Why Being Underpaid is Worse than No Pay

In this economy, it is easy to think that if you have a paying job – even an underpaying one, you’re among the lucky. That’s why this article in ForbesWoman about the dangers of being underpaid struck a chord with me. J Maureen Henderson explains that getting tough about your pay is the only way to keep your self-respect and save your time for more enjoyable activities.  I loved her explanation that: “exposure should be relegated to strippers and rolls of film” by saying: “One of the hooks that clients use to get you to work cheap is the promise that what you won’t make in cold hard cash, you’ll make up for in “exposure.” But exposure is much less valuable than it seems at first glance. How often do you make a deliberate note of the author of an interesting piece of digital copy?”

Similarly, she points out: “Not only does accepting underpaid work send a signal about your market worth and open the door to further devaluation, both from clients and from yourself (“Well, I took that last job, so why not this one, too?”), it ties up time that you could spend hunting for more profitable assignments or increasing your quality of life in other ways.” I couldn’t agree more. As someone who mainly speaks on women moving Beyond the Boys’ Club and Female Breadwinners, for my living – it’s my choice to concentrate on this most lucrative aspect of my work, as it enables my husband and I to live in a remote part of Scotland – travelling for speaking engagements as I need to.

I was recently told at an event by a client that her budget was tight this year and she had asked other suppliers to do work for free -but not me, simply because  ”you try negotiating with Suzanne Doyle-Morris to work with a corporate completely for free!” which I actually took as a compliment. It may mean I don’t do any work with her this year, but actually that frees up my time to concentrate on clients who do have budget.  But I think the most important point about Henderson’s article is useful for all women, whether they are entrepreneurs or employees.

She finishes by explaining that underpaid work just leads to resentment in the long run: “If you have any sort of work ethic and you believe in making the best possible first impression (so as to capitalize on all that exposure coming your way!), you will put as much effort into a underpaying assignment as you would into a well-paid one. You will probably curse your conscientiousness, but you won’t want your name attached to crap in perpetuity, so you’ll grit your teeth and gut it out. You will end up angry, stressed out and still underpaid.”  So if you have a cause you want to give your time to, then by all means volunteer, as I do for a certain number of charitable events each year – but at least then it’s on your own terms and you won’t grizzle with resentment.

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