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Full Time, All the Time

with Britt Reints

Forget the 9 to 5; the demands of a working mom aren’t limited by a time clock. Full Time, All the Time is a blog about balancing the many roles of a modern woman - and maintaining your wellbeing while doing it. I am a writer, mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend and sometimes volunteer living in Pittsburgh. Oh, and I think you look pretty today.

You can also find Britt on Twitter and at

Women shouldn’t ask other women to work for free

Categories: discrimination


Group Hug - 100220081469 I was fired last night.

Well, fired doesn’t seem like the most fitting word since I hadn’t been getting paid consistently for about a year; I received an email relieving me of my duties. According to the email, the organization is looking to tighten their belts and wants to streamline things moving forward; the move will make it easier for everyone (else) to get paid in the future.

I can’t shake the feeling that the real reason I was let go - or at least a mitigating factor - is because I was never all in on working for free. Strangely, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me.

I took on this particular gig with the understanding that money would change hands every month. At first, everything went as planned. Then, deposit days went by with no deposits made and no explanations sent. Being exceptionally pushy, I sent emails inquiring about my missing pay. Eventually it was made clear that things were tight, but would surely get better, and all would be made right in the future. I stayed on.

Every few months, I would email the head honcho and ask for an update on the money situation and a chunk of cash if possible.I spent less time participating in group email threads. I stopped agreeing to take on extra projects and I no longer got excited about the idea of traveling (at my expense) to promote the organization. The longer I went without pay, the less invested I was creatively and emotionally in the work.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided that I had to be a little more discerning about where I put my time and energy . I said I couldn’t keep working for free, and I was asked to hold on just a little bit longer; we were so close to the light everyone had been waiting for! I stayed on.

I was dismissed last night about five minutes after finishing up this week’s duties. I should have been relieved, but instead I felt both hurt and guilty.

I always felt like I was nagging when I would ask about pay. I felt like I was letting everyone down when I scaled back my contributions over the last year in an effort to reduce the size of the growing back-pay mountain. More than that, I felt like I was being disloyal. Not a team player. Not excited or enthusiastic or eager enough to commit more of my resources to a shaky promise.

Oddly enough, this is the second time this scenario has played out in my career. A few years ago, I agreed to join a start-up site with the promise of getting paid as soon as the venture was profitable. As time went on, I started asking more and more questions about that that promise being fulfilled, and a replacement for me was found. It was not exactly an amicable split.

It makes no sense for me to be disappointed about losing these pseudo jobs, but rejection in any form carries a bit of a sting. Also, watching so many of my colleagues happily work for a cause instead of a dollar makes me feel guilty for being financially focused. Wanting payment for my work makes me worry that I’m greedier and more materialistic than my associates. Yes, I’m quick to buy into the idea that I no longer fit because there is something wrong with me .

Here is where I’m going to play the gender card and suggest that men do not have this problem.

In my experience, women are more easily convinced to trade their talents for a sense of belonging. We’re sold not on salary but on the merits of the group. We accept our bosses’ personal struggles as legitimate factors for determining our own pay grades. Guilt is a bargaining chip that is used frequently and effectively on us.

Worse than that, women are more likely to ask other women to work for free, to come aboard under the hope of succeeding together. Maybe that would be forgivable, except that in my experience the leader tends to benefit the most - financially or otherwise - from the collective efforts of the group.

Just writing this makes me feel like a traitor to my sex.

But someone needs to write it. Someone needs to say that it is not OK to ask your employees or partners to "wait." It’s not OK to have to plead your case come payday, sharing your own family’s private circumstances in an effort to receive what you’ve earned. It’s not right to ask people to choose between being a team player or a paid one. It’s not right to take advantage of your team just because you can.

I think women do this so easily to each other because we know one another’s trigger points. When we exploit those shared vulnerabilities, it sets us all back. It sends the message that we should accept 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Don’t worry, we’ll make up that gap with friendship and emotional support!

