In March 2017, the US Department of Labor reported 47 percent of the labor force nationwide is made up of females—that’s 74.6 million, to be exact. Of those, 40 percent are the sole earners of their households with children. Take a minute to compare it to the 11 percent that was documented in 1960.
In the 21st century, women are not bound by what were once primary jobs as housewife and mother. Those who participate in the workforce climbed 24.1 percent from 1948 (32.7) to 2016 (56.8). 10 million of businesses owned nationwide are upstarted by women and account for $1.4 trillion in economic impact.
To put it bluntly, women and business are not an anomaly as they were 60 years ago. They are in fact a norm today. Yet, somehow, women are only paid 72 cents on the dollar to a man’s pay. And to be clear: The Equal Pay Act passed 54 years ago.
Claire Wasserman, a sociology graduate of Boston University, took a job as director of marketing at Working Not Working after college. She curated creative professionals into a network and helped them land jobs in their fields, whether technology, advertising, production, design, photography, or animation. “It was fascinating to have a bird’s eye view on different company cultures,” she tells.
A few years ago, after attending Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, she had a Eureka! moment, so to speak. While making her way into one of the parties, a man approached and asked Wasserman, “Whose wife are you?”
“It stunned me,” she recalls. “That whole festival was one encounter after another of men underestimating my intelligence and objectifying. It was exhausting.”
Wasserman wrote an essay about the experience upon her return home. She grappled with questions many could relate to, and not only about sexism but the shame that came with it: “Did I cause any of this? Was I too friendly? Was my dress too short?” she pondered. Though she didn’t publish it publicly, she sent it to female friends, who in turn shared it. It caused an email chain of similar stories. Wasserman realized she wasn’t alone; more so, an idea began to formulate for women to find safe places to be together and openly talk about issues they face as professionals. She knew money would be one of the major talking points, seeing as the unequal spread on the dollar still existed. But once she found out it went deeper into minorities’ pockets—for example, Hispanic women only make 55 cents on the dollar—Ladies Get Paid essentially was born.
“That I, as an educated person, was so blind to the racial realities of what women make—I was mortified,” she remembers. “My firm belief is we’ve only progressed insofar as the ones who still struggle the most among us. It felt criminal to not take action.”
At 29, a month after such realizations, she left her cushy job to begin her own profit-share venture: a network of women who join Ladies Get Paid (LGP) for free and are able to attend town hall meetings and events that cover various topics. Wasserman launched her first gathering about women and money in NYC; 100 women responded, with a 100-deep waiting list. Since, the expansion of Ladies Get Paid has grown organically. Today they have over 10,000 members from 50 states nationwide and in more than 50 countries. They have ambassadors who host events everywhere.
“When women in other cities saw what LGP was doing, I challenged them to get four or five women to form a committee and I’d train them to host town halls,” Wasserman says. “I created a toolkit that gives them brand assets and guidance on how to run LGP programming. By essentially templetizing what we do, we’ve been able to expand quickly. We’re now training women in our community to lead salary negotiation and leadership workshops, using a curriculum we developed. Everything is a profit share—because ladies need to get paid.”
Coming up the first week of November, Portlandians will be able to attend “Amplify Yourself and the Women Around You,” while Los Angelans participate in “Imposter Syndrome.” Wilmingtonians will be able to sit in on “Women and Money ILM,” cosponsored by the 23rd annual Cucalorus Festival—the independent film festival that has expanded into stage performances and a technological and entrepreneur off-shoot, CONNECT. Wasserman will moderate Wilmington’s town hall with a panel of local ladies: Cynthia DeVita-Cochrane, small business owner and broker, psychologist and professor at UNCW; Jessica Reedy, owner of Pineapple Studios, a clay and yoga studio; Khalilah Olokunola, entrepreneur, author, mom and wife; Jacqueline Olive, independent filmmaker and digital media producer; Naomi Randolph, executive director at Women’s Advance; and yours truly, editor of encore.
Ambassadors Alisha Thomas, Courtney Bridgers, Jesse Yeager, and Kathryn Clark are the women behind the upstart of the local chapter of Ladies Get Paid. This will be their first gathering. Thomas, who is part owner of Freaker USA and founder of fashion outfits Pearface Co. and Ruby Assata, was inspired by LGP after reading about it a year ago. Thomas signed up for the LGP newsletter and inquired about starting a local chapter after realizing her experience in the workforce, overseeing 30 or more people, left her reeling with her own decisions.
