we need to talk about money

With women in the creative industries earning on average 9% less than their male counterparts, we asked entrepreneur and founder of Women Who, Otegha Uwagba, to spell out when it comes to work, why women need to talk about money.

by Otegha Uwagba
08 November 2016, 9:11pm

When you do creative work for a living, it can be all too easy to shy away from the commercial and financial aspects of working life. The fact that the value of your work generally isn't measured by its monetary value (unlike say, an accountant or a lawyer) is undeniably a blessing, but factor in the fairly 'uncreative' nature of money management and all of the admin that goes with it, and often the economics of working life tend to take a backseat for those working in creative fields. In a weird way, it kind of makes sense - after all, few people get into the creative industries for the money alone, but rather for the love of their craft and a belief in its intrinsic value, so it's not surprising that the machinations of our day-to-day working lives don't necessarily revolve around money. Except they do - and even more so for women, who as we know all too well are eternally at a disadvantage in the workplace when it comes to money.

The dynamics that make money a particularly fraught issue for working women are by now well-documented, but let's refresh our memories all the same: there's the gender pay gap of course, and our old friend the glass ceiling, as well as straight-up sexism - and let's not forget the challenge of managing maternity leave and childcare costs for working mothers. Regardless of industry, the way many workplaces are structured simply isn't conducive to motherhood, even if you're lucky enough to work for a company with a decent maternity leave policy. How on earth do you manage if you're a woman working in the creative industries and are also self-employed, as so many are?

Interestingly, a recent study by the Cass Business School effectively debunked the myth that women get paid less than men because they're not pushy or aggressive enough when it comes to salary negotiations. On the contrary, it found that women do ask for payrises as often as their male counterparts - they're just more likely to be turned down. The study was in many ways a grimly satisfying revelation, putting paid to the harmful notion that women are somehow at fault for wage inequality as a result of their actions (or lack thereof), and laying the blame for the gender pay gap firmly at the door of systemic discrimination - where it should be.

That money is a vital part of any creative career is something any freelancer who's ever had to battle with slow-moving finance departments over unpaid invoices knows all too well. You need money in order to create - that's the reality of the world we live in. And, whilst it's uncomfortable to admit it, it often feels like one of the main reasons money doesn't get enough airtime within creative circles is down to a slight squeamishness about acknowledging it as a source of motivation. Surely all creatives have at some point encountered the puritanical attitude that to be a 'proper' artist you shouldn't be about the money, or the kind of scaremongering about 'selling out' that makes many young creatives feel nervous about discussing money, or - heaven forbid - wanting more of it.

Yet those sorts of attitudes mean that the social taboo surrounding talking about money in professional contexts is even worse in the creative fields - and the information blackout starts early, according to London-based graphic designer Georgia Weisz. "There's so much we should know that's rarely taught or explained in universities or schools - how to save, when to file your tax returns, the benefits of credit cards etc." she emails me. "But it's so important for creatives to know not only about the amount they should be earning, but also how to handle their money". Even at art schools and the more specialised institutions where so many young creatives flock to learn the tools of their trade, the options are limited. Creative friends I know who attended art school unanimously agree that whilst enriching in many ways, the experience left them with little idea of how to handle the financial side of being a working creative, with their only education on the matter relegated to Natwest-sponsored pamphlets handed out days before graduation.

It doesn't take a genius then, to imagine how the dearth of conversations around money and creative work does a disservice to creative working women in particular, intersecting with systemic imbalances to produce a status quo where women in the creative industries earn on average 9% less than their male counterparts. "Hear no evil, see no evil is the incubator that allowed the gender pay gap to grow", journalist Vicky Spratt says. "If you don't know where other people are at, then you've got no frame of reference."

So what's to be done? Well for starters, money needs to be integrated into the cultural agenda in the same way discussions around race and gender have entered the mainstream in recent years (which seems fitting, given how interlinked those three topics are). It's all very well and good wealthy women like Kate Winslet dismissing talking about pay openly as "vulgar", but to be blunt: fuck decorum. For most women, the luxury of propriety isn't one we can afford. Who wouldn't welcome more platforms for, and media coverage of, high-profile women openly sharing their money stories and lessons we can learn from? Editors and publishers looking for inspiration need look no further than professional funnywoman Gaby Dunn, who's surprisingly relatable Bad With Money podcast has created a roadmap for how content about money can be both fun and (whisper it) educational. Or there's Chelsea Fagan's The Financial Diet, a website that "talks about money because you don't want to", and manages to be more addictive and engaging than most online publications could possibly dream of being. As a creative freelancer who's main financial goal is merely trying to survive amidst the backdrop of London's spiralling costs, I'd always dismissed the idea of investing as something for rich white men in suits - not people like me. And yet, a recent Bad With Money episode about the male/female investment gap had me calculating whether maybe I could afford to stash away £50 a month in the hopes of avoiding a retirement that would make even Logan Mountstart shudder (reader, I can).

Within the creative industries specifically, we desperately need to dispel the idea that talking about money is somehow at odds with doing creative work, and that starts with normalising conversations about money in public spaces. A few months ago I set up Women Who, an online and real-life platform designed to connect, support and inspire creative working women, in the hope of fostering strength in numbers by building a community of likeminded creative women. On a Tuesday lunchtime last week a group of forty or so of us gathered for an event focused on money, centred around a discussion between creative luminaries including award-winning designer Kate Moross, The Dots founder Pip Jamieson and creative director L.A. Ronayne, who all shared a wealth of practical advice on navigating money as a working creative. We talked about everything from how to negotiate payrises effectively ("leave emotion out of it"), to how freelancers (who make up 43% of workers in the creative industries) should approach setting their rates. The message was clear - as L.A. Ronayne a creative director at Havas London and contributing editor at Riposte put it, "Even if you're a creative, you're still a businessperson."

There's clearly an appetite for these kinds of forums - whilst Women Who events are open to all, for every woman that RSVP-ed, I had to turn away twice as many due to capacity - and once the discussion got going it was like a bottle had been uncorked, with questions and anecdotes pouring in from the audience. Many of the emails I received from women after the event commented on how refreshing it was to have a comfortable, open environment to talk about a topic we're clearly all burning with questions about, but have few outlets for. Case in point: as part of the launch of Women Who, I also wrote and self-published Little Black Book, a toolkit of advice for working women that covers everything from how to network effectively to how to give a good presentation - yet without fail, when women who've read the book message me, the thing they always bring up is the section devoted to dealing with money. Go figure.

Conversations and forums like these are vital, but we need to start making them the norm in the studios, co-working spaces, and offices that creative women around the world are working in - not just confined to special events or communities. Until then though, I hope platforms like mine are a start.

womenwho.co /@womenwho


Text Otegha Uwagba
Photography Lotte Andersen

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