I can’t imagine someone asking my husband to work for free because it’s what’s best for the group. Of course, I can’t imagine him saying yes to such an offer for even a day, let alone several months.

Clearly a good chunk of the onus falls with me, and women like me who have agreed to take on projects that they later resented. If I was uncomfortable with the situation, I should have recused myself immediately. Part of me thought staying on was my best chance at getting paid for work I’d already done, but another part of me just didn’t want to be the unsympathetic jerk who quit. Instead, I became the unsympathetic jerk who stood in the corner and grumbled about not getting paid.

Now, I’m the unsympathetic jerk who got fired.

(I’d like to point out that Work It, Mom! - a site largely by and for women - has always been exemplary when it comes to holding up their end of the work-for-pay deal. That rocks.)

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17 comments so far...

  • You weren’t nagging. You work, you expect to get paid. That’s the deal.

    I would agree about this being a woman issue. We are much more willing to take a back seat for the good of the whole. It’s part of our nurturing instinct, I think.

    Megan  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:24 am

  • *high five*
    What really shocks me are the very BIG companies paying women writers PENNIES. Another blogger/writer recently told me what she was paid by a very large company and it was disgusting.
    The thing is, Britt, so many women are lined up behind you, bloggers and writers and such, just waiting for their opportunity to work for free. So how and when will it all end?

    Rachel  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:28 am

  • Both my wife and I have had similar situations of no pay or underpayment for services. I started my own website (not my “dad blog”) after getting into a pay disagreement with my former employer. It was one of the best things I have done professionally. Doors close, doors open, etc.

    My wife, among some of the various jobs she did up until recently, was a reading tutor for the public school system. It was a (very) part time gig that paid $11 an hour, but it was better than nothing, and allowed her to be flexible with her time. One of the things she did with her time was train other tutors in the school system. This paid significantly more. Over the summer she finally got her Teaching Certificate and Masters In Teaching. She is now a substitute teacher, which pays a lot more than $11 an hour, and allows some flexibility to still do the tutor training. She was recently asked by her old school if she was interested in possibly returning as a tutor. At $11 an hour. Not a valuable use of her time, and was a bit of an insult.

    The bottom line is to demand to be paid what you’re worth.

    daniel  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:38 am

  • Wow! Totally messed up. Unless it is a non-profit or an issue I feel passionate about, I REFUSE to WORK for FREE. I am not a fan of badges, but this should be a badge everyone displays. As examples to our daughter, we must value ourselves. Sorry, Britt. Hopefully they do plan to pay you what they owe you, right?

    Heather Murphy-Raines/ScoutsHonor  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:39 am

  • Hi Britt,

    Take what you’ve learned and move on. I’m sorry that happened to you. I don’t think it’s just WOMEN this happens to… I’ve been in many ventures that went a similar way & it’s horrid how you feel when YOU decide to stop participating. In reality, the company should understand that they can’t get people to work for FREE.

    If you don’t fight for what you want, it won’t happen. Further, if it DOESN’T happen — then it’s not what you wanted. Move on, you KNOW it didn’t suit you & that there is something better for you out there.

    Be relieved.

    It’s not a ‘woman issue.’ It happens to people across the board. — I quit being a journalist because the first few papers I worked for did this to me.

    Paul Franklin  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:39 am

  • there are several take aways from this post…but i have to comment that as hard as it is to be relieved from your duties (it’s hard, i know)…from reading this it seems the real issue is you didn’t get to quit like you wanted but rather you stuck around and ended up getting “fired”.

    not knowing the entire situation…but understanding “downsizing”, etc…perhaps it was more that the organization did indeed need to realign themselves; by you own admission on twitter you didn’t participate much, and in this piece you said you have had issues with this particular arrangement from the start…so as decisions were made, it would be appropriate and obvious to cut the person that least wants to be there.

    Yes, i know…they SHOULD want you, they SHOULD fight to keep you…we are all legends in our own minds.

    Don’t take it so personal…it’s business…and the reality (from what I’ve read)…the decision made is actually the best decision for YOU.

