Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Are you working for free because you’re a woman?

Belinda Parmar
Chief Executive Officer, The Empathy Business
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It happened again. A former client has asked me whether I could go to a meeting as a goodwill gesture. It would give me an opportunity to talk about our previous project to a wider audience, they promised me. Of course opportunity is simply code for “you will not be paid for your time”. I said no, but it wasn’t an easy decision.

Perhaps I was at fault for not being more forthright and getting the fundamental question of budget answered at the outset? Both these worries seem wrong. A professional should not have to state the obvious – that she would expect to be paid for her time.

Did this have anything to do with being a woman?

I also asked myself whether the people prevailing upon my team and me to work for free would be willing to put in the long hours they do if they weren’t receiving a sizeable paycheque at the end of each month. The answer was an emphatic “no”.

I asked my Twitter followers whether they had experienced similar things and I was overwhelmed by how many women replied. All had similar stories. Many said that women were more likely to be asked for advice for free and were less direct than men about asking to be paid for their time.

From pocket money to pay negotiations

Around the world, women’s time is valued less than their male colleagues. How else can we explain the fact that in the UK for every £1 that men make, women make a mere 86p. And it’s not just the UK, in the US, women earn 88p for every £1 earned by men. In China, women earn 75p for every £1 earned by men.

Yet the causes lie not only with institutions and culture. Women must do more to demand equal treatment too. From a young age, women are discouraged from thinking or talking about money. As a child, I was trained to be a “nice girl”, praised when I went to visit my grandmother, but upbraided if I asked her for more pocket money. I was applauded when I got good grades at school, but attracted frowns when I showed my pleasure at getting more tips than any of the other waiting staff at the local restaurant. I was given more treats when I was kind to my sister, but scolded when I deployed a cunning strategy to beat her at Monopoly.


So to all the women working in business, I say this: there is no need to feel hesitant about asking for money. Our contribution is every bit as a valuable as the men we work with. Women-led SMEs already add approximately £70 billion to the economy. So let us mark today, November 9th, as the day that we cease to undervalue our time and effort. Let us make today the day that we start to demand the same pay as male entrepreneurs. Let’s value our contribution. So the next time, when someone asks you to do something, look them straight in the eyes and ask, “what’s your budget?” before you give an answer. After all, nice girls don’t make history.

This article first appeared in The Guardian

Author: Belinda Parmar is the CEO of at Lady Geek and the author of The Empathy Era and Little Miss Geek. Follow her on Twitter @belindaparmar 

Image: A woman walks through Brookfield Place off Bay Street, on the day of their annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, May 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

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