Asymmetrical Pay

earn what you need

By Laura Oriol, Justine Maxelon & Camille Soual

Three tools to raise awareness about financial and other differences in your group and open a dialogue on how to divide the available budget according to these needs, based on an alternative understanding of fair pay as ‘earn what you need’.

Why these tools?

We believe in an alternative idea of fair payment. The idea of ‘equal pay according to invested time’ undoubtedly has value. But we think that redistribution of wealth should be part of the discussion of fair pay. We believe we can move from equality to equity and envision a system in which we are paid according to what we need to live. We want to conceive a payment process that acknowledges the absence of equal opportunities among people. Indeed, we are born in different families, socio-economic classes, and countries with different access to education, wealth and support.

Who are we?

We are a group of artists and other professionals who gathered in ‘Common Income’, a project supported by Kunstenpunt, to research and experiment with other ways of sharing income. In this process, we used most principles of ‘asymmetrical pay’ ourselves: instead of paying all of us a fixed amount per day, we started an open and transparent discussion on the different fees that everyone needed.

Who are these tools for?

  • ‘Asymmetrical Pay’ is imagined for artists and cultural producers who are working on a project or receive funding and ask themselves: how to distribute the budget?
  • To simplify things, we assume everyone will work similar hours no matter the tasks involved.
  • As a premise, all group members must desire to experiment with alternative methods of fair pay and challenge their ideologies and conditions around money and work.

Please keep in mind…

These tools are still in conceptual stages. They need to be tested, practised, rooted in more realities, torn apart and reconstructed. We know we are a small group with limited experience and many blind spots. We see this as an experiment and invite you to treat it as such. We began imagining it for a particular context and hoped it could be expanded and adapted to more working environments.

Three tools in one!

Tool 1: a privilege ‘walk’.

To reveal that we are not born equal and raise an awareness of the varied realities we are a part of.

Tool 2: financial check-in

To bring awareness to everyone’s financial situation, their earnings and spending, and their capacity or incapacity to save something each month.

Tool 3: distribution-talk score

A proposal for a conversation to make collective decisions about how to divide the available funding. What is fair pay to each person?

Tool 1:
a privilege ‘walk’

This tool, inspired by, aims to bring awareness to one’s own privileges or lack of privileges in the socio-cultural class they grew up in or are presently a part of.

Our desire with this tool is to make the socio-economic inequalities existing between people visible and perhaps begin to deconstruct the myth of meritocracy (i.e. that your wealth depends only on the merit of your work and your competitiveness within the labour market).

The invitation is not to resolve these inequalities nor make anyone feel guilty or righteous.

We hope that participants on this privileged walk become more aware of the complex social realities that coexist and they are part of. At the end of this walk, financial inequalities within the group become visible to all participants and a basis for a transparent discussion on a fair distribution of financial resources.

The Privilege Walk Questions:

Choose a fairly large room for the amount of participants. Everyone stand in one line somewhere in the middle of the room. One person reads the following questions aloud, while the participants take their steps forward and backwards.

  1. If you can physically access all spaces without support, take a step forward.

  2. If you are financially supporting children, take a step back.

  3. If you are sending money to family or friends abroad or within this country, take a step back.

  4. If you do a lot of underpaid or unrecognised labour, take a step back.

  5. If it is easy for you to find a job when you need it, take a step forward.

  6. If you have the right to paid holidays, take a step forward.

  7. If you can afford to say no to an underpaid job, take a step forward.

  8. If you are able to show or present your work, take a step forward.

  9. If you have to trick legal ways of payment in Belgium in order to survive, take a step back.

  10. If you have the artiste statute, take a step forward.

  11. If you have access to social security, take a step forward.

  12. If you are not worried about your pension, take a step forward.

  13. If inheritance will help you to cover costs for old age, take a step forward.

  14. If your health and physical abilities allow you to work full-time, take a step forward.

  15. If you feel comfortable walking home alone at night, take a step forward.

  16. If you fear being discriminated against on a job because of your skin colour, take a step back.

  17. If you get misgendered regularly, take a step back.

  18. If there were more than 50 books in your house growing up, take a step forward.

  19. If you feel confident that your parents and/or friend would be able to financially help/support you if you were going through a financial hardship, take a step forward.

