By Lisa Elaine Held
A few years ago, Brooklyn-based career coach Claire Wasserman started reading up on the wage gap and was struck by how much worse things were than she had realized.
“I knew that women were at a disadvantage, but not facts like Hispanic women were making 54 cents to a white man’s dollar or that only 22 percent of women are getting past middle management. It’s a real problem,” she says.
She decided to do something to help women get ahead and ultimately settled on a model that would arm women with skills to effectively negotiate salaries and raises at work. “I picked money because money is power and value and worth,” she says. “I wanted to ask women, ‘Do you know your value?’ and ‘Are you advocating for yourself?’”
Wasserman launched Ladies Get Paid in September of 2016. In less than 18 months, the organization grew to over 20,000 members from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. It now offers online courses and in-person workshops and conferences.
Last year, the organization was sued by a men’s rights group known for exploiting Civil Rights statutes. The group claimed discrimination because a man was turned away from attending a workshop, and Ladies Get Paid was forced to settle because of legal costs. Wasserman is now crowdfunding to ensure the organization’s future. “It feels like a backlash against women,” she says.
We caught up with her to hear more about the work she’s doing to support women at work and how you can follow her lead when it comes to your own career—and supporting other women, too.
You’ve been traveling around the country hosting town halls for women to talk about self-worth at work. What have you learned from these listening sessions?
It’s been incredible. I started Ladies Get Paid in New York by hosting a town hall about women and money….and that experience demonstrated to me that it was very important for women to come together. For seven months I did it in New York only, but we have a Slack group where women from all over the world are participating, and I started getting emails from women asking “How can we bring Ladies Get Paid here” So, I created a toolkit that essentially gave people a sense of our programming, and I challenged them: If you can get at least four women to come together for this, I’ll fly out and host the first town hall with you. The first one is always about women and money and then they pick their own topics after that. Everything is a profit share—these women who started chapters, we split profits with them.
I think I’ve done 17 cities, now. Everyone is frustrated and concerned about the same things; the way they express themselves is different. I do get the same kind of message after each one: Claire, I thought I was the only one. I’ve now been validated.
A lot of the barriers, like the wage gap, are systemic. Shouldn’t we be pushing for policy and company changes that guarantee equal pay rather than asking women to work harder while still being paid less, while the system is still stacked against them?
It needs to come from the companies and government with better policies, but we can’t wait for them. I wanted to arm women with the skills to at least negotiate for themselves. This kind of came from just feeling overwhelmed, thinking “what can I do as an individual?” Teaching ourselves to negotiate seemed like the first step towards at least having some sort of say as to what happens to us at work.
And if I get a raise and you get a raise, we are moving the needle little by little. And if you get a raise at work, maybe then you have a deeper sense of your value, and now they’re starting to push for diversity initiatives. Now you’re speaking up and pushing back, and I have seen policies change at companies because of what the women in our community do. It’s just the first step. And no, I don’t think women should work harder. We’re already exhausted.
Speaking of exhaustion, is wellness an important factor when it comes to women’s success at work?
One of our most popular classes is called “Boundaries and Burnouts.” I’m also teaching one called “Stay Sane.” That’s a huge part to this because women are socialized in a certain way and a lot of it is that “we’re people-pleasers and we take care of other people at the expense of ourselves.” Or we have imposter syndrome, where we don’t think we deserve to be in the room. That feeling that we’re fraudulent, that means we overwork. Undoing how we’re socialized really takes time, so we get burnt out. It’s a theme throughout all of our conversations.
People think they have to do lots of things or big things or expensive things when it comes to wellness. I do tiny things like even just carrying around this lavender oil, and I sniff it sometimes. I just need to smell it for a second, and I acknowledge that I’m doing something for myself, I’m taking a minute to acknowledge how fast and hard I’m running all of the time.
Lightning Round: What’s the one thing women can do right now to close the wage gap and get paid what they deserve?
It’s just: Learn how to negotiate. That’s the only thing you have in your control (and barely!). It’s the most immediate way to see something change in your life.
(Photos: Ladies Get Paid)