proper community and proper partnerships with the right attorney that's gonna help you self care like you mentioned. I'm going to be that voice of reason and I'm gonna get louder and louder. What do I wanna see happen? Because not only is this an internal problem corporate. For small businesses that apply for loans, I saw this as well. Some of the frontline white men would cherry pick what kind of loans they wanted to take on. They they weren't fair and equal, based on loan size, based on market, based on gender, based on skin color. And I listened to a podcast couple of episodes of some front end SBA lenders. Very vocal. It's public talking about if you wanna be a top performer and it's just a podcast for all SBA lenders. Jump on and it's majority men. And they talk about cherry pick. You take on the deals you wanna take on. And no regulations whatsoever, which there are in banking, but they're not followed by the front line because if the owners of the bank and the leadership of the bank are going to be disparate about their internal team, well then for sure the front line is going to be disparate, and discriminatory if women and people of color are applying for SBA loans. And I preach this right now in this moment because I've not only seen it over the years, loan shop after loan shop, I'm experiencing this right now with a sweetest couple with a brand new baby boy who's a year. She has an MBA on her resume. They're perfectly qualified business buyers. Have the cash down, have home equity, good credit, education, and the business broker that's selling this business that they put in a full offer by letter of intent, has his own personal biases and won't call them back because of who they sound like on the phone. So what I want to see is our government take a greater action in regards to internally and corporate more monitoring of banks. And, you know, they can easily put in their computer systems. Oh, yeah. We helped all people that were in this market, and we helped so many women, and we helped so many minorities. It's just buttons. But what about the people on the front line that are passing on everybody. I witnessed it all the time. They work around the system. I wanna see more monitoring, but that's gonna be tough because we have this budget, this debt ceiling, and we can't keep up with our own other issues that are probably a hundred times bigger like SBA PPP. 70 billion as in boy in fraud, which they're trying to figure that out, which wasn't just borrowers. It was front end lenders that perhaps knew things didn't look right and just turn their head to make their money. Meanwhile, I'm interviewing on a podcast of a very nice black man who owns 2 small businesses, he said nobody would call him back from his local banks in his markets to help him with PPP because of who he sounded like.

Diane Schroeder [00:35:17]:

What is PPP? I know SBA is small business association, so what is PPP?

Deb Curtis [00:35:23]:

Okay. So SBA is an affiliate of our government, small business administration. And what the SBA does is guarantee small business loans in America up to 75 percent of the loan balance. So the banks can be more liberal and give small business money, capital, loans to all the small business owners. Not cherry pick who we feel like giving to, but that happens just like it happens promoting women and people of color inside corporate America. They cherry pick on the outside. So the PPP was during the pandemic, and it stood for payroll protection program. It was a very easy SBA loan. They called it free money. It was a very easy SBA loan that small business owners could quickly get deposited into their business deposit within a couple of days. Pretty large amounts, for payroll during the pandemic because people weren't working and we were shut down. Sadly, 70 billion as in boy is fraud, and it was not just all borrowers. There were third party loan brokers, the SBA lenders. They had to have known about the fraud. I can smell something fishy right away and I steer away from it. But then like you said, not everybody is has integrity and is true and ethical, and they're in it for themselves and they wanna make money and they'll turn their head because I need to make money. So this podcast I was on, he didn't get his PPP loan. And this is a true story. On the West Coast in 2021, An SBA lender took a picture of a brand new Tesla at an intersection that he was behind He was at a stop and go light and they were stopped. Tesla's in front of him and the license plate said SBA PPP. Meaning, that was a business owner driving the car who used the money to purchase himself a brand new Tesla, which for some reason, his small business needed a Tesla.

Diane Schroeder [00:37:40]:

When you're saying this, what I'm reminded of, before I got hired in the fire service, I worked as a loan processor for home mortgages in the late 90s and early 2000s. And it sounds so similar. Like, I remember I'd get these, like, w twos that were clearly fraudulent, that the regulations were you know, it's what led to the financial collapse in 2008. It was, you know, you saw it. I did, and I was just like, I couldn't believe it. And I remember speaking up and saying, like, hey. I know I'm just a loan processor, but this doesn't seem right. And I would get shut down because the loan officers wanted their money.

