Ethos Meets: Claire Wasserman

Filmmaker, entrepreneur and ambassador for equal rights in the workplace, Claire Wasserman founded the female platform Ladies Get Paid, to encourage and empower women in work. Jack Atkins caught up with her to learn more…

Ethos Meets: Claire Wasserman

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Tell us more about your background and where the idea for Ladies Get Paid came from.

After I graduated in 2009, I moved to New York as there are so many opportunities here. Before I came to New York I spent some time in Sarajevo, Bosnia where I produced a short film.

The film started picking up speed at film festivals, and we ended up getting nominated for a student academy award. What was interesting was that at the time I still didn’t feel like I wanted to go into film – as much as I loved it. But what it showed me was that, A: storytelling is hugely important to me; and B: that whatever you set your mind to, you could get it, since we really went from nothing in Bosnia, to getting this nomination.

I founded my own film startup, starting  with a film of my own; I gave up my apartment for ten months and lived on friend’s couches, every month I would change to a different apartment and I did that because I knew that If i didn’t pay rent I’d be able to experiment with my own ideas.

I always tell that story because I feel like people think there’s always a moment where you decide to become an entrepreneur, but I don’t think that’s true, I think that you’re always practicing; and this was me practicing.

It was then that I started working with a company called Working not Working, a curated network of designers and creatives, connecting people with work, based on their availability. It was so fascinating to be at the intersection between talent and employers; work is such a big part of our identity, and I realised that I’m less interested in just getting you a job, but ensuring that you’re thriving in that job.

And as a woman it was really important for me to help other women; I didn’t come out of the womb as a feminist – I really didn’t understand feminism, I’d distanced myself from it. It took me, probably about the last two years, to deeply understand the huge divide of who’s in leadership. Women are the majority of college graduates in the US but less than 22% of them are making it past middle management and I honestly did not know that until about two years ago. It’s such a shame that we don’t have more female leaders – not just for us – it’s proven economically that you’re going to do a lot better as a business, if you’ve got diversity.

How would you summarise Ladies get paid?

It’s an organisation that helps women advocate for themselves at work; we’re doing that through community, education and activism. Advocating for yourself at work could come in the form of a salary negotiation, but it could also be communication – if you’re having a tough time speaking up for yourself; if there’s something uncomfortable happening at work; or becoming a manager – how do you negotiate that? How do you start women’s groups or diversity programming at  the company?

We teach classes around those things, we also have a private Slack group – which we use as a community building tool – and the only way to get access is to sign up at Women have access to hundreds of channels based on industry, location, topic – and we’ve got loads of women communicating in this way in over 50 countries. It’s incredible seeing them disclose information that they probably wouldn’t be comfortable disclosing otherwise. I’d say this was the reason we’ve grown so quickly; the reason that we’ve reached women in 50 countries is because they’re connecting online.

How is it funded?

We’re for profit, and our business model is a profit share. From every class taught, we give 50% of the ticket sales the instructor. There’s no membership fee; it’s really important to me that everything is as low priced and accessible as possible. We’re working with sponsors, brands and companies who are supporting us right now.

Your biggest successes to date?

For me personally it’s the emails I get from women who say that they’ve been able to make a change in their lives because of what we’re doing. It could be a small change with a big impact, or they could have changed their job or gotten a huge raise. What I love is when the women tell me: ‘for the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I’m the only one’, ‘I thought I was crazy, I thought I was imagining this’, I felt uncomfortable in my office and I didn’t quite know why – now I’ve gone to your event and I’ve seen 100 other women nodding as I told my story’.

I want to make people feel like they’re not alone. I don’t work with anyone else, I collaborate with people; I’m a one person founder and I don’t technically have a team. I’ve got 6000 women involved in less than a year.

My ambition is really big – I’m not satisfied but I’m proud of myself. That’s something that I’m always reminding other entrepreneurs; there’s a constant push and pull between your ambition and vision, and what you need to get done today and being okay with it. It’s having moments of saying to yourself: ‘you know what, I’m fucking proud of myself!’ You have to enjoy the journey, if you’re too stressed out then you need to just take a look and say: ‘what did I learn today?’ If you’ve learned something, then that’s success.

I have to say Oprah – I know thats cliche – but everything about her and her story, and the effect that she’s had on people through so many avenues; whether that’s creating a book club; through the media; her philanthropy; her products; the magazines; she’s had so many touch points, she’s so human and she’s so relatable. There’s also a whole host of seriously trailblazing women from the early 20th century – we may think that it’s hard now – but I can get my own bank account without getting married. I constantly thank them for making me able to do what I do.


Find out more about Ladies Get Paid here:

Image credits: Paulsta Wong (header) Stephanie Geddes (body)

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