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5 Women Talk About The Moment They Realized They Were Underpaid

Consider this a sign to negotiate your salary or reconsider your career options.
Women share stories of being underpaid
PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK
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Picture this: You're recruited as a graphic artist but your actual job title is "Marketing Manager." You have brand-building, analytics, and design tasks, and you have to move to Cebu—all for a monthly basic salary of P15,000. Bizarre as it may sound to some, it's actually a real-life anecdote shared by TikTok user, @nicolexgonzaga. 

The situation isn't unique to one Pinay and what's worse is that some don't have a choice but to accept low offers. Just recently, healthcare workers protested and demanded for their long overdue unpaid benefits. Many nurses have opted to resign and look for better conditions and higher paying opportunities abroad.

As you may already know, there are many other local workers experiencing lowball offers—and it's not limited to a few industries. Below, five women share when they realized they were actually underpaid.

Cyrille, 22, former hotel receptionist

Cy: I worked as a receptionist for at a five-star hotel in Mandaluyong for almost 10 months. As a contractual employee, I earned P8,000 to P10,000. That's very low, especially since I was renting a place just so I could live near the hotel. I was expecting to earn P13,000 to P15,000, which was what I expected the Manila rates to be. I was really shocked by how low the pay was, given that we're always fully booked. We sometimes needed be on a "return" shift, too. When my duty is in the evening, uuwi ako ng 12:00 a.m. then papasok ulit ng 5:00 a.m. kasi walang mag-o-opener. I was so tired at that time but I had no choice. I needed the hotel experience, so I could apply for a cruise or flight attendant job. Meanwhile, the regular employees earned P35,000 to P60,000 a month. I realized we were "langit at lupa" and all of the tiring tasks fell on me.

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When the pandemic happened, I lost my job and told myself that I would never settle again. I decided to take a risk and became a freelancer. 

As a breadwinner, I had to rethink my plans because I couldn't imagine a better future for my sister and my mom if I continued to earn so little. When the pandemic happened, I lost my job and told myself that I would never settle again. I decided to take a risk and became a freelancer. I enrolled in various courses until I mastered the skills. I started getting low-paying roles that paid $5 per hour to build myself. Then, I charged $25 per hour or $400 per client. Now, I am charging $800 to $2,000 and earning P150,000 to P300,000 a month as a Social Media Manager and Virtual Assistant. The earnings depend on the volume of the clients. It was a very long run, but all worth it. I will never forget what my previous job taught me. I still have a long way to go, but I will never stop working on myself for our future. Sometimes, the risks you are afraid to take are the ones that change your entire life.

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Tammy, 27, creative "AD" girl

Tammy: The creative industry in the Philippines is severely undervalued. I have been in the industry for more than six years, and my passion has never wavered. My work has allowed me to converse directly with clients, solving their problems and negotiating, if necessary. I've dealt with small to mid-scale entrepreneurs and managed to close projects way beyond my actual pay grade. Although I get a commission, I felt dissatisfied. I realized that I was underpaid because I closed millions worth of projects for the company but only got a low percentage. Parang pinapayaman ko lang ang company. I was working hard but earning less than what I deserved. So I emancipated myself from that world.

I'm not saying that I've already accomplished my dream, but I know that I'm on the right path. It's never too late to take that first step and decide how to value yourself. 

The eureka moment came to me after reading the books of Robert Kiyosaki, especially Rich Dad, Poor Dad. It helped me realize that I don't need financial dependence; I should focus on financial freedom. I took a risk and stepped into the unknown. We started our firm: OUT OF THE BOX CREATIVES. We have been in operation for more than three years, and I got to say, the way we grew, despite the pandemic, was unbelievable. Looking back, I want to thank my old self for taking that leap of faith. I'm not saying that I've already accomplished my dream, but I know that I'm on the right path. It's never too late to take that first step and decide how to value yourself. Aim high!

