"The very reason I was scared is the very reason I am doing Ladies Get Paid now, I shouldn't feel afraid of speaking up."
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be two things, an actress and a diplomat. I feel like those are two huge components of what I do, especially the performance part because I do so much public speaking.
What is your greatest accomplishment in your professional life? In your personal life?
Emails literally everyday from ladies that explain how much Ladies Get Paid has changed their lives, like a sentence saying a town hall got them to shift the way they were looking at something. One woman went to a town hall that we did on negotiating and then got a major raise because of it, and it’s not like she did a workshop, it was just being in that room and feeling empowered. A lot of the emails I get are from ladies going through these challenges. My major life goal would be to make people not feel alone. I know that’s my purpose. To see that happen now in small ways is my greatest accomplishment.
What was your motivation to start Ladies Get Paid?
I went to the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity France around two years ago and I walked into a party filled with older white men. And the first thing anybody said to me was-- "Whose wife are you?” It set the tone. During the week, I experienced blatant misogyny, most of it sexual. When I came back home, instead of being upset with those guys I actually felt like I had caused it. I wondered if maybe my dress was too tight or maybe my friendliness was too much-- was I flirting? As I was stewing over this I felt really exhausted, and gross, I wrote an essay about my experience. I wasn’t pointing fingers at them, rather I was wondering when it was me and when it was them. There was a power and gender dynamic present. I sent my essay to some of my friends and they wrote me back their stories saying “Oh my God me too!” and asked permission to share my story, which in turn, created a domino effect. I started to watch this storytelling chain unfold in my inbox. I still decided not to go public with it because I was scared that I might lose jobs. The very reason I was scared is the very reason I’m doing Ladies Get Paid now, because I shouldn’t feel afraid of speaking up.
Could you speak about your journey with Ladies Get Paid?
The last four years I’ve worked for companies whose job it was to connect people for work. I never felt discriminated against as a woman, I never really identified with feminism, so doing Ladies Get Paid is a bit of a departure from how I saw myself. I started to read and educate myself on finding out what the gender split was when you look at leadership positions in advertisement, and the wage gap. When I discovered that Hispanic women make 55 cents on the dollar, not the 78 cents that is portrayed in the media, I was so mortified that I didn’t know it as an educated person, that I was blind to how awful this is. I could no longer deny it. What can I as an individual possibly do?
I decided to hold a town hall and encourage women to come and talk about money. And money as a euphemism for power and self-worth and freedom. Like a champagne bottle had been uncorked, there was an outpouring of energy. Even I wasn’t alone in all of this. I went home that night and made a Slack group. All these people who came to the townhall were obsessively talking to each other. I recognized the need to do workshops and get experts in to talk about these subjects. The next day an article about the Town Hall appeared in New York Magazine and we were off to the races.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given from a mentor in your life, and how do share this advice through Ladies Get Paid workshops?
The best advice he gave me was when he asked me how I define success? I started to answer and he stopped me, and he said “Whose voice is that?” He said, “Make sure that you define success on your own terms. It is not what your parents have told you. It is not what society has told you. It’s not even what I tell you. Just constantly ask yourself-- whose voice is that?”
Claire Wasserman is the founder of Ladies Get Paid, a career development organization and community that helps women advocate for themselves at work so they get the respect and pay they deserve. They have more than 7,000 members from all over the world.