Let’s chat about what International Women’s Day for freelancers, shall we? Because we’re forging our own paths and building flexible careers for ourselves, where they didn’t always exist before.
I wanted to celebrate International Women’s Day this year, and not just by liking a few pink-backed* no-substance quotes on Instagram.
I wanted to do more than just follow the conversation. I wanted to start the conversation. (Not the conversation, really, but like a conversation. Just a small one. In my own little online world).
I wanted to focus on the good stuff, the stuff worth celebrating – because that’s what International Women’s Day is, y’know? It’s a celebration.
It’s a day for celebrating the power of progress; for recognising how much better the world is in some places and could be in others, when and if women are given equal rights.
But before we can celebrate, it’s important we understand what all of this is really about. And, perhaps in a somewhat self-centred fashion, how it relates to us as freelancers.
The campaign theme this year is #PressforProgress and it centres around the gender pay gap.
The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, which looks at the differences between men and women in four key areas; health, economics, politics and education, tells the story of little improvement over the past 10 years.
The average pay for women in 2017 was $12,000 compared with $21,000 for men – a gap that is not expected to close for an estimated 217 years.
One of the key reasons women earn less on average is because they’re more likely to undertake part-time work due to caring for children, elderly parents, or both.
Women are also less likely to be in highly paid executive positions, usually because they’ve chosen to take a career break whilst having children.
According to IPSE:
- 93% of women say it’s hard to combine a successful career with caring responsibilities
- Around 58% of newly self-employed people are women
- There are more than 1.5 million self-employed women in the UK (that’s 1/3 of the UK’s self-employed population)
- Between 2008 and 2016, the number of mothers working as freelancers increased by 79%
- 1 in 7 freelancers are working mums
Flexibility and independence are the most common reasons people choose to go self-employed. In fact, nearly 9 million UK workers say they want to work flexibly but don’t have the option.
More flexibility, please boss
So, basically, (although there’s heaps more going on there as well) more and more women are turning to self-employment because it’s a flexible option that allows them to earn money whilst taking care of the kids.
But we knew that, right?
It’s one of the key reasons freelance communities like Doing It For The Kids have become so popular. Influencers like Mother Pukka (IRL name Anna Whitehouse) are speaking up and inspiring change with movements like #FlexAppeal, and organisations like Digital Mums are training a whole generation of mums to find #WorkThatWorks.
It’s not just mums that need more flexibility at work. Some of us need space and time to care for elderly parents or relatives, or to deal with our own chronic health conditions.
I went deep with a post on Instagram last week where I talked about my own reasons for needing flexible working. Unsurprisingly, my story resonated with quite a few people.
”Set peace of mind as your highest priority and organize your life around it.” • I’m freelance because I have anxiety. There's no other way of looking at it. As much as there are other reasons I love being freelance and other paths that might have lead me here, I can't avoid the fact that it was poor mental health that forced me to quit my job. • I didn't have any work lined up when I first became self-employed. In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing. No agency background, no formal training, no degree. All I had was a desire to change my lifestyle. • I needed a way out of the 9-5 and the pressures of a job that wasn't built for me. I didn't want to continue spending most of my time in an environment that just didn't suit me. Also, as harsh as it sounds, I didn't want to be around people who (unintentionally) made my illness worse. • What I did – ditching the security of a regular pay packet, a pension and employee perks at a time when I was really quite unwell – might seem brave to some, but to me it was just a way out. • There's this notion that the self-employed are somewhat fearless; that they're more energetic, more confident and more persistent than everyone else. From what I’ve seen – and from what I know about myself – that's bollocks. • We’re all just figuring it out as we go along. We’re all scared, tired, unsure and, at times, on the edge of packing it all in and going back to the old lives we left behind. But we carry on, most of us, for our own reasons. • Anxiety is still a big part of my life, but I am able to manage it better now that my work is more flexible. I can hide when I want to; I can cry in peace without being judged; I can take the afternoon off and work the evening instead. • It's not easy, this freelance life of mine, but I’m learning so much and gaining confidence all the time. • My number 1 goal – in work and in life – is to be as stress-free as possible. Peace of mind is my highest priority and I want to organise my life around it. • Freelancing lets me do that (or at least try) and because of that, I’m not giving up on it anytime soon.
And d’ya know what else? There doesn’t even have to be a reason. Not one that’s about health or responsibility or family, anyway.
It’s just about choice, and about being able to build lives that make us happy.
But anyway, whatever our reasons, it seems women are turning to their bosses in the thousands to say something like:
“You know what, Nige? This is bollocks. I like you, I always have (even after that time you accidentally touched my tit and then DID IT AGAIN ON PURPOSE to try and make it not weird) but you can ram your 9-5, 2 days a week down your own effing throat.”
A female-centred movement
I listened to Emma Gannon talk multi-hyphenated careers on Sara Tasker’s Hashtag Authentic podcast this week. They touched on something that I think is worth pointing out.
They were talking about… well, us, really. Those of us who are forging our own paths, building our own mini-empires and doing things our way, on our terms. Those of us who have multiple strings to our bows and are using tech to make things happen for ourselves, be it a side hustle or a full-time freelance business.
“It feels like a female-hearted movement,” said Sara.
Emma agreed. “I think for so long, women have had to be put in a box, and I don’t know if people do that with men as much. Women have always been so many different things at once and that’s what we’re good at.”
They’re right, aren’t they? Sorry, fellas, but this thing that’s happening right now? This huge rise in self-employment and freelancing? It’s being driven by females.
We’re making our stamp on the world, whatever our circumstances. We want careers too, but we want them our way.
We’re pressing for progress, and it’s working.
(Oh, and btw – Emma Gannon’s new book looks insanely relevant to what we’re chatting about here. Out May 31st, 2018).
*It’s cool if you made some graphics for Instagram – I love a good quote really – but pink is the wrong colour. Make them purple, the colour that’s been associated with women’s rights for decades. Or, even better, make them ultra violet – Pantone’s Colour of the Year 2018. (Here’s the colour code for Canva: 654EA3).