Claire Wasserman started Ladies Get Paid, a career advancement resource for women, last year after the gendered reality of her industry caught up with her. Until then, she had worked full-time in experiential marketing in the tech and advertising worlds, and had mostly blocked out any negative experiences. But after an exciting business trip to a major advertising festival left her with a bad taste in her mouth, Wasserman began reconsidering how she was being treated in the workplace.
"I walked into a party at the festival — first of all, there were no women — and this man came up to me and asked, 'Whose wife are you?'" Wasserman tells Refinery29. "I’d be talking about business and another guy was like, 'Oh, you’re hot.' I went back home feeling really weird and gross about it, and I realized that I’d been doing this my whole career — noticing the dynamic but not really putting my finger on it, and that was contributing to a lot of frustration," she continues. "A lot of women in my life were also experiencing the same thing, but we weren’t getting strategic about how we were handling it."
Wasserman's strategy became Ladies Get Paid, which has almost 4,000 members in nearly every state, as well as in 45 countries. Below, Wasserman tells us how the 2016 presidential election helped shape Ladies Get Paid and its newest initiative, a "manifesto" she calls the Workplace Bill of Rights.
What does being a Ladies Get Paid member entail?
"I host a town hall every month on a specific professional challenge, and then I run workshops addressing that challenge with tasks and action items. The workshops are there because I think it's a disservice to get everybody feeling inspired, riled up, empowered, and then leave them going, Well, now what…? There’s just so much strategy that needs to come with conversations around the wage gap, money, power, all that, so we also have a Slack group with different channels, like a salary one where people say what they make, or one for jobs, one for activism, resources, mentorship. We also integrate bots that match women in certain cities to meet for coffee. There’s no membership fee to join Ladies Get Paid, but town halls are $15, workshops are $20, and I split that 50/50 with the workshop instructor."
Has anything come up in the town halls that has surprised you or might surprise other people?
"My mind gets blown all the time. One statistic that has startled me was when I read that Hispanic women make about 55 cents to the dollar [paid to white men], and Black women make about 65 cents. I thought it was 78 cents — what white women earn — because that’s what people write about. I realized, Okay: I’m white, I’m privileged, and we have only progressed as much as the people who have the biggest struggle among us. So, we did a town hall on discrimination and inclusion because we wanted to know what’s happening and how we can combat it. It was very tense because it’s uncomfortable to talk about this, but it was also amazing. I got so many emails after — particularly from white women — saying they couldn’t stop thinking about it and that they were talking about it at work. Basically, all the white women in the room realized that we need to educate ourselves more and maybe talk less, and check ourselves and the assumptions we might be making about certain things."
So, when did you develop the Workplace Bill of Rights and what is it asking for?
"I thought Hillary was going to win the election, and I had gathered with a huge group of people to watch on Election Night. Oops. The next morning, a friend texted me to say that this was my opportunity to step up, so I thought about doing an emergency town hall. I had become friends with the deputy director of operations for the Hillary campaign, and I asked her to do a live interview at the town hall and talk about what it was like to work on the campaign and what it was like to lose. Then I divided the room into smaller discussion groups and had them write a letter to the government and to their bosses about the things they needed to thrive in the workplace. I asked each group to pick the top three things — their deal-breakers — and then we came together and wrote a collective list. This pamphlet is inspired by that list.
"You’re not going to become a baller tomorrow, but you do have a group of people who are going through the same thing and will back you up to move the needle collectively, whether that’s closing the wage gap or seeing more diversity in upper management. So, the next step after writing the Bill of Rights was to get educated about public policy and bring it to the local and state levels, and look at how we can get buy-in from companies, because it can’t all be on us to push; they all have to meet us halfway."
What are some of the things the pamphlet hits on, and how do you see it leading to action?
"The economy will be better if women make more money and if families make more money, so it’s wild to me that we’re not fixing this from even an economic standpoint. For one thing, $12 trillion would be added to the global GDP [in 2025] if there was global gender equality in the workplace. Another statistic that’s super-fucked up is that Black women entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing segment of business owners in America and make $44 billion a year in revenue, but 2% get invested in by [venture capitalists], and the average investment they get is [only] $36,000. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.
"Also, I think it’s really important to have physical objects and reminders of these ideas that you can put up or carry with you. Too often, we get empowered and educated and then it’s back to life. This stuff goes out of our heads because we get back in the groove. So, you can hold onto it and keep it for yourself, or buy two copies and give one away. Paying it forward in that way can be a political statement, and a bipartisan one. It’s not anti-Trump or anti-Republican women; it’s, 'Do you want to be respected and compensated at work? Do you want to be in an environment where you are welcomed and accepted?' That’s a fundamental human right."
Thinking of that, though, this pamphlet was kind of inspired by you wanting to do something after Hillary lost the election. You mentioned that it isn’t an anti-Trump pamphlet, but many white women did vote for him, so what would you want them to get out of this?
"I’m taking my roadshow — the town halls — to places like Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Georgia, and I’m going to say, 'What are your workplace challenges?' and then I’m going to listen. I'm assuming we all have challenges, but I don’t want to make assumptions that the way we're thinking about it in New York is the same way people think about it elsewhere. I absolutely want to find common ground, but I also know we’re going to be different, and I want to be as empathetic as possible and build communication around Ladies Get Paid that can welcome those women.
"A good example of when that came up is after a GOP vice chair in Salt Lake City wrote a letter to a publication in Wasatch [County, Utah,] about why equal pay for women was a bad idea. We saw it and thought we had an obligation to rally women there, so we wrote a letter back — but we also approached 10 women in the Salt Lake Ladies Get Paid community and said, 'Edit the shit out of this letter. Put it in your words. Tell us where we’re making New York assumptions.' And they did.
"Most of their comments were like, 'Yeah, right on, awesome,' and others were like, 'Remember that this is a religious community. It is a realistic expectation that a woman will stay at home, and don’t assume that people don’t want to.' The letter wasn’t published, but even better than that was the fact that now those 10 women who helped us write the letter have become our organizing committee to do town halls in Salt Lake City. I’ve established organizing committees in 20 cities and we give them a tool kit of how to run their own town halls, because yeah, you have to be careful about your communication for sure. It’s an opportunity to learn."