Last week I had the enormous privilege of being asked to speak before Mary Portas was live streamed into Nottingham to launch her new book ‘Work like a Woman’.
So I thought I’d share with you my thoughts on what is means to work like a woman…
The Equal Pay Act came out in 1970, which is almost 50 years ago.
This act made it illegal for people to be paid differently based on gender (or anything really that can deemed discriminatory such as religion, skin colour or sexual orientation), but despite this women are still being paid less than men. Which is why we’re still having to discuss what it means to work like a woman?
I was asked to speak at the event not just because I am a female entrepreneur, but also because I co-founded the Blue Stockings Society in Nottingham.
Jeanne Booth, Beth Marriott and I founded the Blue Stockings because we felt there was something missing in our city.
I’d been to a few networking events, and found most of the settings to be a bit pale, male and stale. They were full of people in suits desperate to work out whether I was actually worth speaking to.
I could feel them sizing me up, to see if I would be in anyway useful to them.
And I would leave with a fistful of business cards, just as isolated as when I went in.
With Blue Stockings we wanted to create something different.
An open space where friendship are made. Where people talk to you, not because they are trying to work out if you are useful to them, but because they are genuinely interested in you and what you have to say.
And we wanted to make it women only. We intuitively felt that this would make it the warm and inclusive space that we would want to go to.
We wanted to create a space where we could share stories like…
Starting your period in the middle of a meeting at Nottingham Trent University. And the blood coming through the back of your beautiful silk John Lewis dress, your knickers so soaked that you had to throw them away.
And the only sanitary protection you could buy where enormous tampons in a massive box, a box too big for your tiny bag.
So you had to go back to the meeting with no knickers on, a massive blood stain, carrying your massive box of tampons proudly in your hand.
Or caring for children or elderly parents. Because as much as it is 2018, the majority of all of this caring still lands at the woman’s door and how can you run a business and be a caregiver?
These are the issues that we wanted to talk about.
And 4 years later we have created a wonderful community of female entrepreneurs, supporting each other to build and grow successful businesses.
But it is not enough.
This year I was invited by the University of Nottingham to work with them to create a toolkit to help women feel more empowered as female entrepreneurs.
We were working on concepts such as woman feeling legitimate. And we knew from talking to women that lots didn’t feel like they were entrepreneurs. They described themselves in other ways. And didn’t feel able to claim the word entrepreneur as theirs.
They felt like to be an entrepreneurs you had to run several businesses, employ staff, apply for funding, earn 6 figures.
All really a rather male way of looking at business.
Were we knew that being entrepreneurial meant to creative, taking on financial risks in the hope of making a profit.
I think we’re all doing that!
So we wanted to create a toolkit to help women reclaim the word entrepreneur. And it will be launched in January 2019 – so keep an eye out, I will be shouting loud about it!
So let’s just get back to that idea of legitimacy.
One of my clients recently was at a networking event, where she was accused by a man of ‘just playing at business’ and another of my colleagues was recently told by a man that he was ‘surprised her business had lasted as long as it had’.
Wow, a punch in the gut there.
Both these women run really successful businesses, they both make more money than me and they are both well established in their field as creative risk takers.
Plus if the first guy isn’t having fun, enjoying and playing in his business, then I think he is doing something wrong!
So what does it mean to work like a woman?
Well, we know that we’re not on a level playing field.
We know we are paid less than men for the same job.
We know that overall men are earning more money than women. Despite us leaving university with better grades.
We know that there are less female CEOs and even less women of colour in these top positions.
We know that jobs that women are more likely to do such as caring are valued less by society.
But what got me reading this book by Mary Portas is that when men do a job it is instantly valued higher.
Women did coding when it was first introduced. It was seen as an admin role and attached to our duties. But when to dot.com boom happened in the 80’s men realised there was money to be made in coding, pushed women out and gave themselves enormous pay rises. When men were doing the role it became instantly more valuable.
And we're better at coding than men - we make less mistakes!
Mary pointed out that Fashion earns tons more cash for the UK than football.
But if we looked at The TV and read the broadsheets and newspapers we would think that football was worth a lot more. There are literally no fashion programmes or fashion section at the end of the papers. Despite this industry being worth more.
Because guess what, it’s seen as a woman’s things and men rule the media that we consume!
I learnt that France, Norway, Germany, Spain, Slovenia and Chile all pay more of their GDP towards childcare that Britain to support women back into work.
So what’s to be done?
Well Mary talks about bringing the feminine back into the workplace.
Men and women suffer with the current system. A system that rewards behaviour seen on The Apprentice is the search for profit, rather than collaboration and co-operation.
If more businesses were value led, and perhaps even if we asked ourselves more often ‘is this kind?’. We might get a different response.
We also need to feel more empowered to ask questions.
How much does my colleague earn? And can I have a pay rise?
Women who work part time need to stop being overlooked and women losing their jobs on maternity leave needs to stop.
And we need to call out bad behaviour when we see it.
I used to work for a national charity and the man I worked with asked me in front of another male colleague if I liked doing it doggy style and when I refused to answer he asked me if I was frigid.
Now I know the other guy would feel mortified if I reminded him of this now. But he did nothing.
Don’t worry I didn’t stay quiet for long. I threw a stapler at his head a few months later I was so frustrated by him and then quit my job.
What gets me is that even when we are entrepreneurs and freelancers, women still charge less than men.
So ask for more darling, put your prices up, reclaim the word entrepreneur and wear it with pride. And the next time a man puts you down in a networking group, laugh in his face and tell him he’s doing life all wrong.
Don’t apologise for being emotional, bring your whole self to work and work like a woman!