    MelissaJ  |  October 15th, 2012 at 9:43 am

  • @MelissaJ - yes, you’re absolutely right that it’s about being asked to leave instead of doing the asking. I know in my head that it was the right move for EVERYONE, my gut is just taking some time to catch up. :-)

    Miss Britt  |  October 15th, 2012 at 10:23 am

  • In the early days I detested HuffPo because it was a huge moneymaker filled with work that people donated.

    We donate to nonprofits, we don’t donate to corporations.

    Blogging has also made us feel like we have friends so we ask friends for favors. Well, a favor on a personal blog (like a guest post) is quite different than a business model with no funding, no business plan, no exit strategy and no payroll.

    I think to many folks prey on women who would like to be pseudo-famous or have some pen pals.

    Jessica Gottlieb  |  October 15th, 2012 at 10:33 am

  • No money, no work. Make it a rule. Being a team player has nothing to do with getting screwed out of your pay. Whoever the company is, shame on them and so unprofessional. Sorry this happened but it’s a blessing in disguise, now you can find a paying gig.

    Kathryn(@Kat1124)  |  October 15th, 2012 at 11:58 am

  • I’ve been in this situation before, and I finally learned to say no.

    You are valuable, Britt, and you know that. Keep on standing up for what you deserve. :)

    Angella  |  October 15th, 2012 at 1:11 pm

  • just how long did folks expect you to work for free? i mean, you did if for an entire year and they wanted more? that pushes “help us get through a rough patch and you will be rewarded” into “sucker” territory. i know lots of men and women who would agree to delay a paycheck here and there to help a start up or a struggling business get back on its feet, but over a year is bullshit, plain and simple. those folks were using you. and using how many others? sick part is they will get away with it because blogging conferences offer delusions of fame and fortune if you just stick with it, if you just network with the right people. sadly, so many women buy into that dream that they allow themselves to be used.

    i’m really a fan of what “Jessica Gottlieb | October 15th, 2012 at 10:33 am” said. all of it.

    hello haha narf  |  October 15th, 2012 at 2:48 pm

  • The part that really stands out for me is that you weren’t paid for work done. I don’t profess to know all state laws nor do I know the particular agreement you had but the HR professional in me says do not stand for that. It is unjust and you should be able to file a complaint.

    Stacey  |  October 15th, 2012 at 2:57 pm

  • It’s easy to get sucked into these scenarios, but it does hurt when you realize promises made never materialize.

    Just think of it this way…you are now free to find something better. And with your talent and drive, you will. =)

    Hugs to you, Britt.

    Michelle  |  October 15th, 2012 at 5:30 pm

  • Two words: Arianna Huffiington.

    KateC  |  October 16th, 2012 at 9:07 pm

  • I think you are right about women doing things out of obligation or guilt. I worked in a restaurant where the waitstaff (all female) got paid when there was cash at the end of the night. If there wasn’t cash they owed you. There was no policy about when you got paid. They did eventually pay people their money, but it was random and mostly when you asked. Many of the employees felt funny (guilty) asking for their money. I never did. I always asked for my money.

    Most people waiting tables are living check to check if not shift to shift so money is important.

    Eventually more and more people asked for their money. Oddly enough the policy changed.

    J  |  October 19th, 2012 at 8:55 am

  • Alas, my dear, this tale is proof positive of one of my cardinal rules — never work for free if you’d like them to pay you later. As distinct from volunteer work, where you know feeling good and maybe resume fodder are the goals.

    Once you work for free that’s your pricetag.

    Susan Getgood  |  October 19th, 2012 at 10:18 pm

  • Charitable work is fine and dandy. But this sounds like it was a definite case of bait-and-switch. And it’s baloney. If times are tough, you reduce your overhead or raise income in some other way than asking your employees to go without a paycheck.

    I hope that you don’t have to resort to legal avenues to collect your back pay.

    thepsychobabble  |  October 21st, 2012 at 6:18 pm