My first job in journalism, as an intern at a magazine in Jerusalem, paid about $500 a month. At the time I felt thrilled by the opportunity and promptly found a part-time job in retail to support my full-time job as a journalist. But I think the consequences may have haunted me throughout my career.
Looking back, this wasn't the only time I played down the importance of proper payment for work. Like many women, the topic of compensation makes me uncomfortable, especially when it relates to work I love.
I often wonder what role our ambivalent feelings about money plays in the wider discussion of the wage gap between women and men. It seems obvious to say that we need money to survive, and want to be paid for a job well done. So why do so many of us struggle to talk about it?
We must learn to talk about money, and talk about it often, because dismissing its importance leads to a host of other issues that have an impact on more than just financial independence.
"Getting paid is so important because it fosters that feeling of financial confidence," said Barbara Stewart, a portfolio manager with Cumberland Private Wealth Management Inc. in Toronto.
She warns that it's vital to focus on being properly compensated, and recognized, for your work because if you don't, it can lead to a lifetime of undervaluing your accomplishments.
Women and their relationship to money is a topic close to Ms. Stewart's heart. She not only manages people's wealth in her position, but in the past year she travelled the world interviewing dozens of accomplished women on their views about money. She has self-published her findings in a paper entitled "Rich Thinking: A Global study – A Guide to Building Financial Confidence in Girls and Women."
Ms. Stewart uncovered 10 major themes in her research, but the one that resonated for me focused on the issue of being paid for your work. She interviewed a successful painter in Berlin who bucked the notion of the starving artist after watching her mother, a baker, lose her business by not charging enough for her cakes. The artist refused to make the same mistake.
"The overriding message that permeated across all of the 10 themes was to be independent," Ms. Stewart said. "Being independent means understanding that what we want costs money, and that means dealing with money yourself and understanding the link between work and money."
If you are meek when negotiating your salary or requesting a pay raise, the impact likely goes beyond your financial statement. Vancouver-based Kim Sarrasin, who coaches women in search of a healthier relationship with men and money, said she frequently encounters women who settle for less because they don't feel they deserve to "have it all."
"Money is a highly emotionally charged subject. Women find it much easier to talk about their sex life versus their money issues – even with their best girlfriend," Ms. Sarrasin said. "Money is a deeply intimate subject. So if a client is not willing to look at money in the eye, it's a clue I need to find out what else she's not looking in the eye," she added.
She suggested that women who avoid talking about money frequently have other relationship issues that should be addressed. "Working through major money blocks will release a host of other limiting beliefs women have developed over their lifetime, with regard to worth and value," she said.
So, is this bashfulness about money a youthful trait that some of us never outgrow? Or is it something we need to tackle early in our careers, with full awareness of our expectations?
Jessica Tobianah, a student in the Rotman Commerce program at the University of Toronto, plans to use online resources such as Glassdoor to ensure that the summer jobs she applies for pay appropriately. She also relies on the experiences of family and friends as benchmarks. But like other young women entering the work force, she is more focused on getting the right job than the appropriate paycheque.
"As a student, it's most important for me to build a solid foundation of transferable skills and to prove to professionals that I am intelligent," Ms. Tobianah said. "Depending on the task and the employer, I know when it is appropriate to ask for compensation and when it's better to simply lend a helping hand."