Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey.
Hi, I'm Claire Wasserman and I'm the founder of Ladies Get Paid a global community and platform that gives women the resources and support to advance professionally and financially. I also have a book coming out on January 12, 2021!
I started my career as an independent film producer in Bosnia. There was a guy I'd met in college who was writing a film and I said, What the heck let's just go for it and we actually ended up being nominated for a student Academy Award. But my concern was that making a film takes a very long time. It's also an financially unstable path. I looked back at my high school experience my college experience and I realized that something that I was extremely good at that I really enjoyed was making projects happen, primarily through raising money.
I was very lucky that I got introduced to a board member of a nonprofit called Chess in the Schools, who was looking for somebody to help cultivate a younger donor base. I got hired! And after about a year there, I realized I was itching for more; I wanted things to move faster, I wanted it to be a little bit more glamorous and I wanted to make more money. I also wanted to have a huge impact on the world though I didn't know quite yet what that meant, and how it would be manifested. But right at that moment, I was helping kids in inner city schools play chess, which was awesome. But the question I had for myself was, how can I impact the most amount of people? And a way to do that is usually getting close to the money. And what I realized, you know, close to the money it could be becoming, you know, a banker that that wasn't right for me, but it could also be going into advertising because that's where the big budgets are, and that's where you can have a big impact on people. Right. So imagine a brand campaign and how many people see it. If I could get brands to steer their dollars in interesting and impactful ways, I could that could be an incredible life mission and work.
I had done a lot of networking and cultivated a relationship with someone who ran an experiential marketing company. I finally said to him, Hey, isn't it, you know, shouldn't you just hire me and he said yes so for over a year, I helped grow his small company. We did really big in-person, events, including a gallery on the history of the pencil at the Art Directors Club, a community of people in visual communications. The ADC poached me to become their Director of Marketing and Fundraising (though I took about eight months before I joined to work on a failed startup.)
It was through working at the ADC that I met the founder of Working Not Working, a professional network for creatives, connecting them with companies for work, largely based on their availability. I was interested in joining WNW because it both fulfilled my mission to help people professionally and because it would give ma front row seat to what it takes to run a small business. because first of all I you know continued on with my mission of helping people reach their potential.
I worked for Justin and Adam for about a year and a half and it was a wonderful experience. Over time though, I realized that I was a little less interested in getting people jobs, rather than helping people thrive at their jobs (especially) for women. I'd had a somewhat sexist experience at an advertising festival that really got me to think about for the first time in my career; was I ever at a disadvantage because of my gender, you know, what has been the gender power dynamics in my career up until now. And it was really reflecting on those things that I realized something called microaggressions right, all of these small insidious ways where we feel less than, and we don't realize that it's because of our gender. Oftentimes we internalize it you know something must be wrong with me if I'm not being taken seriously. Or if somebody is misinterpreting my friendliness, as flirtation or if I get objectified well It must be because I was wearing a short skirt. Gosh, there was so much energy that I had expended I realized in my life, worrying about my appearance about getting ahead, and never really fully understanding that I was operating within a system that was not meant for me. I knew nothing about the wage gap. So I googled it. I didn't even know what feminism was the more research I did around these things, the more shocked and appalled I became that first I didn't know about it there was shame in that especially when it comes to women of color black women make around 68 cents to the dollar and Hispanic women make closer to 55 cents to the dollar. And then the other one thing was, well, why aren't we doing something about it. And I thought about this for a year because we're talking about systemic inequality, you know, entrenched discrimination, it's overwhelming and as an individual, the thought is, well, what can I possibly do to combat something like this. It took an art director friend of mine who came to me and said that she realized she wasn't charging as much as her male counterparts. What should she do about it that I had this aha moment. Let's get women in a room and just talk about money because money is what represents so much of what I had been depressed and anxious about which was really our lack of power and women not finding themselves worthy, or not being valued by others, and money was power and then I realized. Aha. That was what I was interested in, at the beginning of my career though I couldn't quite articulate it yet. I wanted to proximity to power because when you have power, you can do anything.