  20. If you came from a supportive family environment, take a step forward.

  21. If you work full-time and feel it doesn’t impact your (physical and mental) health, take a step forward.

  22. If you have a support system (healthcare and network) to allow you to have a burnout, take a step forward.

  23. If you or your parents have ever gone through a divorce, take a step back.

  24. If you have ever been bullied or made fun of for something that you can’t change, take a step back.

  25. If you have a legal status in this country, take a step forward.

  26. If you have high bills due to medical needs, take a step back.

  27. If the primary language spoken in your household growing up was not French or Dutch, take one step back.

  28. If you need to think of getting a travel visa to get to another country, take a step back.

  29. If you had trouble learning in school because the pedagogy was not adapted to how your brain works, take a step back.

  30. If you own property, take a step forward.

  31. If you live in a collocation to afford your rent, take a step back.

  32. If you were embarrassed about your clothes or house while growing up, take a step back.

  33. If you had a job during university years, take a step back.

  34. If you don’t get time off for your religious holidays, take a step back.

  35. If you can make mistakes and not have people attribute your behaviour to flaws in your racial/gender group, take a step forward.

  36. If you would never think twice about calling the police when trouble occurs, take a step forward.

  37. If you lower the temperature in your house due to energy costs, take a step back.

  38. If you travel in Europe on holidays, and you are ready to take a train earlier than 8am to get a cheaper ticket, take a step back.

  39. If you are afraid to open envelopes that look like bills, take a step back.

  40. If you have ever felt like there was NOT adequate or accurate representation of your racial group, sexual orientation group, gender group, and/or disability group in the media, take a step back.

Tool 2:
financial check-in

This is an invitation to check on your personal financial situation. Decide together how transparent you wish to be and how much privacy you need to preserve.

Check A:

Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line in the middle. On one side, you have your monthly expenses, and on the other your monthly income.

Check B:

Write all of your income and where it comes from.

Check C:

Write all of your expenses (e.g. food, rent, gas/electricity bills, healthcare, transport, leisure activities, going out, clothes/shopping, loans/mortgages, money you give to friends or family, child-related expenses, insurance, house maintenance, luxuries/non-essential items, etc.). Note: If you wish to preserve more privacy, take broad categories)

Check D:

Add everything up, and see how much you can or cannot save each month.

Check E:

Present your monthly finances to the group. Depending on the amount of participants and on the available time, you can make some arrangements for this last part. For example, everyone gets three minutes to speak, and you can either ‘name the five most decisive elements of your finances’ or ‘share your results and how you might hope your finances are in the future’.

Tool 3:
distribution-talk score

The last step in the Asymmetrical Pay process is a conversation that will support making a decision on how the project funding dedicated to fees will be distributed in the group.


Take time to discuss the two previous tools’ outcome. Here is a list of questions you might want to ask the group:

  • How do you feel with all of this new information right now?
  • What did you learn that is valuable to you?
  • Does anything feel uncomfortable or scary?
  • What has changed in you since the beginning of the exercise?
  • How is your idea of ‘fair pay’ affected?


Before you start the actual dialogue on the amount, we suggest you do a round where each person can express his/her/their opinions and personal needs without being interrupted: What could be a fair payment of ‘earn what you need’ within this group? What could be a fair payment of ‘earn what you need’ for your individual (financial) situation?


Divide the total salary budget by the amount of people involved equally. Then, calculate the fee for one day.


Everyone writes this amount on a piece of paper. Next to it, write the day fee you feel corresponds to your needs. Please try to be as sincere and non-judgemental towards yourself and others as you can.


Add up these personal day fees. Are you still within your budget? If there’s extra, divide it equally, or use it for something else. Are you over budget? Calculate the amount you are over, and divide it equally to take it out from each day fee.


Check how everyone is feeling with the final decision, and re-open the discussion if necessary.