The results of the gender pay gap reporting in the UK have been counted and the headline figures are pretty damning.
78% of the 10,000 businesses that reported pay men more than women. Women make up less than one-third of highest paid jobs. There is not one single sector that pays women more than men.
But seriously, I’m not worried. In fact, I’m excited, because this marks a turning point and the start of something quite profoundly wonderful for us.
You see, the collective anger is going to burn off any residual hang-ups we may have around confidence or imposter syndrome. Women - tons of women - a whole goddamn stampede of women - are going to look around at the shitty deal they’re getting in someone else’s business. They’re going to add up the cost of all the promotions they didn’t get, and the salary cut they took after maternity leave, and the lower commission rate they were told was just till they proved themselves…
And they’re going to say FUCK THAT in capital letters and they’re going to start their own companies; taking all their smarts and experience and empathy and phenomenal work ethic and that glue that holds their teams together, and the sheer force of years upon years of being undervalued, and they will unleash it on a world that is oh so ready for them.
Because there is a particular brand of rage that comes from being taken for a mug for so long. And it burns incandescent. It is the swell of a river that has swallowed the brackish water for so long that now it is ready to burst its banks. It builds and it carries and it surges over everything in its path, and it forges a new way, its own way.
From knowledge to power
The reaction to the pay gap reports has had the air of a wake about it. That heady mix of utter despair and incredulity and relief. The gall-twisting ache of unfairness and the weird satisfaction that comes from knowing that you were right — we are being screwed over, and it’s everywhere, all the time, and almost every woman you know.
Another problem that has hidden in plain sight for generations: excused, justified, denied, is now wide open for all to see. Don’t get me wrong. It still hurts. To see in print what we’ve always known to be true, on such an unapologetic scale. To read in the data the relentless, deliberate holding back of women. To hear some people claim that it’s a matter of personal choice.
But the great thing about knowledge is that at its core lies power. We have the numbers now. It doesn’t matter how you try to spin them. We know why more men are pilots, or senior execs in women’s retail, and it has nothing to do with pipeline issues, or ambition, and everything to do with systemic oppression and gate-keeping: against women, against people of colour, against people with disabilities.
Still, I’m not worried:
Sure, the glass ceiling is still there. But it’s thin and cracked as hell. And for those guys on the other side who have done nothing to help us break through — a message: we can see you and we’re coming for you.
Just think, you have no idea of our value
I’m fortunate that I get to meet a lot of female founders, through speaking events and mentoring. The biggest change I’ve seen in the past few years is the scale of ambition and drive. The women I meet aren’t waiting to see if they’ll be the lucky recipient of the pitiable 2% VC funding that gets shared amongst us. They want to build empires and make serious money and they don’t care if you don’t get it — it’s not about you. It’s never been about you.
So I’m thrilled at the stats that 45% more women started their own businesses in the last decade to narrow the gender ‘enterprise gap’, and that 1 in 10 women now wants to be an entrepreneur. It’s just the beginning.
I’m delirious when I see that Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty range raked in $72m in one month and was picked as one of Time magazine’s best inventions of 2017. Rihanna did what every mainstream beauty brand failed to do — create covetable, inclusive shades for black women and other women of colour — and inspired one of the best memes of 2018 so far.
I’m inspired by, and so very proud of, the success of the female entrepreneurs who have taken an industry and completely refashioned it. These are women whose names you should know. From Sharmadean Reid, to Debbie Woskow and Anna Jones, Pip Jamieson, to Lu Li, Anne Boden to Alice Bentinck.
Not only are they building incredible businesses, but they are creating academies and communities, conferences and co-working spaces to share their expertise and networks and knowledge with the next generation of female founders coming up behind them.
Get supporting them, get involved and get working on your own version.
I’m exhilarated by programmes like All Raise’s Female Founder Office Hours, which provides advice and mentoring to female entrepreneurs, and which has quickly scaled from 30 female VCs to add 120+ seasoned female founders to its ranks. All Raise alone has held 200 1:1 mentoring sessions over the past 6 months. Jess Lee explains that with this new pay-it-forward model, “ we can 5x our capacity and better serve the 1500+ female founders who’ve already applied for office hours, in addition to new founders who sign up.”
This is no ordinary mentor cohort. Collectively, these founders have raised over $4bn in investment and run businesses which are household names: Eventbrite (Julia Hartz), Glossier (Emily Weiss), Houzz (Adi Tatarko), Shippo (Laura Behrens Wu), Stitch Fix (Katrina Lake).
Then there’s the brilliant SheEO model for financing women-led businesses through acts of radical generosity — groups of 500 women (SheEO calls them ‘Activators’), who each contribute $1100 each to the fund. The money is pooled together and loaned out at low interest to 5 women-led ventures with big growth potential. The loan gets paid back after 5 years and the cycle starts again.
As of October 2017, SheEO — led by Vicki Saunders — had 15 portfolio companies and $1.5 million invested. Their goal is a $1 billion perpetual fund backed by 1 million Activators, invested in 10,000 women-led ventures.
For the first time in my lifetime, I feel a genuine groundswell of interest in female entrepreneurship. I see the mutual support, collaboration and determination to effect real change amongst the founders I meet. It feels strong and urgent.
It leaves me in no doubt that we are moving to an era of unprecedented levels of personal and financial opportunity and success for women. And if the gender pay reveal is a catalyst to make this happen faster, or for more women, across race and class, then I say: bring it on. We’re ready. We’ve got this.
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Caroline is co-founder and CEO of Lifetise, a life planning platform that helps women navigate their financial lives. Follow her on Twitter @Caz_Lifetise.
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