Is the 'f' word 'female' or 'freelance'?
I read the results of the Professional Copywriters' Network survey with great interest.
What's with that yawning pay gap between men and women, though? 28%? That doesn't seem right. Well, it isn't right, to be blunt. Considering more women did the survey than men, you'd think it might skew in our favour...
Okay, now before I get into this blog post proper: I had reservations about making my thoughts on this public. There are times when people have had – and will likely continue to have – adverse reactions to my writing. When you put your work online, it comes with the territory. I know that. I still hesitate to court controversy.
The gender pay gap result was a bit of a surprise, but not as much as it could've been. That disparity exists across the creative sector. We are not as diverse as we make ourselves sound. I had to explain the 3% Conference to friends who work in other industries, and they were flabbergasted.
(I was actually more surprised that the copywriters who earn most skipped college and uni. Those were the worst years of my life. Maybe I should've done that.)
Do I get paid less than my male counterparts? Probably.
Is that because I don't charge enough? Is that because they push for more money? Is that because they generally get more work and win more bids than I do? Well, honestly the biggest obstacle to me earning more has been what companies are prepared to pay for full-time staff. Yes, I know often men are paid more than women for doing the same job, but I'm talking about general salary ranges here. So that's not quite about my gender, it's a 'other people love profits' issue. That'd hold anyone back. It was a situation that stifled my in-house earning potential. I didn't ask for pay rises, not because I'm a hesitant woman but because I knew it would be pointless. I was considering jobs that would've barely covered the cost of living.
The pervasive attitude in interviews was 'if you don't want to do it for that amount, we've got over a hundred CVs in our inbox, just saying'. That was the state of the job market for everyone, male or female. At the time, I was not in a strong enough position to walk away. Now, I would. I think that is something a lot of junior to low-mid writers struggle against.
Being female in itself has had little to no negative effect on my career to date. If it's been a genuine factor, I haven't noticed. Being short and looking young for my age has definitely made things harder. When you're the rough height of a pre-teen, it's harder to convince people you're capable of grown-up copywriting work.
I've written about that before, so I won't dwell on it.
And in fact, there was one time that being female was sort of an advantage. If you're comfortable thinking of it that way, which I certainly am not. I would've been passed over completely if I were a man, and looking back on it that might have been better.
I'm far from the top-earning writer in the country, but right now I have greater earning potential working freelance than I would in a permanent job. And it has nothing to do with me being a woman. As a freelancer, I know I've pitched low for ages. My day rate is now comfortable for all involved. When it's a project rate, I do the 'change the price 5 times before hitting send' thing more than I should. And yet, hardly anyone comes back and says it's too high. So maybe I'm still not pricing myself right.
At the start of my freelance career, I wasn't low-balling because I didn't think I was good enough. I needed the work, I knew I could do it if asked, and I figured quoting low meant more chance of getting it. That is categorically not true, but it's easy to believe. Would a man have that anxiety? Maybe. Can't rule it out completely based on gender. Let's say it's a little less likely and leave it at that. The best advice I've had on earning more came from a woman. Her suggestions came from a more personal knowledge of my work. 'Based on what I've seen you do, you're not charging enough for it'. Not the words of a woman hiding her own copywriting light under a bushel.
I think sometimes copywriters need that validation in order to make the change. Rather than increasing your rates because you've got another year of experience, sometimes it needs to come from a confirmation that you are indeed worth that much. Do I need affirmation more because I'm a woman? I don't know. I hope not.
It has taken me far, FAR too long to get to a point where I'm confident in not settling for less. The work's definitely out there now, at the price I want to be paid. I know the figure I'd go back into full-time work for - and I wouldn't entertain anything lower. I cringe thinking of the times I applied for jobs paying a pittance in comparison.
A lot of that has come from having frank conversations with other copywriters. This whole post spiralled out of control from one such discussion. Look, it's over 1,000 words already. I haven't written this much in one go in weeks. I guess I felt it needed to be said.
There are some things we should maintain dignified silences on. Like the number of marks on our tongues where clients made us bite them. But if there's an epidemic in copywriting of seriously undervaluing ourselves, that needs to be talked about. By all of us, regardless of job status and gender.
Suggested day rates will only take us so far - about as far as a suggested day rate, to be precise. There isn't a handy online pricing table for what you're worth as an individual.
Don't be embarrassed to talk about what you earn and seek constructive advice on it. No other copywriter worth their ink is going to look down on you for only earning 'yay' much. They're more likely to tell you it's nothing near what you should be getting paid.