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Marielle, 28, former freelance writer

Marielle: I started dabbling in freelance writing in 2018. I had just resigned from my job as editorial assistant for a publishing company at the time. My first gigs were for this website for local freelance writers. I got paid around P200 for every 400-word article. I took only one to two small projects at a time. I quit the website later that year, got a full-time job, and when I had just resigned again, the ECQ was first declared. I decided to return to freelancing. It so happened that my Upwork application was finally approved after two years! I got hired by an offshore client who paid $8 (around P400) for each 500-word article. I was assigned to write one to two articles in a week; I usually did one weekly.

I joined some Facebook groups for freelancers, and in one group, I was informed that the recommended minimum rate for writing is P2 per word. I compared my earnings from the Upwork gig and how much I'd earn with that rate. 

The earnings weren't enough for our household expenses, and my dad lost his BPO job, too. Luckily, a former client who needed more work done asked if I could work for them again. I took that along with the Upwork writing gig. I joined some Facebook groups for freelancers, and in one group, I was informed that the recommended minimum rate for writing is P2 per word. I compared my earnings from the Upwork gig and how much I'd earn with that rate. That's when I realized I had been grossly underpaid. I applied for a regular media-related job and got hired in September 2020. I quit both freelance gigs. After that Upwork stint, I lost most of my creative writing drive. I still write, but since then it's been harder for me to summon my muse.

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Mina, 28, graphic designer and illustrator

Mina: I've been working for six years now. My favorite thing about working in the creative industry is, unsurprisingly, the opportunity to be creative. Having the chance to express my creativity through my work is very fulfilling. When I landed my first job, my first offer was under minimum wage and I didn't have any complaints or questions about the offer. What mattered to me is to acquire some experience and discover things that I need to learn as a fresh graduate. As years went by, I got a second job and I was earning an average income, but it's still not enough to support my monthly needs.

I was loaded with tasks that would force me to work longer without OT pay. I got multiple roles even though they didn't align with my job as a designer.

My work became more challenging every day. I was loaded with tasks that would force me to work longer without OT pay. I got multiple roles even though they didn't align with my job as a designer. I remember being an assistant for a photoshoot, where I was assigned to clean the office storage room and I was also tasked to operate and clean large printers every day. I even bought coffee and food for meetings and events. All those experiences I had from my previous jobs gave me the courage to look for a better opportunity to grow as a designer. One of my friends encouraged me to work from home and be able to have more time with my family. I grabbed the opportunity to work in a US-based company, which better meets my expectations, including high compensation and annual increase. They also see my passion as a designer and illustrator. Don't let being underpaid discourage you. Look for a better opportunity.

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Bats, 24, former marketing assistant

Bats: I was working in a beauty e-commerce company as a Marketing Assistant for about four to five months. I was earning around P17,000 at the time with no government-mandated benefits, when I should be earning around P25,000 with government-mandated benefits. My interviewers were surprised when they find out what my last salary was. They were more shocked about the government-mandated benefits being omitted. I only realized that there was a big difference in what I was earning when I started applying for other jobs of the same nature.

I made sure to always try to negotiate what I feel is fair, given my skills and talents. I also always asked questions, read my contracts, and clarified everything before signing anything legally binding. 

I was a bit disappointed at first but it was also somewhat expected since a lot of Digital Marketers [who are just starting out] in the country are underpaid. I just thought to myself that despite the difference in the pay, I wouldn't be where I am now if it weren't for that job. In my next jobs, I made sure to always try to negotiate what I feel is fair, given my skills and talents. I also always asked questions, read my contracts, and clarified everything before signing anything legally binding. I learned to say no to opportunities that I feel wouldn't serve me in the long run no matter how big and bright the opportunity may seem.

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***Answers have been edited for clarity.

MORE MONEY TIPS:

This Is How I Broke Free From My P200,000 Debt In One Year

Why I Started Telling My Friends About How Much Money I'm Making

I Negotiated My Salary For The First Time (And Got P12,000 More)

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