It’s no secret that if you’re a woman you’re likely to earn less than a man in the same job. It’s a much plainer fact than I’d imagined: a man and woman starting off in the same role can advance in their careers equally, but when a woman takes a break to have a child (and even those who return to work quickly must take some time off, to you know, actually give birth and stuff), it is others who are handed opportunities, promotions and higher pay in their place. And that’s not the worst of it. Then we have actual, intentional discrimination.
When I found out I was pregnant last year I decided not to mention it to my clients. The vast majority wouldn’t be affected and it wasn’t relevant to the work I was doing. Despite this, I still fell victim to a loss of work because I’d decided to have a baby.
The first instance happened a mere seven weeks into my pregnancy. Morning sickness hit me hard, and despite the worst of it only lasting two days, that was enough to lose a client. Yup, freelancers are not expected to be ill, ever, it seems. I had to state I’d be unavailable for office-based work temporarily, and despite still completing all of the work I had to do from home, when I didn’t reveal the cause of my sickness the company paying me decided I wasn’t up to scratch. As much as I wanted to side with the people telling me ‘I didn’t need clients like that anyway’, the truth was that I did. That client in particular provided 80% of my income at the time and to lose it meant some big changes to the way I worked, which in itself was temporary – I was having a baby seven months later.
Looking back, I can now luckily say good riddance. I wasn’t treated well by them and have since done some brilliant work for some incredible companies with the time I had, but the fact is, I shouldn’t have been put in that situation purely because I was pregnant. It was unfair and discriminative, but as a self-employed freelancer there was no sleek HR department to go to.
People asked me what maternity leave I had planned, but in reality I just wasn’t able to plan it without losing a massive amount of income. I had initially planned on taking leave for eight weeks, beginning a fortnight before my due date, but when clients got delayed in their projects I had the choice of working later or not earning, hence why I was sending off edits two nights before giving birth in the end, and why I took my laptop up to the nursery with me at night so I could start work at 10pm when Mads went to sleep.
It’s not easy, it’s definitely not fair, but it is my choice to continue. For a while I considered whether I’d want to be employed instead in the future, should I ever have a second child, but the answer is still a firm no. I have to work crazier hours than the average worker, the pay is lower and the work more solitary, but being freelance is for me. I love it because I love the work I do and I love (most of) my clients. Seriously, for all the above mentioned crap there is some amazing stuff to balance it out, it’s just that life shouldn’t be a balancing act of negativity just because you’re a woman and have the biological functions to have a child.
Maddie is nine months old now, which means my government-paid maternity allowance has come to an end and I need to take on regular hours again. This is going to see me working evenings and weekends the majority of the time to save on childcare costs, which then disrupts the time we get to spend together as a family, but that’s precisely what being self-employed is about. There are sacrifices in every working week, and the next few years will be about making my job work with family life, but I’m determined that it will work. Because what’s the alternative, let discrimination win? Sod that.
For those interested, self-employed women are entitled to a maternity allowance rather than statutory pay. The amount you receive depends on your earnings but regularly works out at roughly £580 a month for nine months. You can claim the pay anytime from later on in pregnancy just like you can take maternity leave when you choose from work and you’re allowed to carry on earning while you receive it.
If you want to ask anything about having a baby when you’re self-employed please get in touch. I’ll happily help answer questions for anyone going through the same thing or considering it.
PS: yes, I’m totally going to have to write a post on the benefits of freelancing as a parent now!