True equality will take more than a smart suit and a show of confidence

Copywriters, please don’t underestimate your influence. Your value. Or that of your peers.

Because our words are seen and heard everywhere. Our words have power. The power to stop people in their tracks. To persuade, inform, entertain, challenge, kick-start discussion and create change.

And our words have the power to sell. Products. Services. And ideas.

But of course, and even from this privileged position, we are not immune to the prejudices and inequalities that persist in our society.

So yes, in a bid to earn equal pay, female freelance copywriters can don a suit, puff out their chests and raise their rates.

But that will only take us so far.

88% of young female creatives say they lack role models

Last September a young copywriter asked for my advice on how he should start his freelance career.

One of the things I told him was to read widely.

He asked what I’d recommend and I duly sent him a list of books on copywriting and advertising that I’d read and found useful.

He was pleased with this list.

I was pissed off by it.

Because all the books I suggested were written by men.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m at the Copy Cabana conference in Bournemouth discussing this with Andy Maslen.

In typical Andy style, he suggested that instead of wasting time wondering why there are so few books written by women copywriters, I should just write one myself.

He’s right (he usually is). So I am.

It’s about why the fact that we don’t learn, or hear from, more women copywriters matters to us all.

This is about money

Not the money you or I earn, whether we’re male or female. But the money we make for our clients.

It’s not that I don’t care that female copywriters earn 29% less than male copywriters. I do.

It’s just that we still don’t really know why. And without further research, we won’t.

But in the meantime, there are some things we definitely do know.

Like how, in a mixed gender group, when women speak less than or as much as men they’re seen to be dominating the conversation.

How women who speak up are often criticised for being aggressive, but men who speak up are more often feted for being assertive. (So pretending we feel confident isn’t a shoo-in to equal pay).

And how women’s work is valued less than men’s.

Take my story.

Many years ago I worked for a local authority. I managed two statutory partnerships, a staff team of four and a budget of more than £1,000,000.

I had a colleague, let’s call him John, who managed one partnership, one member of staff and a budget of less than £300,000.

One day I heard that John was going on secondment and the authority had advertised for his replacement.

Naturally, I had a look at the ad.

And discovered that John earned more than me. Several thousand pounds more.

Because our bosses couldn’t explain the difference in our salaries they had to increase mine, and backdate the increase.

Kerching! Financially this was good for me (and kicked off the chain of events that led to me becoming a freelance copywriter, but that’s another story).

But on a personal level, it was devastating.

Before I found out I was paid less than John I felt confident, able and valued. I loved my job.

Afterwards, I felt used, belittled and angry. It damaged my relationship with my bosses (all male) who, I felt, only put my salary up because they had to.

Even accepting how long it takes to do anything in a local authority, they didn’t rush to sort it out. I’m not sure they even would have without months of fighting from me. And I’m certain they didn’t share my feelings of injustice.

Here’s a more copywriting-centric version of this kind of story.

So, it’s all very well for Andy to say just act confident, even when you’re not. But the playing field still isn’t level, even for freelance copywriters who set their own rates.

Money talks. So the economic argument is likely to trump the fairness and equality one

As you can tell I have strong views. But before I put pen to paper and start writing, I want to make sure they’re informed views.

And that I’ve heard from as many copywriters as possible – men and women – and learned from your experiences.

I want to know, pay aside, to what extent gender inequality exists in copywriting. Because I’m sure it affects not only you as a copywriter but your clients too.

It can mean they sell less.

And that, however good your results are now, by hearing and learning more equally from men and women, they could be even better.

Please tell me what you think by filling in this survey.

Thank you.

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