Still No Pay Equity for Women
Claire Wasserman founded Ladies Get Paid in the summer of 2016 with the mission of helping to close the persistent gender wage gap. She created the group, which provides resources for women to excel in their careers, negotiate salaries and pay raises, and ask for what they’re worth, after a freelance art director she knew discovered that she wasn’t making as much money as her male counterparts but didn’t know how much to charge for her work.
Less than a year and a half later, Ladies Get Paid has grown to more than 20,000 members, coming from all 50 states and 60 countries. They connect in person and online through “town hall” open forums, Meetups, conferences, and a private Slack group organized by industry and location.
But the young, growing organization may have to shut down.
United States of Aggrieved Dudes
Ladies Get Paid events were advertised as being for cis and trans women and non-binary people only, in an attempt to create “a space where we could be vulnerable and share our workplace challenges, free of judgment or intimidation.”
Enter Dudes Who Want to Prove a Point. Two men who say they were turned away from events, together with an attorney who has made a career of taking down women-first events and organizations, sued Ladies Get Paid, Claire, and six of the group’s event organizers, alleging discrimination under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.
The attorney was formerly listed as secretary of the National Coalition for Men (NCFM), a men’s rights group founded in 1977. While NCFM self-identifies as a “gender inclusive…charitable corporation,” a few minutes spent on their website—which casually references the “men’s liberation movement”—suggests that they are more spiritually aligned with the kind of tool who responds to your cordial rejections with, “But you had sex with [literally any other man]. Why not with me?”
A November 2017 post offering “a few quick thoughts on the current sexual abuse hysteria” tries to argue that, while “all male sexuality is potentially criminal nowadays,” women have achieved perfect freedom because we are allowed to wear leggings and “blatantly sexual makeup.” The author then goes on to imply, confoundingly, that a woman who wore a revealing dress to an awards show in the 1990s is “hypocritical” for decrying sexual abuse. (Ironically, a few months later, this woman would explain that the dress was actually a silent scream after a rape she had hidden from the public. The fashion choice was “a political statement”—a middle finger before the days of subtweets.)
The conundrum of the gender pay gap, like all social issues, will not easily be solved. But Ladies Get Paid and other women’s empowerment groups that approach these issues with intelligence and compassion and provide resources—professional networking, education, emotional support, confidence-building—are the grass roots of progress. (Unless, that is, they’re continually trod on by men who appear to hate women.)
In order to keep existing, Ladies Get Paid has turned to crowdfunding to pay their legal fees and fund more community services. We reached out to Claire to talk about the lawsuits, disillusionment, and moving forward with the organization she loves.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve mentioned in a couple of your interviews that you had this eye-opening experience at Cannes Lions Festival in 2017. [Claire also worked as a marketer and an independent film producer.]
The thing that happened at Cannes was—a big reason why I was disappointed—you know it’s this amazing festival with like the industry’s top, top people. So whether you run a brand or an agency, it was going to be the best of the best. I was there with Working Not Working [where she worked as director of marketing], and I was excited to be able to meet people, but also that this is going to be a great business opportunity. We were looking for clients.
And the first night I was there I walk into this party and I noticed it was mostly white men, because, again, if you’re sending the heads of these companies, the heads of them tend to be white men. And the first thing that anybody says to me—this older man comes up to me and he just goes, “Hi! Whose wife are you?” You know what I mean? So innocent. And it was like, “Oh, not only are there not many women here—like, this is how it’s going to be.”
And it is always, like, the “innocent comment.” It’s so deeply ingrained that it’s problematic.
Yeah. It was a week of just, every night, fending off these guys who were really gross, objectifying me. I’d go to parties where they’d hire models and it’s—it was just gross.
They would hire models to just walk around?
There was one party that did that. It is a brand—I will not say their name—but, you know, a brand that has since gotten in a lot of trouble during the #MeToo stuff that’s happened. It was seven days, seven nights of that, so I felt really demoralized.
