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The moment that made me a feminist—and helped me find my purpose


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Photo: Claire Wasserman
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Today, Claire Wasserman is an advocate for women’s equality in the workplace. But not so long ago, the Ladies Get Paid founder says she wasn’t a fan of the F-word: feminism. Here, the Well+Good Council member shares the a-ha moment that changed her mind and helped her find her purpose.

My mother was in the second class of women at Yale, and by the time I got to college, women had become the majority of the graduating class. The fight for equality was obviously over, I thought. I not only felt that feminism was dead, it was something to be distanced from. I had this image of a feminist as a man-hater with unshaven armpits—someone I definitely was not

Now, as the founder of an organization called Ladies Get Paid, I’ve clearly done a 180. 

I had to fend off older, white males who would either ask whose wife I was or aggressively come on to me.

While women of our generation may perhaps experience less blatant misogyny than our mothers did, micro-aggressions foster an insidious, almost imperceptible dynamic that makes you constantly question yourself. This is something I’ve only recently understood.

In 2015, I attended the Cannes Lions Festival, where the ratio of men grossly outweighed women. Every night, I would have to fend off older, white males who would either ask whose wife I was or aggressively come on to me. Given that they were potential clients and future bosses, I smiled and remained silent. 

When I returned home, I wrote an essay about my experience and the aftermath of trying to determine what role I played. Then I realized that the frustration and exhaustion I’d experienced my whole career came from something bigger than myself. Fearful of losing jobs if I posted the essay publicly, I shared the essay with some friends. They responded with their stories and forwarded to friends who, in turn, added their own. It was clear I wasn’t alone—and that in order to be deeply honest, we needed a private space.

Ladies Get Paid was born from a town hall I hosted about women and money. I focused on money as a euphemism for value and power. Given the sensitivity, privilege, and taboo nature of the topic, I decided that an open forum rooted in story sharing would be more impactful than a traditional panel.

Less than a year later, I’ve facilitated town halls in 10 cities for thousands of women. I’ve hosted them everywhere from synagogues to co-working spaces; in clothing stores, apartments, a dance studio, and more. No matter the space or the city, my main priority is always to foster intimacy and energy.

Here’s what I’ve learned about creating spaces where women feel supported and powerful.

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Photo: Facebook/Ladies Get Paid Seattle

Don’t hope for inclusion—ensure it

We ask five to seven women from all walks of life to share their stories first. Since they invite their networks, the attendees tend to be just as diverse as they are. We also make a point on the invitation to welcome anyone who identifies as a woman, from every industry and stage of career. We also encourage them to bring their children since we know child care is expensive. We also offer to comp tickets for those who cannot afford them.

But be okay with not including everyone

We made the decision to not allow men at our town halls. While I agree that men are critical to effecting change, the most important thing is ensuring that women feel comfortable to be vulnerable.

Consider their anxiety

When I produce an event, I think about how someone feels from the moment she walks in until the end. What might she be nervous about? Craft the experience around that.

I think back to my life before Ladies Get Paid and feel embarrassed by my misunderstanding of feminism. I’ve been astounded by how many women feel the same.

Orient people toward each other

We always try to put people in a circle, as it’s way more powerful to look at someone’s face rather than their back. I also have the group raise their glasses and do cheers to the women around them, which creates a wonderful moment of connection and celebration.

Set the intention

At the beginning of every event, I read statistics about the lack of women in leadership as a reminder that the very act of showing up is significant and appreciated.

Add humor

With a subject this heavy, you have to inject some lighter moments. Otherwise, this would all be too damn depressing.

I think back to my life before Ladies Get Paid and feel embarrassed by my misunderstanding of feminism. As I admit it publicly, I’ve been astounded by how many women feel the same.  These events are about ways to combat challenges in the workplace, but they’re also a political and cultural conversation about feminism and how we define it. While the energy and advice in each city may be different, the frustrations—and the hope—these women share are universal. The most frequent response I receive is relief at the discovery that they aren’t the only ones.

And yes, my mother is very proud.

The founder of Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman’s an educator, coach, and podcaster, who helps women navigate their professional options to find fulfilling career paths.

What should Claire write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to [email protected]