How the Ladies Get Paid Founder Started A Grassroots Movement

Ladies Get Paid, Jen Mussari
Photo by Claire Lorenzo

Ladies Get Paid is an organization that provides education and community for women to advocate their value and gain the skills they need to advance their careers.

AWT spoke to the founder of Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman, former Director of Marketing at Working Not Working and Communications Manager at the Art Directors Club, about her entrepreneurial venture. When Wasserman turned 30, she found herself researching the lack of leadership by women. Inspired to quit her job, she founded LGP five months ago, and the organization currently has 2000 members.

Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman
Photo by Stephanie Geddes

Was there a key incident that made you quit your job and start Ladies Get Paid?

In 2015, I went to a major advertising festival and experienced some crazy misogyny. For one week straight, there wasn’t a day that went by where someone didn’t say I was “hot” or ask me “whose wife are you?” I’d felt empowered my whole life and never limited by my gender but after that experience, I realized how many little things over time had contributed to overall frustration and exhaustion in my career. I was hesitant to speak up because a) this stuff is not always black and white and b) I didn’t want to be labeled “that girl.” For a full year, I started to read more about diversity numbers and women in leadership and the statistics shocked me. We weren’t even close to being half of the decision makers in any industry. The more I read, the more depressed I became. But then that depression turned into anger and there was zero doubt that I had to do something. I looked for other women’s organizations to join but none quite had the combination of activism, education, community (and humor!) that I wanted. And so I made my own.

Tell us about your fear of not doing anything to make a change.

For almost a year, I was petrified of speaking up publicly about these issues. I was worried I would become a pariah of the advertising industry and that I might not get future jobs. What if I were labeled a “feminazi”? What about the internet trolls?

But then I realized that my fear was the very reason I needed to do something. If someone didn’t want to hire me because I was outspoken about gender parity and equal pay, then I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway. With zero intention of creating a business, I organized a town hall for women to discuss money. It was the energy in that room and the emails I received afterwards that showed me that not only was I not alone in my frustrations but that something had to be done.

The question became, how to change the system? It certainly wasn’t going to come from the top, so it had to be grassroots. All movements start from the bottom and I truly believe that a groundswell can affect real change. One woman, one raise: If each of us gained the confidence and the skills to take the next steps in our individual careers, it would move the needle for all of us. I think the aphorism, “A rising tide raises all boats” is a good analogy. Because of my previous roles at Working Not Working and the Art Directors Club, it made sense to focus on career development.

Now in light of this election, I’m figuring out how we can take this grassroots movement we’ve started and use it as leverage to hold lawmakers accountable and get wage equality and female-friendly workplace practices into place.

You’re only five months in. How do you currently keep Ladies Get Paid afloat financially?

I follow a General Assembly business model: I charge for our workshops and split 50/50 with the instructors. Town hall tickets are a nominal fee. But to join our private Slack group where thousands of women are sharing advice, resources, and job opportunities? All that is free.

To sustain myself personally, I do freelance event production/experiential marketing on the side as well as career coaching.

You tested out your business model right at the beginning with your first town hall meeting that turned out to be a success. Why was that important to you and what are your plans for the next six months?

After producing a gazillion panel discussions, I find that an open forum that focuses more on story sharing and allows more people to speak up, is a much more engaging and moving experience. My plans for the next six months include a conference in New York at the end of May (in collaboration with the Sydney-based women’s conference, Make Nice), as well as taking my town halls on a roadshow across America. My goal in 2017 is to work with our global community to bring our programming to their city, sort of like TEDx or Creative Mornings. I’d also like to hire a team to build out more media like our podcast Lady Talk as well as video.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

Taking time off to recharge and get perspective is perhaps more important than the hustle.

You send out a lot of surveys. How do the responses from your community help you grow LGP?

The sign-up data I collect when someone becomes a member is crucial to understanding who the community is and what their needs are. I pay very close attention to how they answer, “What are your challenges? What do you want to learn?” because that will inform my programming and curriculum. I also have a salary survey that I hope to debut at our conference as an interactive microsite where you can see if you’re underpaid and discover resources to change that if you are.

What’s the most interesting town hall meeting or workshop you’ve had at LGP, why?

They’re all interesting! Every time I think I have a favorite town hall or workshop, the next one blows me away. That being said, the first one will always have a special place in my heart.

Ladies Get Paid, Townhall
Photo by Claire Lorenzo

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