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.)