“I think back to when I was in the throes of it all and question what I was thinking,” she says in hindsight. “I was often working six or seven days a week, and agreeing to those weekend dates—without more pay—when in reality I could have said no and spent time with my family. But I am a hard worker—I love working. I just wish I would have negotiated harder for myself, for my pay.”
Thomas was making a quarter of what the person before her was making, despite taking on a great deal of his work. Though she knows she should have spoken up for herself, she wants LGP to be a sounding board for others to learn before the mistakes are made. “I wish I would have set more boundaries,” she clarifies. “I take responsibility for it, too.”
The Wilmington ambassadors plan on hosting up to four town halls a year and four informal get-togethers, like Ladies Get Drinks (hosted at places like Satellite or Bespoke Coffee). The idea is to get women of all ages and levels of experience into one room to talk candidly.
“We want it to be more than a normal networking event—we want to talk honestly about our resources or how much we make and how to negotiate our worth,” Thomas says. “We want to put a 22-year-old graphic designer together with a 50-year-old graphic designer who has advice and thoughts on how to make the most out of her career.”
One of Wasserman’s favorite topics held at an LGP meeting was on the concept of “Reinvention.” It focused on a time in women’s lives when they had to turn a new chapter.
“There have been some really powerful stories,” she says. “One of my favorite pieces of advice [to come from these meetings] is to articulate your version of success and to question whose voice it is: Your parents? Your spouse? Society? When people really hone in on their values, it becomes much easier to make positive choices for yourself. Despite being called ‘Ladies Get Paid,’ sometimes, it’s not all about the money.”
Wasserman will host the town hall on Wed., Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m., at The Beam Room at Front St. Brewery. She will give a personal talk at the official Cucalorus CONNECT Conference on Nov. 9, at Daniels Hall in Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station. The topic will be “If It Makes You Uncomfortable, We Should Talk About It,” wherein Wasserman will discuss the genesis of Ladies Get Paid, how it started as a slack group, before growing into a worldwide network of hosted events and meetings.
“I hope women walk away with the commitment to advocate for themselves and for other women,” she says, “and that they realize they’re not the only ones who may be struggling at work—that by embracing and speaking up for their worth, they are helping women everywhere.”
Ladies Get Paid Town Hall:
Women and Money ILM
The Beam Room, Front St. Brewery
9 N. Front St. (third floor)
Nov. 8, 6:30 p.m. • $15
If It Makes You Uncomfortable, We Should Talk About It
Daniels Hall, CFCC Union Station
Nov. 9, 1:45 p.m. • CONNECT pass or Pegasorus passholders only
Other CONNECT Experiences Led by Ladies
Cucalorus CONNECT Conference • Nov. 9-10 • Daniels Hall, CFCC Union Station
Two-day CONNECT Pass: $60 or Pegasorus Pass (all-access): $350 • www.cucalorus.org
Connecting the Digital Economy
Keynote speaker Michele Holbrook will speak about how Corning has revolutionized data’s movement by setting the standard for fiber, cable, connectivity, and wireless solutions. Holbrook will address ways Corning helps the digital evolution of the communication and entertainment industries. Nov. 9, Thurs., 9 a.m.
DisruptHer: Women Leaders Are Transforming Their Industries
Emily Louise Smith (director of UNCW’s The Publishing Library, publisher Lookout Books and Ecotone), Cassidy Lamb (manager of engineering at nCino) and Annemarie Petroff (clinical research and drug development, PPD) will host a talk about how women are leading the way in media, tech, clinical research, the arts, and education. Nov. 9, Thurs., 3 p.m.
The Impact of Digital on the News Media: The Growing Offense of Fake News
The focus will be on nonprofit news in response to the lessening of journalistic integrity with our media. Three women serve on the panel, including Fran Scarlett, director of programs and services for the Institute for Nonprofit News; Michelle Rhinesmith, WHQR 91.3 station manager in Wilmington, NC; and Melanie Sill, news consultant and independent editor. Nov. 10, 10:15 a.m.
From the First Light Bulb to the Industrial Internet
Mona Badie, chief information officer and chief digital officer for GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, will talk about how GE has transformed itself since its founder, Edison, first invented the light bulb in 1879. Today, the company expands by leading the way in the Industrial Internet Revolution. Nov. 10, 9 a.m.
Cape Fear Women in Tech Show and Tell
Audrey Speicher does product marketing at nCino and oversees Cape Fear Women in Tech—a group of women coders, database administrators, entrepreneurs, graphic designers, etc., who help foster professional development. She will lead a show and tell to showcase the latest passion projects, tech ideas and business ventures women are devising. Nov. 10, 2:15 p.m.