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Take Charge: You’ve Earned the Right to Equal Pay

Graphic by Gabby '15
Graphic by Gabby ’15

“I’m sorry to bring this up again, but I have another question about my pay.” Cracking my knuckles and biting my lip, I stood wracked with guilt before the camp’s assistant director as I asked about my salary for the second time that week.

During the summer before my sophomore year, I was working as a Junior Counselor with three- and four-year-olds at a children’s sports camp. The year prior, I had worked at the same camp as an unpaid Counselor in Training. I sang Disney songs, provided piggyback rides and cleaned up after an array of messes and accidents. At the end of that summer, the directors named me the CIT of the Year. With the start of camp the second summer, I could not wait to resume working with the adorable kids. At fifteen years old and in a new post as a Junior Counselor, I also looked forward to the added bonus of receiving my first regular paycheck.

I had not expected or wanted to make any complaints about my pay — much less two. I do not remember the exact series of events that led me to my second apologetic inquiry, but my memory is as follows. The second Friday of camp, all counselors and junior counselors had received their first paychecks of the summer. Yet, after the directors passed out the white envelopes, I walked away empty-handed. I reasoned in the moment that I had misunderstood the age requirement to become a Junior Counselor. Eager to avoid the impression that I was in the job for the money, I left that day without asking the directors to confirm my assumption. As we walked away, I had a discussion with a boy my age and experience level who was holding a white envelope and told me his salary. I realized that the directors must not have known my age and decided to ask the following Monday. When I approached the directors, they apologized and issued me a paycheck the next day.

Upon opening the envelope at home, however, dismay tempered my excitement. My pay was $50 less than the salary that the other Junior Counselor had told me he earned. When I brought this discrepancy up with my parents, they insisted that I approach the directors again to ask why my salary was lower. I resisted. I had already raised a question once about my pay, and I did not want to come across as whiny or more focused on money rather than the kids. My dad retorted that, if the tables were flipped, and my peer had learned I earned more than he did, the boy would march into the directors’ office without hesitation. On the drive to camp the next morning, the argument continued. At the end of the day, I reluctantly heeded my parents’ advice.

“I’m sorry to bring this up again, but I have another question about my pay.”

A few sorrys later, I had explained my concern. Instead of an apology in return and immediate action to rectify another slip in the books, the assistant director offered an explanation. She told me that the boy’s pay was a reward for his manual labor in helping to blow up and disassemble the bounce house each day, tasks that he performed while I helped facilitate pick-up and drop-off. Relieved to have avoided any reprimand for my fixation with money, I accepted the excuse and the lower pay every two weeks. After giving myself a mental pat on the back for asking at all, I moved on and did not reflect on the incident for over a year.

However, during this past month, some element of my Marlborough education has triggered this memory and encouraged me to see it in a new light. The sudden flashback may have arrived because I learned about performing arts instructor Doug Lowry’s policy prohibiting girls from saying sorry during Fight Choreography unless blood has been drawn. It is also possible that I recalled this experience because I am studying Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist texts in French class. I do know that these messages of empowerment have led me to a new conclusion.

I should not have apologized for asking for the pay I deserved. I am not advocating that women in the workplace turn their backs on courtesy. My belief, instead, is that being overly polite can prove to be an obstacle rather than an asset. Uncomfortable as the situation may feel, it should not make women experience guilt for being assertive in asking about money. There is no shame in working hard and believing that you deserve a fair salary. One step toward women leveling the playing field in the workplace is dropping the apology in asking for their just pay.