Claire Wasserman, career coach, and founder of Ladies Get Paid, has a clear passion for helping women rise up at work. Honing in on her gift of connecting people to each other and opportunities early on in her career, she is working to shift women’s mindsets and helping them present themselves with confidence in their workplaces.
According to data released by the Economic Policy Institute in 2017, women earn 83 cents for every dollar a man is paid. This gap is even larger after factoring in levels of education and race: Black women are paid 65 cents on the dollar, 59 cents on the dollar when compared to what a typical white man is paid. The fact that this exists as our reality in 2018 and we are not yet at the point of parity in pay proves why Claire’s work with Ladies Get Paid is necessary.
Featured in Sally Hansen’s global campaign, Shetopia, Claire Wasserman declares, “In my Shetopia, equal pay is a reality not an aspiration.” Claire is currently touring the U.S. hosting town halls for women to discuss self-worth at work.
Her Agenda had the opportunity to chat with Claire about her windy career path, leveraging what you’re good at to create a career, her goals for Ladies Get Paid and what she thinks it will take to close the wage gap.
Her Agenda: Where do you find motivation for the work you do?
Claire Wasserman: My motivation comes from a place of frustration and anger, and that’s because there is a really bad leadership and wage gap, particularly for women of color. That is what motivates me everyday as well as the emails I get from women telling me about how their lives have been affected by the work that I do. So whenever I’m feeling tired or down as a result of the inevitable rollercoaster of being an entrepreneur, it is easy to get back up moving again.
Her Agenda: How would you describe your career path up until you founded Ladies Get Paid?
Claire Wasserman: My career path is one that made my parents very nervous because I actually left college a little bit early. I ended up getting my degree but I connected with someone who was an incredible filmmaker. He was really bad at talking about himself and raising money, and those were two things I was good at: communicating value, and marketing/fundraising. His film was in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I left college, flew to Bosnia, and threw myself into this great adventure. I was able to raise over $30,000 for his film. I started my career demonstrating to myself that anything I put my mind to I could achieve because, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was really hard to achieve what I did. It required a lot of courage and at the time I didn’t think of myself as brave but when I look back I recognize that that first project I did with him really set the groundwork for the way I looked at my career. I’ve had a lot of different jobs but they all made sense together.
I should mention that I’m not a huge fan of telling people to follow their passion because we all tend to be passionate about many things and it can be quite confusing to have to pick. Instead I recommend that folks really follow their curiosity, do the things that stimulate them, and do it with people that challenge them, and always have self-reflection. I didn’t have a five-year plan but as I made choices I always looked back at what I had done before, or I was just very self-aware of the things I was doing and saw the connection pretty quickly.
One of the things that I was stellar at was connecting people, producing events and getting buzz for things. To zero in on that connecting part, I ended up focusing my career in companies where my job was to connect people. I worked for an organization called the Arts Director Club, where I was the Director of Marketing and handled fundraising. Primarily, the function of it, besides the awards they gave out, was creating networking opportunities for people. Through that, I connected with a startup called Working Not Working. I was in the recruitment field, and as Director of Marketing my job was to create environments, mostly offline but some online content, where people were able to meet each other. From there, I just recognized that I was particularly motivated to help women, and a little less interested in getting people jobs but rather making sure they were thriving in their jobs.
After a year and a half of doing that, it became clear that I had to do Ladies Get Paid, and I was ready for it. I had a detour in my career where I had a startup and it failed, although I wouldn’t call it a failure so much as a very good learning opportunity. Having that year and a half experience where I was the second employee at a startup and we grew to about ten people, that gave me a window into how to be a small business owner. By the time I recognized how deeply motivated I was to create Ladies Get Paid I also had the tools and the learnings to start this thing, hire people and do my finances. Of course, you never know until you try.
Her Agenda: Who are your biggest mentors and why?
Claire Wasserman: My biggest mentor is actually a man. He’s somebody I met my first year of moving to New York in 2009. He has also had a winding career, and he said something to me that was really profound. He asked, “How do you define success Claire?” I started to answer the question and he stopped me and said, “Wait, whose voice is that? Is that your mother’s voice? Is that society’s voice?” He really pushed me to get very clear on success, getting outside of what the title or company might be.
For me, success is about freedom, it’s the ability to work from wherever I want. He kept drilling that down so I could essentially articulate my values, and those became the guiding light for me in terms of what opportunities to take, and who to work with. He’s been a fabulous mentor. My other mentor, honestly, would be my partner and Co-Founder, Ashley Louise. She’s been a wonderful mentor for me and we both mentor each other. We’re not just trying to make this business work, but we’re continually counseling each other. Even though she’s the same age as me, I think people tend to think that a mentor has to be older but not always.
Her Agenda: What is one unexpected win you’ve encountered since you founded Ladies Get Paid?
Claire Wasserman: An unexpected win has been my ability to believe in my decisions and to listen to my instinct. Those were two things that I had trouble with in my failed startup. I really doubted myself and had a lot of imposter syndrome; this belief that I was a fraud and not a thought leader. People were looking at me like I was and I didn’t quite deserve it. My unexpected win is that I really believe in myself. I pat myself on the back, and I think it’s really important for everyone to do that, particularly those of us who are incredibly ambitious. We’re always thinking about the future and what we can do better. I think it’s crucial to take time and say ‘I’m really damn proud of myself.’
Her Agenda: How did you find the courage to be the solution to such a major problem?
Claire Wasserman: It’s always about breaking things down into smaller pieces. I’m motivated by one really big thing, this systemic problem of ladies not being in leadership positions but I’ve broken it down into helping women get raises. If we each get a little bit more money we’re collectively closing the wage gap. I’m empowering women with leadership skills, management training, and helping them with imposter syndrome. I also work with companies to make sure that they’re creating environments of inclusivity. All of this is addressing this major problem but I’m doing it in small steps. These steps, one on top of another, lead to hopefully solving this problem. I don’t really see anything as a major problem because I’m really focused on what happens today, tomorrow and next week so it’s never as overwhelming as it can be. You have to look at it as what are the three things on your to-do list you’re getting done today, and that’s it.
Her Agenda: What are your top goals for Ladies Get Paid in 2018?
Claire Wasserman: Make money! I need to sustain myself and I would like to hire a couple of people. We currently have a part-time employee and I want to give her a full-time offer. Additionally, I’ve been training women to teach curriculum that I’ve developed. So far we have seven women across the U.S. teaching salary negotiation but I have a lot more classes I’ve developed so I’d love to train them on that, and then send them into companies. We are going to continue to do workshops for anybody and everybody but the major source of revenue will be from those companies thus it’s crucial that we do that. We also have a conference called Get Money Get Paid and we did it in New York in October and we’re bringing it to three cities this year. If that goes well we’d love to expand it further.
Her Agenda: What is one thing you would tell a women concerned about negotiating a raise?
Claire Wasserman: I would say information is power so do as much research as you can, and root it in your context. It’s not only finding the number that fits what you do but it’s also the size of the company, the location, your years of experience, and your skills.
And when it comes to research, get offline data as well. Obviously start your research with a platform like Payscale, but you have to ask people in your life. Particularly, you need to ask white men because they’re the ones that make the most. If you are nervous about asking your friends please keep in mind that we all need to figure out how much we are worth. By speaking up about it you are now giving them permission to feel more comfortable to speak up. If your immediate circle doesn’t have that information, chances are people in their lives do. After you’ve done your research, send them an email and say here’s the ballpark of the salary that I found, can you forward this and ask your friends if this looks reasonable to them or would they share a ballpark of what they make. There’s a lot of other advice that I could give, which is why we teach classes on salary negotiation. I encourage everyone to sign up for our free newsletter. We provide these classes in-person and online on a regular basis. You’ll get those invites by signing up for the newsletter.
Her Agenda: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Claire Wasserman: I really struggled with self-doubt, which is why I empathize so much with the women in our community because a lot of them also go through that. Something that helped me and was a piece of advice I received was to create a brag folder. Anytime somebody says anything nice to me especially if it’s by email I take a screenshot or I print it out and put it in a folder on my computer, in my wallet or on my desk. I take it and look at it when I’m feeling that self-doubt creep back in.
Her Agenda: What are you reading right now?
Claire Wasserman: I’m reading a ton of books and I just got a Kindle, which has been amazing primarily for the ability to take notes. You can highlight a section and it puts it all into one document that you can email to yourself so you don’t have to look back and transcribe your written notes. It’s a much faster way for you to reread your notes, and I’m putting together curriculum from what I’m reading. I’m reading a ton of management books right now because I’m in curriculum development mode. One book that I did just start is a Gloria Steinem book titled My Life on The Road, and that’s been particularly helpful for me because I’ve been touring the country hosting town halls for women to talk about work and self-worth. I’ve been to about 18 cities now and seen over 4,000 women. I don’t know many women who have done something like that and it can get lonely so she has been a person that I not only look up to but has also had experiences that are similar to mine.
Her Agenda: What’s on your lock screen?
Claire Wasserman: My lock screen is a picture of my Co-Founder, Ashley, and I at the Women’s March carrying a sign that says f*** the wage gap with a middle finger. It’s worth mentioning her lock screen also because it is the presidential portrait of Barack Obama that was recently unveiled.
[Editor’s note: This interview was published on March 5th, 2018. It has been edited for length and clarity. Image sources from Claire Wasserman and Paulsta Wong. Text edits via Her Agenda.]