Claire Wasserman Talks Some Cents
Written By Ellie Brzezenski
I was a Psychology major my freshman year of college, and apart from learning the undisputable fact that I did not want to be a psych major, I ended the year with a handful of shiny fun facts to throw out during interesting conversations. One of which being: women use on average 20,000 words a day. Men only use 7,000.
I remember when the teacher introduced this statistic during class: A low wave of chuckles moved through the giant lecture hall as if every frat bro-in-training was hearing something they already knew, LOL RIGHT. WOMEN BE TALKING. Kewl, research. Thanks for being a pal.
Yes, women have a reputation for the gift of gab. We’re capable of composing a master’s thesis worth of material ruminating on possible explanations for our crush’s text messages. We cheerlead one another– for the promotion, for the breakup, for the yoga training we weren’t sure if we really wanted to do but now we’re so fucking zen– and we’ll talk about our latest obsessions/workout/life mantra ad nauseum. But there’s one thing as women we’re categorically silent on: money.
Ah, money. Are you squirming yet? It’s the thing that there never seems to be enough of, especially for women who on average make $.80 for ever $1.00 men do (that’s even lower for minorities) though we spend more than men just to be functioning members of society. Yes, money is a tricky topic, but it’s the thing Claire Wasserman and Ladies Get Paid wants to talk about the most. Because when we don’t talk about money, it gets harder and harder to know what you should expect.
“If you think about it, money is really another word for value and self-worth. And when it’s about value, then the conversation becomes so much bigger than about what you’re charging," says Wasserman. She founded Ladies Get Paid to help women advocate for themselves at work by building an inclusive community of supportive and diverse women.
“It's uncomfortable to talk about money because we normally don't. By simply starting the conversation, you're beginning to normalize it.”
LGP began, as you may have guessed, with a conversation. As Wasserman tells it, “My friend, a freelance creative, came to me to gut check her hourly rate [compared to others in the industry]. Turns out, she was charging way less than her male counterpart. She had no idea, because she never asked before.” The lightbulb moment came when Claire realized her friend couldn’t possibly be the only one and saw an opportunity for greater understanding and transparency - so she did something about it.
“I made a deliberate choice from the beginning to root all of our events in storytelling to demonstrate to attendees that the only way we can help each other is by acknowledging we are not alone. I also try to be funny 'cause humor always helps!”
LGP’s first town hall event, held in the spring of 2016, invited women to together and talk out their questions surrounding pay and earning potential. 100 people showed up. 100 more were on the waitlist. The momentum, Claire remembers, was infectious. “It was clear there was a lot of energy in the room. It wasn’t women staring politely–no, they were jumping up, championing each other. It was so exciting.”
In a little over a year since its founding, Ladies Get Paid has grown from two women in conversation in New York, to an idea, to a town hall, to events in 25 cities with 6,000 members from all 50 states and almost as many countries. The palpable momentum of the organization is in stark contradiction to the societal apathy and the current callous political systems it looks to affect. And while some states predict it will take 144 years to close the pay gap, Ladies Get Paid isn’t listening. They’re enabling women to demand it today.
“When women do better, families do better. And when families do better, we all do better. Women are so emotionally intelligent, so to bring that into leadership– in every industry – would be a huge benefit to all businesses. Plus, it's been proven that when there is diversity among a company's leadership, the bottom line is improved. And who doesn't want to make more money?”
Growing up, and admittedly even sometimes now, the wage gap seemed like some big, nebulous entity– something that I hated and was thoroughly against, but still out of my control like Fascism, the national deficit or age limits at concerts. But surely, as a college educated woman, I naively assumed I’d be outside the sphere of its influence, right? Wrong.
As Claire tells it, “Women make up 60% of college grads, yet only 22% make it past middle management. Think about the wasted potential. Sadly, women are often what’s considered “diversity” in many workplaces. In leadership and tech [roles] especially, we are the minorities.”
Well, that seems like a whole lot of BULSH. After years in school, late nights, juggling jobs and responsibilities to work towards what seems to be an attainable goal of fitting job title, many of us will face the reality that our bosses, employers and holding partners deem us as unfit because we lack a certain amount of testosterone in our system. It’s enough to make you want to lie comatose on the floor and pray the patriarchy blows over like a bad storm (newsflash: it won't). So how can we, as individual women, affect chance without taking on this societal-cyclone all by ourselves? From Wasserman’s perspective, you have a handful of options.
First: Don’t do it alone. “To make massive change you don't have to do something massive. It takes small acts of resistance. Think of all the small things you can do to shift the culture gradually. Or think of all the small things you can do, get a group together. Get an ally, form a squad. Just look at the women of the Obama administration!”
Second: Don’t wait until you’re a part of the company to affect change. Even in the interview process, set the precedent for what you expect. Claire advises us to be patient, but not a pushover: “ [Bring up money] Once you're in the second or third round of interview. That way, no one is wasting their time. If possible, get them to give you a number but if they push you to say yours, suggest a range of what your position makes, according to the market. Argue for the top of the range by making a compelling case why you're worth it.”
Third: Start where you are. “Think: what are the ways you can create change around you? Remember, I made this company just by getting women in a room to talk to one another. Sometimes, you just need to start small and start in ways that make you happy. Find allies in your company or in support groups. When you’re surrounded by people and everybody is nodding their head, agreeing this is a toxic work environment, it normalizes the experience.”
But the most important lesson? Just start talking. “Remember, when you do speak up, you're doing for other people. You're moving the needle for other people. If we're all negotiating, then we're all going up. You're advocating for others too.”
So what do you say ladies? If we really do use 20,000 words a day, why not use some of those to make our wallets fatter and dismantle the patriarchy in the process?