I remember having this experience where a bunch of women—we were all in the ladies’ room and we were all, whether we knew it consciously or not, we were all kind of hiding. Because it was so—it was like danger zone out there. [One well-known male singer] was talking about, like, finding women to f***. You know what I mean? It was just constant. So it was only in the ladies’ room—
Wait, he was out there doing what?
I don’t remember exactly what he said—something about he was looking for somebody to have sex with. I was just like, I can’t even. I can’t even engage. I was like, I wish you were the only person I heard that from this week. And everyone’s laughing, and, you know, having some of the quote nice guys be like, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” And it’s just like, “No! That’s not the point of this.”
But yeah, I mean being in the ladies room, it was like a safe haven. And we’d be like, “Alright, you go now.” It’s like you put on lipstick and were going out for battle. [laughs] So that was a turning point for me.
I think in my entire career there had been things like that happening but I had brushed past it because I’m moving so fast, I don’t want to, you know, point fingers at anybody else. A lot of these guys who would do inappropriate things, I liked them anyway. So it really took this experience to kind of snap me out of all of that and go, “Hold on. There is something going on in the gender dynamics in our workplaces that is just exaggerated here.”
The spirit of the Ladies Get Paid community—does it feel markedly different from one event to another?
Good question. So I actually traveled the country last year. I hosted town halls, like the first one I did called “Women and Money.” I think I’ve done them now in like 17 cities. The deal is, whenever we open a new chapter, the committee will organize events under the brand of Ladies Get Paid. I go out and I do the first town hall with them. And so, in doing that, it’s been really interesting to see how the women across the country want to talk about money. Because technically, it’s the same subject, but of course it can mean a lot of different things to people. And one thing that just strikes me is that, actually, everybody wants to talk about the same thing.
We all have universal fears, struggles, whatever—some cities want to focus on a certain part of the conversation more than others. I would say what’s different are the ways that these women express themselves. Some of these women are like vocalizing, right? They’re clapping, nodding “uh-huh.” They’ll stand up and shout things out. And then in other states they’re like laughing politely or they take a lot of notes but don’t want to speak up. So the subject is the same; the way they express it is different.
Are there any personal stories that particularly moved you? Success stories? Anything that stands out?
God, there are so many. I mean I get a ton of emails every day. The email that I get after all of these events tends to be, “Wow, I thought I was the only one.” And they’re not. Everybody who comes just walks away realizing there’s like a hundred other women there who are all vocalizing an experience this woman had and had previously thought she was crazy for having it. So that’s been, by far, the pattern of feedback that I get.
It’s very interesting, specifically the “I thought I was crazy,” because the gaslighting of—you know, the whole experience of womanhood. So after all of the amazing advocacy that you guys have done for women, you’ve gotten sued for gender discrimination…by some men.
Okay, so who are they? They’re able to get away with this because of a civil rights act that they’re taking advantage of?
Yeah, so these guys, they are all—they may not say that they are—but they [seem to be] members of the National Coalition for Men. The lawyer has personally been the lawyer in hundreds of cases all under this civil rights act. [He] sued the Oakland A’s for giving out hats to women [for] Mother’s Day. It’s sort of anything and everything.
The way that our legal system is, I mean, the only people who can go to court are people who can afford to go to court. We literally don’t have the money to do it. And we’re not a nonprofit so we didn’t get pro bono counsel. And with a civil rights case, if you lose, you actually have to pay the legal fees of the other side. Given that, this guy—it seems to be all that he does—why would he not drag this out? So this could have been very financially risky for us. And so even if we felt, you know, “We don’t want to settle! We believe we’re right! We think maybe we could win!” It’s like, it doesn’t matter, you just have to settle, because we’re totally broke anyway.
That was why we decided to settle. It still took seven months. Because they were not just suing Ladies Get Paid and me, but they were suing six women who have to organize our events—we call them “ambassadors.” So we covered them. It was—it was—I cannot wait until this is over. It wasn’t just financially draining. It was a huge emotional upheaval for us. We lost so much productivity.
Right. It’s a huge blow.
And it still will be. After the campaign, it’s not like you just snap your fingers and now everything’s okay. This is still going to be hanging on us for some time.
