Bring out the trumpets! The gender pay gap is shrinking! So, why does it still feel more like a gender pay chasm?
Well, because we still have an awfully long way to go. The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that: "In 2017, men on average were paid £1.32 more per hour than women, which, as a proportion of men’s pay, is a pay gap of 9.1%. The pay gap has fallen from 10.5% in 2011 to 9.1% in 2017, but remains positive in value – meaning that on average men are paid more than women."
One core reason for this difference is the tendency for women to move into poorly paid or low-skilled part-time jobs after having children, or leave the world of work altogether.
Further research from the ONS found: "The employment rate for women with dependent children is 73.7% with 51.8% of the jobs being part-time whilst the employment rate for men with dependent children is 92.4% with 90.1% of these jobs being full-time."
The gender pay gap is a complex issue and rates of pay within the freelancer community are notoriously difficult to measure. The ONS even concedes: "One reason for the limited coverage of self-employed income is the difficulty involved in measuring it. As noted in a recent discussion, existing data on self-employment incomes are largely based on survey responses."
On the one hand, a software developer in London with three to five years experience could expect to command a salary of between £40,000 and £70,000. A contractor with the same skill set and experience could demand £500/day.
On the other hand, figures from the ONS reveal the distribution of self-employed income appears centred around £240 a week, much lower than that for employees, which is centred around £400 a week.
Life as a freelancer is unpredictable. It is filled with highs and lows (that aren't just financial in nature).
So, is freelancing the solution to the gender pay gap? No.
But employers can learn an awful lot from the freelancer lifestyle and could address the gender pay gap at the same time.
Let me explain.
Last week, I sat on a panel for the launch of the Modern Work freelancer magazine. I was asked if I would ever return to full-time employment. I gave this response:
You see, working as a freelance writer does address several of the key issues for women in the workplace, including:
1. A work/life imbalance
I'm going to have a wee moan here. Why is the school day (generally) 9-3 and yet most jobs (where you have to commute) are 9-5? It's incompatible and leaves most working parents (especially those without regular family support to bridge the gap) with a difficult choice: hire in some help or quit your job.
If you work as a freelancer, you can work around the school hours. It's not easy (you have to fit in those missing hours somewhere), but it's a more viable option than paying a small fortune for childcare or leaving employment altogether.
The uneasy truth is that (regardless of your sex) the world of 9-5 work and the world of parenting are not compatible.
Unless, maybe, you can win a flexible working contract. However, a recent study found that a large number of mothers are forced to leave their jobs after flexible working requests were turned down.
So, freelancing is the only viable option.
2. Controllable career progression
Some 72.8% of the UK's chief executives and senior officials are men and the number of female leaders is consistently overestimated around the world.
As a freelancer, you have control over your career path. You can choose to keep the status quo or ramp up your career.
It's an empowering experience where you not only choose what you work on, and whom you work with but your long-term aspirations too.
3. An Escape Route from Sexism
When you're self-employed, there's no Boy's Club to break into or risk of being asked "are you pregnant?" in an interview (research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently revealed most UK employers believe a woman should say at interview if they are pregnant).
This excellent article also highlights the in-built macho culture in tech that's sending women running to the hills.
Unfortunately, sexism is just as rife in freelancing as it is in permanent employment. And the problems can be exacerbated when you don't have a manager or HR department to help you deal with these issues.
However, as a freelancer, you can choose your clients, your work and avoid working with misogynist attitudes.
This last sentence irks me.
Why, as a woman who wants to work, should you have to feel the only way to earn a decent wage, have a rewarding career, achieve a better work/life balance and not be faced by sexism at any level is to freelance?
This isn't what freelancing is about.
Freelancing should not be the only way to earn a decent wage.
Freelancing should not be the only way to have a rewarding career.
Freelancing should not be the only way to achieve a work/life balance.
Freelancing should not be the only way to escape sexism.
For me, freelancing is a hugely empowering career path. And it's a path that I was lucky enough to choose when working for an inclusive and supportive employer all those years ago as a software developer.
If freelancing isn't a choice but a necessity to escape permanent employment, then there's something fundamentally wrong with the way we treat women in the workplace.
It's time employers started understanding that traditional 9-5 jobs do not work for the majority of women who want many of the aspects that automatically come from self-employment.
I can already hear the standard mutterings (from some) along the lines of: "If you want this so-called work/life balance, you can't expect to be paid the same as someone who does the 9-5."
For those reading this article who think women don't have the right to work and raise a family: read this.
For those reading this article who think women don't have the right to fair pay, a rewarding career and a sexism-free workplace: bugger off.
Back to my original question.
No. Freelancing is not the panacea to the gender pay gap.
Some even suggest the gender pay gap is worse for female freelancers.
Freelancing is not a silver bullet to resolve the issues women in work still face every day.
But there are elements of the freelancer lifestyle that many employers could embrace to help keep more women in the workforce.
If we can achieve this and keep women working in skilled roles, then we could take the gender pay gap to zero.
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I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology