Myth #4 – I’m just going to have to accept being paid badly…

Featured in Annabelle Magazine

I spoke to a lady this week who told me that despite a Masters in her field and five years of solid work experience (and kicking ass at that!), she earned just above minimum wage. And when I asked her why that was, she gave me the same story as many others do when I ask them why they accept their low wages. “I work at a start-up, you see. None of us make much money. When I accepted the job, I knew I wouldn’t make much; that’s just how it is here.” 

And you can replace “start-up” here with “non-profit”, “in academia” or something similar. 

The idea is always the same: because you work in a certain industry, you cannot expect to be paid well. No one earns well, or there’s just no budget available or that old one: you work in this field because it matters to you, and it matters more than the actual salary involved. 

So passion > money, basically. 

But despite this feeling that loving what you do is more important than the salary you get in return, they are unhappy. Because in the end, money does matter. 

Here’s how that works: your salary is an expression of the value your boss puts on your contribution to the organisation. And when that salary is really low, it is difficult to feel valued and appreciated, leading to a downward spiral of unhappiness. 

Because you feel undervalued, you are not showing up with the motivation and inspiration you need to do great work, leading to even less reason for your boss to pay you more or promote you, leading to even greater unhappiness, etc. So earning a salary that makes you feel valued is essential to being happy at work, wherever field you work in. 

And importantly, when you assume you cannot make good money just because you’re in a non-profit / academia / at a start-up, you’re making a serious mistake. 

The notion that you cannot do work that you’re absolutely passionate about AND make good money doing it, is a fallacy. Please don’t buy into this myth that the two are mutually exclusive. 

You absolutely CAN do work that matters to you and to society AND make good money doing it. I have helped plenty of women do it, and thus start an upward cycle, where their renewed excitement, inspiration and motivation for their job led to even better work and thus better money, and so on. 

You may need to educate your boss at your government organisation more than a boss in the corporate sector to show that talent needs to be rewarded or else talent leaves, but during a meaningful career conversation (or series of conversations) you can absolutely do so. You may need to get extra creative to brainstorm with the founder of your start-up how to set up a bonus system that keeps you motivated, but you can do it. You may need to take your non-profit director by the hand and show them better than you’d have to do in a corporate role how your work contributes to the bottom line, because it might be more difficult for them to find the funds to raise your salary, but though practice and effort, you definitely can.

I promise you: once you invest the time and energy in preparing for and having these meaningful conversations with your boss, there is so much more that is possible than you might think right now. 

Wies Bratby.

Negotiation Coach, former top Lawyer and HR Director, and unapologetic advocate for women in my tribe getting what they want and what they are worth.

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