There’s been lots in the news lately about the gender pay gap in corporates and inequality in the sexes that still continues to this day. Despite us getting the vote nearly a hundred years ago now.
But what role does gender play for us freelancers?
If you’d have asked me a year ago, I’d probably have said none. Working for yourself is extremely empowering and allows women to take more control of their destiny than many employed roles do. Part time roles are hard to find around school hours and are frequently in lower-paying roles.
There is the odd thing that gets on my wick as a feminist *– female only networking, mum-only networking – why? What possible difference can my reproductive organs have on networking? Are we women so bloody timid that we can’t get a room with men in and work? Give me a break. And don’t even get me started on the vomit-fest that is the rise of the “mumprenuer”. She has a business. And a kid. And?!?! I fail to see the relevance of ovaries on any kind of networking or business. If there was male-only networking we’d be in uproar at the unfairness, quite rightly. So, again, why?
Anyway, I digress. My realisation, twice in 48 hours, was that in fact there is a difference as a self-employed woman. Men and woman view the world entirely differently because of their gender and that does impact freelancers.
I was listening to a Paul Williams podcast all about LinkedIn. In it he gives many useful tips and he also describes new functions. One of these new functions is the “find nearby” button. This built in widget allows you to see on your phone, who else is near you on LinkedIn. Paul described this as utterly brilliant but totally flawed because the default setting for this widget is off, for obvious privacy reasons. Thus, if no one knows about it, it’s always off, it’ll never be used. Well thank God for that! You see while men might find this a genuinely helpful business tool so that you can know a bit about people before you go up to them at a networking event, women (or at least me and as I’ve said, I’m not a timid nervous Nelly) basically see this as an opportunity for creepy men to know where I am. It is quite bad enough that you get sleazebags on LinkedIn treating it like Tinder “Sexy eyes, nice pic”. But that people can find out all about me (well, what’s on my profile) as my phone comes into range? Oh, no no no. I daresay most men would use it responsibly but there is always abuse of even the most innocuous systems. What made me realise the difference between men and women was Paul’s utter mystification about why anyone would not want to be seen “You’re on LinkedIn, you’re out there” or words to that effect. Being on LinkedIn and going to networking meetings are a far leap to anyone with an app and a phone being able to find out my name, my business name and so on just from looking at me wandering down a road. Or being in a pub. It never occurred to him that this might be wildly abused by people for non-work purposes. As a woman, that was my first thought. My first thought was “that isn’t safe”.
A fellow freelancer shared an unpleasant experience she had recently with another freelancer. She forgot to pay his invoice. It happens, we all do it, God knows our clients do. He sent a chaser email. She apologised profusely and set the wheels in motion to pay. Which, took a little longer than normal because it had to move from an overseas account before hitting the UK. So in his second chaser email, within 2 days of the first, he essentially told her that he knew where she lived and would pay her a visit. At home. Nice.
The lady in question is usually at home alone working or has her children at home, how vulnerable is that going to make her feel? If she were a man would he have done this? Leave aside the fact that most normal human beings do not resort to threats mere days after a late paying invoice. I’ve chased 3 month old invoices and by them I’m muttering halfheartedly about legal action, not physical visitations to someone to reclaim the money. Clearly, there are wider issues with this gentleman. But from a gender point of view, he’d never have pulled this crap on a man.
Being out there
Legally, we have to put our address on our invoices and our website even on the bottom of every Mailchimp. Unless we pay for a registered office with an accountant or similar that’s a home address basically out there for anyone to see.
Most freelancers go and meet with clients and suppliers. That usually means coffee shops or shared offices but I’ve certainly done work for people in their home offices. Both men and women. Does it worry me? Sometimes yes. If they are referred to me by someone I know well, I'll make the choice to go. I wouldn’t for a connection with no personal connection. We all recall Suzy Lamplugh, an estate agent who disappeared in the 1980’s whilst showing a house to someone. Many changes have been made since then in that industry and others but as a freelancer, I don’t tell anyone who I am meeting or where; there’s no one in the office to check I make it back from meeting a new prospect.
And do men fret about these things? That one day they might meet a complete nutter on LinkedIn who kidnaps them as they leave Costa for the car park? No. They really don’t. So in that respect I don’t think we are equal.
So this isn’t a blog against men. Far from it. Most men are perfectly lovely, charming and respectful human beings and I very much enjoy doing business with them. But is my life as a freelancer the same as theirs? No, it really isn’t. (But that STILL doesn’t mean I think we need female only networking, just saying!).
*I describe myself as a feminist as I believe everyone who thinks that the world should be equal is one too. Men, women, trans, straight, gay, bi, X, undecided – whatever your gender and persuasion you should be treated fairly and equally in work and outside. We call it feminism but it’s really humanism.