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“I found the courage to ask for more after discovering I was underpaid by nearly 1OO percent”


In another life, I used to make documentaries with the BBC, traveled everywhere for work, and felt capable and confident. When my husband and I had kids and moved from England to the US, my life no longer fit with that, so I stopped working. When my youngest went to pre-K about five years ago, I wanted a part-time job. I met a friend at my daughter’s school, and I started helping her sell her wares--embellished tea towels and aprons--at a flea market on the weekend. It astonished me how much confidence I’d lost. It was a horrible year, baptism by fire. But I grew during it. I can’t say the same for my pay.

What I was paid would fluctuate depending on what I happened to be doing in an hour. I was paid $12 if I was packing; $18 if I was doing office stuff. After two years, I got it up to $18 an hour, and then $21. Then it stayed stuck as the business took off. We got picked up by Bloomingdale’s and West Elm! I started handling big decisions about the future of the business, while feeling irritated about what I was paid. I knew I merited more. But rather than act on this feeling and advocate for myself, I tried to rationalize my low pay. I could work 10am-2:30pm, four days a week. I should feel fortunate, right? 

I approached my boss at one point for a raise, but then she let it drop. I should have pursued it, but I was embarrassed. Eventually, I could no longer contain my feelings. I started to stew in resentment. I knew I deserved more money, but I had no parameters to make the case for it. My job was all-encompassing--from coming up with color ideas to getting on the phone with FedEx. I didn’t know how to find comparable examples of my role. Then I heard about Wager, and my match-up told me she was making $40 an hour as a “studio manager”; doing a bit of everything to help the whole business run, a role similar to my own. Another match-up shared that she earned a similar fee.

About six months ago, I decided I no longer wanted to work where I felt undervalued. If my boss couldn’t afford to pay more, I’d work somewhere else. I’d gotten to the point where I felt confident enough--and annoyed enough--to walk away if I didn’t get a substantial salary adjustment. I asked for $30 an hour, and my boss countered with $27.25, explaining that the accountant said she couldn’t afford $30. I told her, “I understand if you can’t match it, but I can’t accept less.” My boss agreed! It was like she was saying, “I see the contributions you’ve made and I value them.”

This increase has made a huge difference to me. I pocket $600 more a month after taxes. I feel valued rather than taken advantage of. I’m so much happier about life in general now--even though it’s a part-time job, the feeling of knowing I’m valued spills over into everything else. If it weren’t for another woman sharing her pay info with me, I wouldn’t be where I am now. She was under no obligation to do that, and I’m forever in her debt. 

I still see this as a job--one that fits really well with my life at this moment--rather than a career. Regardless, I deserve to be paid for my contributions. Now I am. The effect is emotional, not just financial. For the first time in a long time, I’m feeling, “I’m in!” It’s not just about my bank account but about the way I feel inside.

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