Deb Curtis [00:38:23]:

Listen, girl. That's exactly truth. It's exactly what I witnessed. And here's the sad thing. The white male bank owners and the white male supervisors that are disparate. They don't care about that crap. All they care about is just get me the numbers. I don't care how you find to get it. And that's why all that fraud happens. And where's our government to track this?

Diane Schroeder [00:38:53]:

That just blows my mind. Wow. We could talk for hours about this have no doubt. Well, thank you for sharing all that. I guess my next question then is, you know, if you wanna to take the leap. So you took the leap to becoming an entrepreneur, and I'm taking that leap now. And it's scary. There's no doubt about it. What tools or tips can you give my listeners that wanna take that leap or that are considering it, how can they ensure a solid foundation if they choose to take that leap to working for themselves?

Deb Curtis [00:39:29]:

So there's 2 different ways that you can take the leap and work for yourself. 1 would be just a ground up startup. You have a passion for something and you wanna do an online business and sell something. And, you know, that is all and well and but very hard. But it can work if you're very disciplined and can get there. I would suggest if you're gonna do a start up, start working on it years prior before you actually exit corporate. I did a a recent social media post that you always have to have a plan A, a plan B, and a plan C in motion today more so than ever before. You might remember in the nineties, loyalty to corporate was the big thing that got you to get the next job. Oh my god. You got 18 years on the job. Well, we were loyal to corporate because they were loyal to us. Back then. They were good. Benefits were great. It was like a 9 to 5 job. You could be home, having dinner at 05:15. It all changed over the years. Corporate got greedy and and more of the profits. We're going to the owner and the upper management, and we were working more hours, and it just got ugly. So if you wanna start a side hustle, get working on it now and set yourself a goal of when you're going to exit court. It because you just don't wanna exit and then start up a business. Start up businesses can take 2 years before you really earn enough income to pay it yourself a decent salary. The other option is what I do, and that's help people transition in to establish money making small businesses that elderly people have owned, and the baby boomers are retiring like crazy. We call it silver tsunami. 11,000 are retiring a day. And in that 11,000, There are many established small business owners looking for the next owner to transition -- it's very possible, Diane, that the owner is what we call absentee owned, meaning Over the years, he's owned this business for 10, 15, 25 years, and he has a seasoned team of employees that are working there They already know what they're doing. They're operating the business, and he just checks in on them, like, once a week. That could be you. And he's paying himself a salary. And the net profits of this business are what pay for the SBA loan to acquire the business. I won't get into the nuts and bolts, but that is an area that most women and minorities do not know enough about. Because there is no education out there to teach you that. The only people, sadly, that are aware of it are the white corporate men. And they are the number 1 applicant today acquiring these established money making businesses either with private equity capital or an SBA loan. It's sad, but true. So I am doing all I can. Thank you for having me as a guest on your show to educate women and people of color and even men that don't know about it. What do I wanna see? The government tell the SBA the affiliate, let's put together some education programs for women in our minorities and level the small business ownership playing field to not just wait men being the majority. It's time to help women and minorities have an equal share at these opportunities in America it just the same old, same old keeps repeating itself. And how are we gonna break it -- voice of reason right here.

Diane Schroeder [00:43:29]:

Wow. I've never heard that before. So thank you for educating me on that. I am so excited because what a great opportunity. And I think you know, part of that mindset for women, for people that are stuck in, whether it's corporate or emergency services or whatever, working for, quote, unquote, the man is the freedom you get when you can work for yourself. We don't educate on that freedom piece of it. Is it still hard work? Absolutely. Is it Still stressful? Yes. But what's worst case scenario? Worse case scenario is you're still doing what you're doing now. So That was a huge like, for me, I was like, well, I've been doing this on the side for 6 years. And And either I've gotta go all in on myself or I'm gonna keep spinning the wheels. And when I heard that, what's the worst case scenario is that I go get a different job? Okay. I can handle that. You know? Like, it's the mindset. So thank you so much because I think just sharing your message opens up a whole new world of, you're absolutely right. The baby boomers, they're going away, and this younger generation, they don't play. They do not play by the rules that we played by or by, you know, the older generation wants. And I respect that, and I love that so much. And so I think for those of us in the middle, we have this great opportunity to really empower and help move the needle in the right direction. And, you know, what we can control is just that and with advocates like you trying to get the government to help out, which who knows? I mean, that's kind of a a mess right now. So we can control our own little world.

