Growing Ladies Get Paid one town hall at a time

Claire Wasserman has connected 75,000 women on a mission to close the wage gap. Here's how she sparked Ladies Get Paid, then grew by passing the torch.

By 2016, Claire Wasserman was fed up with men not taking her seriously in the workplace. For years, she’d internalized this marginalization as her fault and a problem she’d need to struggle through alone. It was time for a perspective shift.

With a friend, Claire brought together 100 women in a town hall to talk about money and power in the workplace. That night Claire witnessed the potential for a much bigger conversation.

To keep the momentum going, Claire created a Slack group. It grew to 6,000 women in the first year and more than 20,000 members from all 50 states after 18 months. Claire quit her job, incorporated the business, and hit the road hosting town halls around the country.

Today, Ladies Get Paid has helped more than 75,000 women believe in and advocate for their work, including a young Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Town hall discussions, conferences, workshops, webinars and more took place across the country before the pandemic, and those sessions have transformed into webinars and more since COVID arrived.

Due to the sensitivity of topics they discuss—such as sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace—many of Ladies Get Paid’s events are for female-identifying and non-binary people only to create a space “where we could be vulnerable with one another and share freely, without judgment or intimidation.” Thousands more women worldwide share advice, resources, jobs, and more on Slack.

How did Claire get such a massive community and business off the ground? She aced the key steps of sparking a community. We discussed it all in our recent interview with her on our podcast.

Below, we break Claire’s key decisions down:

A participatory shared activity

Claire wanted to talk about money and decided on a town hall format to do so. Claire told us she didn’t want to host a typical panel because money is a personal topic. “I felt uncomfortable having ‘experts’ give advice. I really wanted to hear from other women about how they felt.” A panel could possibly limit the breadth and dynamism of what had the potential to be a big, powerful group conversation.

Political town halls often start with a few pre-selected people who stand up and share, setting the tone for the room before opening it up to the crowd. Claire decided to repurpose that insight. She asked six women that she thought could share “phenomenal” stories to speak first.

Crucially, Claire also asked each of those six speakers to think of 1-3 women in their lives who they believe should also be in attendance. I’d ask them: “Could you pass those women the invite to attend? And, if you feel comfortable, could you introduce them to me?” Claire kept inviting women through a chain of personal recommendations and quickly reached 100 attendees. (In fact, there was a waitlist!) Most importantly, the room felt intimate because of these personal connections. “The event was so special because there was a six-degrees-of-separation embedded in it. The environment felt really comfortable because people realized they had connections to the rest of the folks in the room,” Claire told us.

As women stood up and shared stories that day, Claire acted as a facilitator, encouraging others with similar stories or advice to stand up and build on what they’d heard. Soon, the room was alive with both sad and celebratory stories about money.

P&C Tip: Don’t think about your community as just an audience. Instead, treat these people as collaborators. People are showing up to realize a shared purpose, not to watch you realize it for them. Even with your first activity, create ways for others to participate. Claire carved out chances for attendees to participate in shaping both who she invited to the town hall and what was shared that night.

Extending the conversation online

Claire invited those first town hall attendees to a Slack group to “extend” the discussion that took place that night. She created channels based on sub-themes that had come up during the live conversation, topics like contract negotiations and legal questions.

The attendees brought the same generosity of spirit and sense of connection they’d experienced in person to their interactions on Slack. Since 2016, more than 2 million messages have been exchanged. Despite the group’s size and activity, the group doesn’t have moderators and Claire and her team have only had to remove “about five” bad actors since the Slack was opened.

To join the watering hole today, new members simply need to sign up via the Ladies Get Paid website. Claire and her team add each new person to Slack by hand. (Yes, they have manually added all 75,000 members!) Claire points to the accessibility of Slack and the stickiness of the topics as key reasons for the Slack group’s organic growth.

