Earlier today I heard a piece on the radio about pay disparity between men and women in some of our country’s most well know companies. Apple, Expedia, Facebook, Microsoft and others were named as companies that have–under the pressure of advocates for the radical notion of “equal work for equal pay”–incorporated into their company culture the commitment of base-salary parity between the sexes. The discussion turned then to parse out a deeper divide: that the “compensation packages” between men and women can differ to the degree that the entrenched practice of paying women 61 cents to a man’s dollar remains.
It was upon the mention of “compensation package” that I got lost in my own thoughts. This one paramount: I’ve never been offered a compensation package.”
The jobs I have held have ranged from camp counselor to pizza maker to child abuse investigator to law clerk to public defender. None of those vocations came with an attendant “compensation package.” Knowing the hourly rate or salary before even submitting an application or resume, I went into each interview with the sole objective of getting the job. When I applied for these jobs, minimum wage or for the posted salary was going to be pay pay. That piece of “coming to a number we could all agree upon” was not part of the hiring process.
For the last thirty years, I’ve been employed albeit with varying degrees of time commitment. Not once did I have to advocate for why I thought I deserved in “compensation.” Moreover, never was there a time that I asked for a raise: either I left the job, like when I went off to college or when camp ended, or my “raises” simply happened according to whatever contract had been worked out long before I became an employee.
For the last nine years, I’ve been self-employed with my income driven solely by securing clients or taking on court-appointed work as a guardian ad litem. With enough of the former sort of work, I do “OK;” regardless of the amount gleaned from the latter sort, I’d never get even close to the underside of “OK.”
There are ups and downs, but truth be told, it’s been a lot “down” for the last few years. Whether that is a collateral effect of fewer people in crisis and conflict, whether I’ve not done enough footwork to get people through the door, or whether writing and editing seven novels resulted in my attention being elsewhere, it’s hard to determine the underlying reason for why, on many days, I think “nope, we don’t have the money for that.”
“That” has taken on many different forms. From an out-of-season watermelon to tickets to see a musical in Boston (or even in the suburbs if it’s been a particularly rough few months), “that” could be nearly anything and oftentimes everything.
Late March is the time of year when I gather the documentation to prepare the taxes. I made close to nothing last year. Really. The Modena Vertical Channel Shelter Leather Platform Bed at Restoration Hardware costs more than I made in 2016. (And that’s the queen size version.) At first when I pulled up my 2016 business banking information, I thought, “No, that can’t be right.” Well, it is.
So when I heard about “compensation packages” with stock options, corporate allowances, annual bonuses, company cars, and vesting potential, I couldn’t help but think about all those people with these employment amenities and how good it must feel to be so well “compensated.”
And then I got to thinking about the word itself. As I am trained as a lawyer (who made less than the value of the smallest version of a Restoration Hardware bed in the past tax year), I considered how that word, “compensation” is used in the legal sense. “Compensation” is something, typically money, that is awarded to a person to as an offset for loss, injury, or suffering. (Think about that: of all the words a company could choose, “compensation” was the one it opted for.)
Is that how Corporate America sees its wonderful “packages?” As offsets for loss and suffering? Does Corporate America realize how the work it asks of human beings ends up absenting these people from their family and friends, or even lonely house cats? Does that gigantic carrot let Corporate America off the hook by appealing to the idea that all that “compensation” makes the loss and suffering a little less awful?
With those thoughts in mind, I came to realize that money is something I have never been drawn to, not in any motivating way. The jobs I took, prior to self-employment, were “non-negotiable” with respect to what I got paid, thereby obviating my need to ever advocate for more money. With no experience in “coming up with a suitable number” for my future work, I missed out on learning the skills of saying to an employer “I’m going to be absent X number of hours, therefore I expect to be compensated to the tune of X number of dollars.”
The last new car I bought was in 2004, when the car was four years old with 48K miles. I don’t care. That car now has 132K miles, large patches of rust that ought have been dealt with years ago, and a broken glove box latch. Who cares? Not me. I see my car as a tool to get me from Point A (usually my house) to Point B (usually the yoga studio or the grocery store) and back to Point A again. It’s true that when I see a brand new Audi TT convertible, I think, “Wow. That’s nice car.” And then comes my reality: I’d need to work ten 2016s (with no expenses) to buy that car, or I’d have to trade my peaceful, “compensation package”-free life for one filled with loss and suffering.
No thanks, I’m good.