Deb Curtis [00:45:23]:

I am working my way. I so wanna get, like, on an evening news segment or something to about this. I really, really do because we need to get make it a fair share for women and all people of color to have the same equal opportunity not only incorporate for promotions, but for crying out loud outside of corporate to acquire these baby boomer owned businesses. Women in my opinion, multitask like no tomorrow, and a baby boomer is gonna love of of female transitioning in. And for the most part, they are men. Right? They are, let's be real, that own these businesses, but he wants his legacy of 20 years taken care of, loved his people that have been there for 10, 15, 20 years, his customers, his vendors, he wants somebody that's has a knack for loving people. And and who do I wanna think of? Women. I just do.

Diane Schroeder [00:46:22]:

That gives me goosebumps because that is my word for leadership, is love. You have to love your people. Love and acceptance doesn't mean you agree. It doesn't mean that you always like them. But you have to love them. And I can't think of a better gift that doesn't have dollar signs attached to it, then handing off something that you love to another person who will carry it and nurture it and use that you know, emotional intelligence and the empathy and that feminine energy in this super hypermasculine world to nurture your business. So Thank you. I just that is awesome. I love it so much. My brain is blown a little bit. So

Deb Curtis [00:47:09]:

It is. It's awesome. And it's not like he just leaves you cold turkey on day 1 where you work out a transition period. Look at this as just like getting a promotion in corporate. You're just promoting yourself to CEO of owning a small business. It could be a team, a 3 people. It could be a team of a hundred people, a team of 30 people. I don't know what that looks like because they range from you know, 300,000 up to 5,000,000 in price, and and that's where I help determine that. But the owner will stay on We negotiate that, and he wants to. He will show you the ropes. He'll introduce you to the people. It's just like corporate when you get transition into a new position, they show you the ropes.

Diane Schroeder [00:47:54]:

That's great to hear too because of confidence. What I'm hearing you say is you don't have to know everything on day 1.

Deb Curtis [00:48:03]:

Correct. You don't.

Diane Schroeder [00:48:05]:

What you have to know is to be open to learning and be confident enough in yourself that you will figure it out. That through the help of the previous owner, through your help, through your guidance, through the employee's guidance, that you can figure it out if you're dedicated to doing that. And I think that is a superpower that is untapped. So that is beautiful. Well, Deb, thank you so much. For being on the show and sharing your passion and just your inspiration and being vulnerable. I really appreciate it. My last question for you is if you could recommend 1 thing that a woman could do today to talk to herself. 1 thing you could do to just, like, pause and, you know, think it's gonna get better or you can believe in yourself, what would that 1 thing be? What would 1 piece of sage advice be?

Deb Curtis [00:49:06]:

And I'm going to think about the woman that is stuck in corporate and struggling with disparate treatment or stuck at home with a loved 1 that is disparate treatment or abusive because it can happen there too. Those 2 words I said earlier that my attorney told me to stick with don't quit until you get that community, the self love, and legal counsel to lead you through the path to get out of what you're in. But you can't do it on your own because what will happen, you will just stay stuck for 30 years. I stayed stuck for 30 years. I tried to figure it out on my own and it didn't work. I kept quitting. I kept contacting HR. Thinking that was the way to help me out and I was wrong and put a target on my back. 2 words, don't quit And by all means, if you need any information about this, I'm sure you'll have my contact information in the show notes. I would love to help any woman out there struggling because I don't wanna see you struggling. You need to feel seen. You need to feel loved. You need to feel appreciated and you deserve it all. Just remember that.

Diane Schroeder [00:50:30]:

Absolutely. I can't think a better way to end our discussion. So thank you so much. Absolutely everything will be in the show notes where they can find you on social media, LinkedIn, your website, And the tools that you provide are fantastic. So thank you, Deb. Keep doing the good work.

Deb Curtis [00:50:49]:

Thank you, dear.

Diane Schroeder [00:50:51]:

Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to listen to this episode. Curious on what to do next. Go ahead and follow wherever you're listening to this podcast so you can get updates each week when new episodes are released. And head on over to for a free audio to help you get started on your self-care journey. Until next time, remember, you are a badass, and you are not alone.