Women Getting Paid Less, or Not At All
I got a call today from a freelance web developer with a big challenge that I relate to — and one I can’t stop thinking about.
My friend Jane (not her real name) has a client who wants a refund for work completed, because the final product wasn’t what the client expected. Jane had done her due diligence beforehand: There was a contract describing the scope and specifics of the work. That scope was followed and the work completed as specified. So what was the problem? There could two reasons the client wanted a refund:
Best case scenario: the client wasn’t paying attention to what she requested and agreed to and was unhappy.
Worst case scenario: the client wanted to see if she could get away with getting something for nothing.
Knowing in either case that she was in the right, Jane was still understandably uncomfortable with the position the client put her in. If she refused the refund, it could create bad blood with the client and impact future referrals. And if she decided to risk this, what should she say to strike the right tone to minimize “collateral damage”? Or maybe she should just chalk it up as a “teachable moment” situation and walk away without the second half her contract compensation to keep the peace.
Although a client wanting a refund is nothing new in business, this particular situation is complicated by one important detail: gender. All freelancers at some point will find themselves in a position where they need to stand up for their compensation, and in my experience, men don’t hesitate to demand payment for work done. Women? Not so much.
I once had a similar situation. A client owed me the final payment on a completed project, but after three months of follow up, I had gotten no response. Finally, they contacted me to let me know they weren’t using the piece I created and didn’t want to me pay for it. Plumbers get paid to fix a leaky toilet whether you use it afterwards, or not. I’d like to say that I tackled the payment negotiation on my own. I’m a well-educated, business professional and my mother taught me I could be whatever I wanted to be. But when it comes to situations like these, I’m hard wired to apologize, avoid conflict, and hope the client decides to do the right thing. I’ve learned to fight this instinct, which I assume was built in to my education and upbringing in a multitude of invisible ways, because nobody ever told me to expect to be paid less or to learn to enjoy the smallest piece of the pie. So I enlisted the help of my biggest supporter: my husband.
And this gender gap doesn’t just apply to refund-type situations. I have women confidants in business who hesitate to request raises to match additional responsibilities loaded on them at work, and plenty of freelancing peers that don’t feel comfortable asking for more than they need to get by. I don’t have any men in my circles with the same discomfort.
I wonder if the fact that women are paid 70% of what a man makes to do the same job is at least in part because they don’t ask for what they deserve.
This is a problem. The women I’m talking about here demand the same rights as men, but are unaware that they don’t demand the same value.
In the end I advised my friend to appear willing to make a gesture, but to clarify in no uncertain terms that she should be paid for the work she did, and did well. It’s advice I’ve given to myself, I practice saying ”fuck you, pay me”, and now I’m coaching my friends and peers to say it too. Please have this conversation, the only way to change what’s built in is to air it out. Let’s hope that practice makes perfect.