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Have you ever outworked a male colleague and wondered bitterly why their compensation was so much higher than yours? I’ve been there myself and it’s not a great feeling. Women still make 77 cents for every male dollar and studies increasingly show that we’re working harder for our pay.

Earlier in my career, for example, I was given the opportunity to run seminars and coach new employees within my financial planning practice. I considered it a learning opportunity and didn’t negotiate for compensation for the work. Only later did I realize that a male colleague was being paid handsomely to perform the same tasks. “They want me to be more motivated,” he told me, “so they’re going to pay me to coach new advisors a couple of days a week.”

Why do women keep accepting a cycle of unequal pay for unequal work? According to a recent survey on new year’s resolutions by Red Bull with Harris Interactive, women are more likely to be motivated by the pure satisfaction of accomplishing their goals. Men, on the other hand, are inspired by monetary reward. How we approach our resolutions says a lot about how we approach our work, since both are deeply rooted in goal setting and accomplishment.

When To Consider Working For Free?

I don’t often advocate working for free but there are a few times, when taken advantage of sparsely, when we can benefit from the practice. Most often, though, the boss (or client) should really just pony up some extra dough.

There’s a Networking Opportunity. If the gig can open up new doors or get you in front of industry thought leaders that you want to meet, it can be worth it to take on a free project, so long as you don’t make a habit of it.

It Will Enhance Your Career Skills. A new project can help you gain new expertise or visibility in an area where you haven’t yet shone. Just be careful the project scope doesn’t creep past your learning curve or PR opportunity.

There’s a Future Business or Advancement Opportunity. A new undertaking can sometimes highlight an already existing skill in a way you can leverage for future business opportunities. If so, the time put in may be worth an eventual pay off.

It Boosts Your Pay Scale or Rate. If the project will increase your future pay rate, then the time spent may be an investment.

You Can’t Imagine Not Doing It. Pet projects happen because people are emotionally moved to take a certain course of action. If the job aligns with your life purpose and you really just need to be involved, then go for it. Just go in understanding that your time has value and worth, even if you’re not being compensated for it.

When You Should Never Work For Free

Don’t accept free work if you think there is a chance you can be paid for it. (Unless you’re intentionally gifting your time and expertise to a friend or family member.) The practice I worked for eventually came around and paid me for those free training sessions, but only after I caused a fuss. You can avoid a similar hassle by asking one simple question up front: “What is the compensation for this responsibility?”

Often, you’ll find yourself being paid for something you would have done for free, anyway. If not, then you can decide if the soft benefits are worth the time you’ll put in. Sometimes they are. Often they’re not.

Mindy Crary, MBA, CFP® helps you with not just your money, but the whackjob behind it. Visit Creative Money to sign up for tips on personal finance and earning your worth (yes, they are connected).

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