The first thing I did that it was just a town hall for 100 women to come and talk about money. I picked the town hall format, because it was during the 2016 election and I had kept hearing about these town halls and I felt like for a conversation around money which you know is quite a privileged conversation, and one where people have a lot of anxiety, it was better to make it an open forum where people could learn from each other. And I could show them that they weren't alone in their struggles and with the town hall you know the way that I structured it was anytime that somebody stood up to say something ask a question share a story. I asked the room. Does this resonate with you, please validate her. And so it became this wonderful peer to peer experience where everybody walked out, feeling so invigorated to do something right whether it was negotiating a raise or talk to their friends about money, or, you know, buy a book and start researching things that might have intimidated them before. And I had no idea what this would become, though I did have a friend pull me aside afterward and say, you should do this, and I said well what is this She goes, I don't know, but you should do it with no plan to host another event and certainly no plan to start a company, let alone a movement. I did have the wherewithal to create a slack group. And I created the slack group as a way for people to stay in touch as a way for those who couldn't have got get into the event because it was sold out to be able to participate and also that there were so many different subjects and themes that came up under the umbrella of money that we needed to talk about so I made channels based on those things, we had a salary negotiation channel. We had a jobs channel. And it was seeing the conversation happening within slack over the next few weeks that made me realize, wow, I am filling a need, and that primary need is helping women negotiate their salaries because it was a tangible next step that women could take where they could see progress in their own lives, and essentially close the wage gap in their own lives. That was the aha moment that took me from, I feel overwhelmed, too. Here's one way I can take one.
Was there a moment when you knew that this was what you were going to do to help fellow women succeed in their careers?
I don't think there was, "a moment" though I remember while I was researching women in the workplace, discovering horrible stats likeless than 22% of women make it past middle management, I could feel deep down in my bones that I needed to do something. A fire had been lit and I had the instinct to keep moving forward.
How do you take a step back and give yourself a breather once in a while?
This is a very good question and something that I've been working on for a long time. When I was younger I was all about hustle, all the time.
I had to hustle. I moved to New York 10 years ago, with no network, land less than $300 in my bank account. And I believe I have gotten to where I am, because of the hustle, particularly around networking. I've always had side projects going on those side projects are what allowed me to grow increase my skills increase my network. Show me what I was more interested in do doing, and I've leveraged those side projects to get jobs, and to get promotions. Did that require me to spend a lot of time working. Yes, but I was extremely motivated to do it. Were working too much, is no good, is when you realize that you're not working smart, you're just working hard.
When you realize that you're working to distract yourself from something. When you're working so much you're sacrificing things that give you sustenance, like your family time with friends, moving your body. I am very good at self care now because I see my life and my career as a marathon and not a sprint. I also am older, I am too tired. I also have less energy to give any fucks. I don't care what other people think, well, that's not totally true. I'm working on it. So a way that I step back and take a breather is I listen to my body a lot more. When I feel tired. I take a break, or when I feel tired, I take a nap. What I need to work on is not guilting myself. Right. Not saying well Claire you took a break the middle the day you're slacking off because work can come at different times. At 7pm, I might still be working because I want to or I have to finish something up.And, and that's okay. But it requires some balance in some way. So for me, what's worked is finding those pockets of pause.
What would you say has truly kept you going through all the trials you've encountered as a boss woman doing something related to a higher mission is the best way to keep going.
What I do is so much bigger than me. The fact that we have this amazing community, I think about them every single day. All my decisions come from a place of wanting to help others. So sometimes that means making sacrifices or making changes. I'm certainly pushed to do and to be better. The biggest trial that I've encountered was when we were sued for gender discrimination by a group of men's rights activists, very long experience really hard toughest thing I've ever gone through and what kept me going was thinking about how the women in my community would be proud of me. You know that I was fighting for them. This was bigger than me.
If you were asked to describe your "Soul Purpose”, what would that entail?
I believe my Soul Purpose is to help people feel connected to themselves and to others.
The next part of that purpose is to help people feel fulfilled, independent, and able to thrive. And because we spend the majority of our life at work. I focus on the workplace. And because I work in service of a marginalized community, women, who have not had typically, you know, been in the circles of power. I want to get them there.
What piece of advice would you give to another strong female who may be stepping out of their comfort zone at this time to pursue their own dreams.
Be patient and be persistent. Strive for excellent, but let go of perfectionism. Don't be so hard on yourself. Progress chart progress by how much you learn. Success is how quickly you learn and how quickly you can iterate. If something doesn't go the way you planned and it will never go the way you planned. The key is to be able to self reflect and be unafraid to try something new.
Don't get discouraged. Big rewards come with big risks.. But also, it's okay to go back to your job, it's okay to not take risks too. It's okay to just live. We all need a paycheck and there is no shame in that. So I think the pressure to be you know, a female entrepreneur or to be a Boss Lady. You can also Just rest a little. And I think especially during this time, it's important to remember that.
Follow Claire on Instagram! @clairewassermanxo
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