Because of the watering hole’s size and vibrancy, it’s become a major asset to the Ladies Get paid team. They use it to identify conversation patterns and inform what kind of educational programming to offer their community next. Thus, while the early town hall conversations determined what would be discussed in Slack, the Ladies Get Paid team can now also turn to Slack conversations to inform their future events.

P&C Tip: For any community to flourish, it’s essential that members have a space where they can speak directly to each other, without having to depend on a founder or leader to play intermediary. To enable all the ways your people can share and collaborate with one another, you’ll have to create spaces where members can freely connect on their own time, like Claire did using Slack.

Empowering local leaders

Early on, women from across the country began to pop up in the new Slack group from both big cities and more rural areas. Some of these women asked Claire if they could host their own town halls.

As Claire was still in a learning and iterating phase with both the brand and event format, she made an agreement with these eager hosts: Claire would fly out to co-host a first town hall with them if the host would commit to doing an event every month (later it became once a quarter) and selling at least 100 tickets. These $15 tickets covered a plane ticket and one night at an Airbnb for Claire.

Claire visited 19 cities, popping from one town hall to the next in the months following the 2016 election. While on the road, she noticed both similarities and differences amongst the cultures she visited. “The trip allowed me to understand where I needed really strict brand guidelines, and where I needed to allow these women who were leading the town halls to show me how our mission might resonate in, say, Oklahoma, where I was told feminism was ‘the other f word.’” A word like feminism wouldn’t resonate in Oklahoma, Claire noted, but “Ladies Get Paid” could.

Diving deep into the burgeoning Ladies Get Paid community in that first year, Claire developed a perspective on what was really special about her town halls and codified those elements into her guidelines for local hosts.

Claire gave others the power to host Ladies Get Paid events through delineating for them both what to do and what not to do at their events. “My goal has always been that I don’t want Ladies Get Paid to be dependent on me personally,” she told us. “I’ve been deliberate in creating an ecosystem that I don’t need to participate in—when I’m there it’s just icing on the cake.”

P&C Tip: If you want to maintain your community’s magic, bolster its impact, and broaden its reach, you have to empower others to become leaders of the community. As veteran community organizer Marshall Ganz says: “Organizers think of themselves as people that develop the leadership of others.” You don’t have to toil alone. Cultivate hand-raisers into leaders like Claire did through both structure and support.

Shining a spotlight on members

Claire and the Ladies Get Paid community have acted as storytelling catalysts, sparking thousands of women to share their stories with one another over the last five years both online and off. That left Claire with a rich mental library of anecdotes and insights about what it was like to identify as a female professional today.

In January, Claire published a book that shines a spotlight on inspiring stories from Ladies Get Paid members. It’s called Ladies Get Paid: The Ultimate Guide to Breaking Barriers, Owning Your Worth, and Taking Command of Your Career.

Why publish a book? “The email that I would receive after every town hall was someone saying to me, ‘I thought I was the only one.’ To get people to see themselves in one another is profound because people carry shame about a lot of these topics,” Claire explained to us. It was common for Ladies Get Paid members to think that they didn’t get a job because “they were somehow not good enough.” Or they didn't get the raise because “they weren’t worthy.” Perhaps they are experiencing discrimination at their company, but not recognizing that the cause is a larger systemic issue. Claire knew she could help people feel better as they're gearing up for negotiations, annual reviews, and more, if they could just see themselves in the story of another person. The book accomplishes that at scale.

P&C Tip: People can’t be what they can’t see. For the leaders at the HQ of any community, it’s your job is to put a spotlight on the inspiring people in your community.

In creating exposure for these exceptional folks, you’ll bring the community to life for others considering joining. And, as a bonus, you’ll celebrate what standout member participation looks like, which can motivate existing members to deepen their involvement. Devote resources and time to regularly seeking out new narratives from members of your community and publishing them widely.

To buy a copy of Claire’s book, head here.

To get hear more of the Ladies Get Paid story from our recent interview with Claire, listen to the podcast here.

And to join Ladies Get Paid, head to their website.