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Two Pay Systems – Who Knew?

by | Oct 27, 2021

When I was starting out in my design career (in my 20s), I was offered a teaching position at an art college in San Francisco. I loved the idea of teaching, so I agreed to take on a class on Corporate Identity and Print Design. I was able to create my own curriculum and customize projects for my class. I did it out of love, not necessarily for the money. The money I made at the end of the day was good for a few dinners out per month. Over the years, I received excellent feedback from my students and helped many of them get prestigious jobs right out of school. I spent hours each week preparing lectures for the class and completed written reviews for each student’s projects. After each class, I felt inspired and teaching contributed significantly to the creativity in my work.

I taught classes at the school for 7 years and never really thought about asking for a raise. My husband at the time was offered a class to teach in a newly created web design curriculum. He knew how much I enjoyed teaching, so he agreed to come on. A few weeks after his first class, we both received our paychecks. I was shocked to see that he was being paid almost 4 times what I was being paid. He had zero experience teaching and was not as developed in his career as I was. I felt almost ashamed seeing how little I was being paid after all the years and all the praise.

I finally built the courage to ask the head of the design program about this pay discrepancy. She was shocked to hear how much more he was getting paid (and assumed it might be a mistake), and asked the head of the college how I could apply for a raise. They sent me a long list of items I had to provide: A lengthy bio showing all my experience in professional work. A list of awards my work has won. A written letter requesting why I want a raise (and why I deserve a raise). Physical samples of my work. A list of my clients. Putting together all this took hours of my time. When I finally submitted the package to the college, I sat and waited. After about a month, I had not even received an acknowledgment of the petition. I asked the head of the program about the status of my petition, and she informed me my application was denied.

According to the college, I was on an “old” pay structure, and my husband was on the “new” pay structure. None of this was communicated anywhere. How is this possible? Why was I being discriminated against when I had delivered for over 7 years? I started to resent working there.

So I quit.

When the head of the program begged me not to leave, I told her that I was leaving because I was not being paid my value. She did nothing to make it right.

Back then, I felt ill-equipped to fight. Now that I am older and wiser, I help others find the courage to demand what they deserve.

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