I finished my university classes back in December 2018 and was eager to begin my career. I had been applying to jobs throughout my final year and after nine months of applying in Ottawa, my options were running thin. It was brought to my attention that there was an opening as an Event Planner in a small town. Since I had several years of event planning experience already, I felt I was highly qualified to apply. I made it through the interview and was lead to believe that this was going to be my first “career job” – something I could grow in. It was posted at a decent salary and I was excited to begin, but when I got the call for the job, it wasn’t what I was expecting.
Despite applying and being interviewed for the full-time position, all they felt they could offer me was the Summer Student job, since I was fresh out of school and the members of the organization felt that I wasn’t qualified, despite my last three years of event planning. I was assured that if I just proved myself in the first week, I’d get the full job for sure. Until then, I was expected to do the full job, without an assistant (who was usually hired for summer events) at minimum wage. This was a significant decrease in pay from the salary they had posted.
I worked hard, as I do in anything I’m passionate about. Despite my work ethic and proven results, I was denied the position and had to fight for a raise, which I got, but not to the full salary. For the next couple of weeks I did my best to stay positive in the workplace, but I constantly felt like my skills were being taken advantage of. I had this heavy, sinking feeling that I was not valued. As a young woman who worked extremely hard to get a degree and gain experience, I was frustrated that my first "career job" had all the responsibilities of a high-stress job without the title and compensation for the efforts I put in – just because I was “young and fresh out of university.” That, my friends, is a thinly-disguised statement of ageism. I couldn’t understand the logic of the statement.
The reasons I was given as being paid the full salary were:
I’m young (being 22 years old, I’m technically the oldest I’ve ever been!) and
My resume was lacking (but I had an interview and a week to prove that I was capable and quite good at the job.)
Knowing that I was being discriminated against and underpaid because of my age was hurtful and frustrating. I was (and still am) worthy of being paid for the work that I do.
While this should have been a red flag, I “held tight” like everyone told me to do. They promising me that I’d work my way up, but things continued to get worse. Day in and day out I had people in my office making sexual comments to me. There were instances of unwanted touching, and finally, I had someone speaking hate about the LGBTQ+ community in my office. I was insulted. When I reported what had happened I was told that since the person who made the hateful comments did not know my sexuality, it was not considered discriminatory. I was livid. My experience was invalidated and I felt like I had been erased, my office was no longer safe, and people I thought were my allies disappeared… and it was Pride month!
I tried my best to stick it out, tried to finish my allotted hours and make the money I could before leaving, but everything stacked up so quickly that I was only damaging myself by staying there. As I planned my resignation letter I was filled with confused feelings. At first, I was upset with myself. Everyone on the outside would just see another “young woman” leaving the job because it was “too much for her,” even though I knew that it had nothing to do with the work itself. People kept making remarks like “We need a strong, mature person in that position, that way they’ll stay longer.” That one hurt. And a part of me wanted to stay long enough to make change, but a wise friend of mine who I confided in reminded me that I can make change with pressure from the outside too.
By the time I finished writing my resignation letter I realized that I was the strong woman they needed in the position because I spoke up, I fought, I listened to other people they had in the position before me who had similar experiences, and I had begun to initiate change. In the end, I put my degree to good use by writing an extensive and professional resignation letter that covered the issues and made suggestions on how to change the work environment to make it a safe space for everyone.
The job made me feel isolated and small, which is something I am glad I caught early. I saw my allies vanish, which was terrifying, but I knew it meant I’d have to speak for myself and get loud #angryfeminist style. The more I spoke up and the more I spoke to people just outside my workplace I realized that I had so many supportive women (and some men) backing me up. And with their support, I resigned and started hearing about how things were changing.
I think one of the biggest things that held me in that job for so long was a fear of some unknown punishment for speaking up. As a young woman in a society that is still patriarchal in many ways I have always carried this internalized idea that if I speak up I will face consequences. All through my life I have been taught by subliminal societal messages that women are to be small and quiet and tolerant. I DON’T ACTUALLY BELIEVE THIS AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU. We are just as powerful as men, but we need to be loud, especially when people are pushing us down and we need to know when to walk away to preserve ourselves.
To the next person they hire for this position,
I do sincerely hope that things have changed for you and you have a safe place to work and exist. Know that the voices of several women before you have been chanting for change and if you don’t see the improvements, we can chant together. You deserve to be respected. You deserve to be compensated for your work. You deserve to feel safe. And you deserve to feel valued.
Written by: Megan McKague