word by ayanda moholi
I quit freelancing. I’m back in the rat race. Full time work, 8-5. I don’t feel bad about it, in fact there’s nothing wrong with working for a company and not working for yourself. I’ve understood my limits — I need motivation outside of myself and that structure (and other humans) to keep me sane.
And then the lockdown happened and almost reversed all those reasons, except that I’m still getting paid. Counting my chickens in finding full time work at such a time, with many freelancers losing out on work or not being paid by small businesses that can no longer afford to continue with operations. We’re going through the most as South Africans.
But I’m here to talk about money. Specifically, the pay slip. Tiffany Ebrahim hosts a podcast called ‘Are We Our Work?’ that explores different aspects of working black millennials, from working moms, to workplace discrimination, to remuneration. And that’s where I come in; the episode in question is about understanding your worth and how companies swindle you into getting paid less than your worth by requesting your most recent pay slip.
In starting my new position, I had a much more rounded view on this, the art of negotiation but mostly what a pay slip means. I didn’t actually have a pay slip, so the organisation had to go on my word of what my salary expectations were to be. As it should be. I mean, if they’re hiring for a certain position, they definitely have put aside a budget for that position — sometimes at a market-related budget.
Why does it matter what I previously earned? Benchmarking on my previous low pay will surely leave me stuck in a position of getting paid lower than I should be. We live in a world of keeping you in the place that you are born into. And for most South Africans, that’s below the poverty line.
Ebrahim succinctly describes the process of a young student entering the job market for a below market salary just so that they can have a job (as many people of colour do – money needs to be made pronto) and having that pay slip follow them to the end of time. In that, that student may one day enter the C-suite, but still be paid significantly less than department equivalents. (I’m not C-suite but I definitely know of some jobs where I’ve came up MUCH shorter than my white male equivalents. I’m still mad, mfxim!)
So how do we know what we’re worth? Well, it’s up to you to do the research. Ask the right questions. Know where you chalk up in terms of your skills and education. See what the market is paying. (The pay in Cape Town for marketing jobs is significantly lower than Joburg, which is mind-boggling since Cape Town is much less affordable).
And don’t be afraid to give your salary expectation when asked for it. Money is typically such a difficult subject and we tend to be modest when asking for what is owed to us. (Especially as women of colour, we are often overcome by humility). We’re also afraid of the backlash, like asking the friend who owes you money and they get angry as if you owe them, or the company deciding you’re too expensive and rescinding their offer.
(I’ve seen jobs on job boards that ask a person to be super person — do everything under the sun — but are put up as intern positions and so offer less than R7,000. Exploitation at its best. Slavery at its worst).
It’s quite a Catch-22. We want to get paid more but we also desperately need jobs. What do we prioritise?
Ayanda Moholi is no longer a freelance digital marketing consultant but still in the business of digital marketing. She is also a candidate for Master of Management in Digital Business at the Wits Business School. She enjoys reading, hiking and listening to only the best podcasts.
Listen to her episode of ‘Are We Our Work?’ where you listen to podcasts.