But, you know, obviously, as horrible as this is, it would be nothing compared to how horrible I would feel if I had to shut Ladies Get Paid down.
They served you on the day of the Women’s March, so, Jan. 21, 2017.
When I came back home. I got sued in San Diego in October. I didn’t get the notice of being sued for L.A. until December. I did not get served for anything until January. So, keep in mind, that’s a lot of months of feeling like, “What’s going on?” And the six ambassadors, they actually served them at an event that they were doing, in front of everybody.
Yep. And they served one of our ambassadors as she was literally walking on stage to moderate.
How does that happen?
Well, you can serve anybody anywhere. It was mortifying and scary. He wouldn’t leave the lobby—it was at a hotel. They called me really upset. And I hadn’t even been served yet, so I’m just like, “Wow, I am the reason for this lawsuit and everybody else is getting served and I’m not.”
I wasn’t served by a person, the envelope was just on my doorstep. And we just knew it. It was this big envelope. We’re like, “I think that might be it.” We’re just looking at this going, “Wow. Out of all the days, it took them this long, and it’s this day?” And funnily enough, we settled on Valentine’s Day. So, you know, we have a lot of symbolism in the days we’ve chosen in this lawsuit. [laughs]
They were waging emotional warfare.
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, this isn’t just a lawsuit. This is an ideology. They fundamentally disagree with what we do. He didn’t come to the event to try to get in; the lawyer says he was trying to prove a point.
So I’m like, what is this? Prove a point? There’s no discussion here about what we can do together. Your point is that you want to cripple a company.
But we’ve changed our policy.
When did that happen? Because I saw that, you know, men who were obviously trying to do this—make a statement—came, they were let in, and then they left because they didn’t actually want to come.
We changed our policy the minute I got sued, which was in October, and we told everybody, “Everybody should let men in.” Like, “Better do it.” We called all of our friends who ran similar organizations to ours.
And then, I can’t say it was them—but of course it was, because we know what they look like. But two “unidentified men” came to our town hall in L.A. They asked, “Can I come in?” They were told yes. And they said, “Okay.” And they just walked away. The problem, though, is, since they didn’t register, we can’t say, “Oh it’s definitely those guys, because we know their names.”
So it’s just shitty, because, like, I would love to say that in the press, that it was them, but rather it was like, “There were two men that came—” So the two men who walked away, we told them they could come in, [and they] clearly didn’t want to.
Right. Oh, man. So, once you decided to talk about all of this happening, you said you’ve been intimidated by them?
Yeah, he—the lawyer—reached out to my lawyer and said that one of the journalists I spoke to called him and mentioned something like, I had referenced the settlement as being expensive, and he reached out to my lawyer accusing me of breach of confidentiality, though that isn’t the case. In our agreement, I simply cannot state the number that I settled for. But the fact that I even said that the settlement cost anything, in his opinion, that was breaching confidentiality. My lawyer shut him down, and we’ve moved on.
What’s been most surprising to you about all of this?
I don’t know, my loss of innocence? [laughs] I didn’t know anything about men’s rights groups, or, you know, incels—do you know what that is?
I know about the Red Pillers, the MGTOW—
Yeah, this is like involuntary celibates.
Then there’s another subcommunity of men who are voluntarily celibate, or hate women, I don’t remember.
I think it’s Men Going Their Own Way, which, for short, is MGTOW. It’s supposedly this—it’s just a rebranding of the Red Pillers.
I didn’t know about any of those things—and now I do. So what surprised me is how awful humanity might be. I have been so naive.
It’s a rude awakening. I’ve spent a lot of time in those threads, you know, and you just are like, “Wow. They really hate us!”
What are you doing spending time in those threads? [laughs] Why would you do that to yourself?
I know! Self-care. Gotta pull myself out.
So what do you need to move forward?
I mean at this point it’s just spreading the word. Giving to the crowdfunding campaign. Then, hopefully we can get back to doing what we wanted—you know, actually running this company. I miss it so much. I miss coming up with a curriculum and not talking about these guys.
We agree—f*** those guys. Let’s pay some ladies instead.