“Can you just….” she whined down the phone.
I didn’t answer. I could fill in the gaps. She would want this and that done and done well and done pronto, but there would be no further payment.
She wanted it for free. For love. Because well, we’re both women.
It would all be done because, well, women support women in business. Don’t they?
I’d love to say ‘yes, of course’ but to be honest I can’t. I’ve been in business as a self-employed entrepreneur/consultant for two decades in NZ (my home country), Australia and the UK, and during that time I attended numerous women’s networking events. I have numerous clients – all around the world in all kinds of industries and one thing remains constant – women don’t seem to take it as seriously as their male counterparts.
I’m not sure why that is, but I have a fair idea.
I started working for myself in the spare room of my little Remuera townhouse in early 1990’s when working from home meant that you’d been retrenched, or just downright fired.
I hadn’t been either. I did however long to prove myself as a businesswoman, and to make the money I ably made for big corps like Microsoft and Telecom, for myself and my family. Family. Well, yes, there was that. I wanted a family and I knew that there was no way I’d be able to have a baby working 60hrs week at Microsoft, so I left. It was incredibly hard at first but by the time I was staring at a positive pregnancy test I was signed on to one of the largest corporates in the country, albeit as a contractor working from home.
Of course, being in the IT/Telecoms industry the majority of my colleagues were male, and I found them easy to work with. They were straightforward they didn’t bullshit they set expectations and stuck to them. These men were not for turning.
Sometime after however, with my son gurgling in the background, I secured more contracts – a couple of them for female entrepreneurs. I felt we had shared experience in common. I expected they knew the challenges facing a woman business owner with a baby, working in a male-oriented industry. I expected rapport and empathy, to laugh over spilt milk on my jacket sleeve and trials of nannies and baby crying at the wrong time. I expected all this and, well, ….I expected too much.
I did not expect that they would be flighty with instructions and briefs and almost impossible to nail down. But most of all, they drove me to distraction by not paying in full on time.
I wish I could say that a great deal has changed in my twenty years in business, but sadly, it hasn’t. But why is that?
These days we celebrate the female entrepreneur, and the location independent female consultant (try and do that with your baby in the backpack!) and the female Head of Department. Though, have you noticed how many senior women tend to be childless? Do we extol the virtues of the gurus, the talking heads – all attractive and persuasive and to be fair, genuinely wanting to help – who promise that women who just follow the script will, wham bam thank you ma’am, be halfway to being a millionaire in their first year of business?
And yet, that doesn’t happen. Why do women let fellow female business owners down? Why can’t they be trusted to play according to the rules and pay according to the terms?
Why do they see your terms and conditions as general advisory and not the actual terms and conditions. And woe betide you Molly Woppy if you enforce them. If you actually down tools, or take the website down or refuse to work with them until they’ve kept the financial agreement, you’re in for no end of strife!
Aren’t they business owners too? Don’t they feel the same pain when someone doesn’t pay them and they can’t pay their rent or mortgage? Or when they sacrificed time with their children to work with clients who take four months to pay their bills?
Is it churlish of me to think sometimes that they just don’t? That so many of these women rely on their husbands/partners to pay the bills and therefore don’t really need to worry about the internet being turned off or need to come up with ingenious recipes that feature lentils to feed the family because their pantry is bare. They don’t seem to need to be paid, on time, if ever.
They have the settled married privilege of being taken care of and being able to choose whether they want to take on a contract or do the work.
They don’t need the money.
They can attend networking evenings and breakfasts and charity lunches and suffer no ill consequences or need for ROI. Their business is for those women, a hobby. Something to make them feel worthwhile and busy. One of those side gigs my Dad used to always suggest to me.
Is that why many women are so, unprofessional?
Or is it because we suffer from an excruciating need to please? Do women business owners quote low so as to not offend? Do they offer discounts and freebies to win not only the business but heart and mind? To feel validated? And because we don’t take ourselves seriously, we overlook the need to take other women business owners seriously?
Is that it? Are we a soft touch? Do we lack confidence?
I honestly don’t know but I wonder if you do. Why do we not take ourselves seriously? Why do we not cut free the clients who don’t pay, who don’t work out, who squeeze dry the ROI?
And why, oh why is it women business owners who don’t pay?
Tell me your thoughts below.