Get Rich with…Other People (Part 2)

meetupIn Get Rich with Other People (Part 1) I wrote about the first meet up of the Financial Independence London Facebook group that I went to.

Meeting people face to face is to real community what oxygen is to breathing. So I went to another of these meet-ups earlier this month which was fun.

It was also very well attended…in fact, there were too many people there for me to count how many people were there (I’d have quickly run out of fingers and toes). And too many people to be able to chat to everyone. But I made a point of going over to say hi and thank you to Chloë, who had arranged the event.

We got chatting and we hit it off.  People usually connect when they have things in common. But Chloë is a left wing, lesbian vegan…me, not so much. So why might we have got on?

Well it turns out that my earlier articles about feminism resonated with Chloë.  So that was a good start.  Even better, Chloë has something called a “sense of humour”. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, a “sense of humour” allows you to enjoy the quirks of life and of people.  If you can’t laugh at yourself, you are missing out on the best joke in the universe*.

I suggested Chloë write me a guest post on her take on financial independence, feminism and friends. We swapped email addresses. I drafted a quick test email on my phone and asked what her what to put in the title field so she’d remember it? Her answer was “Type faster, bitch”.

It was at that point I knew we were gonna get on. 🙂

Here’s Chloë’s guest post. Enjoy!

TEA


Satisfaction with the Sapphist Faction

marchMarch saw 2 historic gatherings in London: first, the giant women’s march to the UK Houses of Parliament, and second (and far more productive) a gathering of FIRE enthusiasts in a nice pub.

At the latter, I got speaking with The Escape Artist and discussed his previous writings on gender politics, which I feel make a far more useful contribution than the crowds that assembled earlier in the month.

I hope this post is useful in explaining why I was much happier to be in the smaller of the two gatherings, nothing to do with neither green nor purple being flattering colours. Shouldn’t a left wing, lesbian vegan have been holding a placard instead of a pint?

Well, as The Escape Artist has written, the upside of both Feminism and the Men’s Rights Movement is that they can highlight unfairness and shine a light on the crap in the roles we’ve been expected to play. That can mean having the confidence to follow your interests and not be walked all over. It can mean refusing to be a Walking Wallet and automatically pay for other people.

Catherine MacKinnon in 1980 wrote The Sexual Shakedown and gave a name to and a focus on sexual harassment in the workplace – this problem, if it was spoken of, was seen as part of ‘the deal’ if you worked. By fighting for legal changes, feminists made great achievements and helped to level the playing field in the workplace.

Fast forward a couple of decades and that same ideology is arguably having a deleterious effect on the workplace. MacKinnon, a feminist academic, developed her work as part of her theory that all male-female interactions are a violent power struggle… yikes!

So workplaces end up disciplining workers over genuine misunderstandings, spending thousands on avoiding offence and bringing a divisive lens into employee relations. In acknowledging the upsides of feminism, we should acknowledge the downsides: liberating narratives can also recast us in the role of victims. And once set, these narratives can be very hard to change as society adapts.

So, I find myself working in my tech career in a team with an equal gender balance, working under a female CEO who nevertheless reduced pension contributions. I look at the Women’s March outside parliament, notably not including the current female prime minister – it seems to me that she might have been a pretty relevant presence, non?

Well, not if you want to present women like me as oppressed. You’d also not want to invite any of the economists who have shown that the great gender wage gap is almost entirely down to individual choices, leaving a tiny amount that may or may not be discrimination – that would really make that narrative difficult to sustain.

outrage

 

Maybe I just have a data analyst’s bias, but it’s a discussion that I’m so tired of seeing when the evidence has been combed over so many times.

Three independent reviews were commissioned into alleged pay inequity at the BBC, as no-one wanted to accept each finding that individual choices were driving earning disparity, not discrimination. Since the marchers are happy to highlight the role of social messages, maybe they should consider the impact of pushing a victim narrative and warning women how horrible the tech industry is?

Meanwhile, inside a nice warm pub a mixed crowd was mingling and covering a multitude of topics – how long the Lifetime ISA would survive, saving strategies and the best horror films of the last 50 years. The choice of pub was approved which, as it was my choice, was good news – I wondered if I’d lose all credibility if I went for a standard £6 a pint place, instead of a much more characterful and frugal Sam Smiths venue. [TEA note: £3.20 a pint in Central London!!!]

When I asked about getting past the over-attentive phase of excessively monitoring investments, I didn’t get commiserations about how hard it must be for me because of X characteristic, I got good advice for me as an individual that didn’t assume anything. Some people in the pub had achieved FIRE already and were happy to hang out and share the knowledge with folk on their way – the aim was clear, the advice was solid and actionable and the spicy peanuts were refreshingly spicy.

Meanwhile, at the other meeting, the call for equality resounded, with no clarity or helpful advice. Does gender equality mean absolute equality? Is that equality of opportunity, which would mean providing more support to boys at all tiers of education? Is it equality of outcome, which would mean strict bureaucratic control of which careers you’re allowed to follow, alongside a removal of meritocracy?

Maybe a march isn’t the place for nuance on the issue of achieving equality, but all the slogans about the ‘wage gap’ were the nearest anyone got for talking about current ‘problems’ that I could see. And given the multiple reasons why the earnings gap exists, there were no workable solutions for that problem in sight at the march.

I see this as parallel to my experience. I am a woman in tech who is a FIRE enthusiast. I see my friends pay for huge holidays, weekly takeaways and £700 a year phones and then when they complain about being broke they point to the wage gap as a key issue for our times… in short, if you understand the problem, you can probably solve it. And often the issue is not a problem with society, it’s a problem with yourself.

Instead of the old rhetoric, I wish the marchers had carried placards advertising the best degrees for future earnings, or handed out leaflets on tax sheltering your savings. Maybe a dramatic reading of the brilliant Story of a Fuck Off Fund.  I wish those megaphones had been used to broadcast the importance of the savings rate and fiscal responsibility.

My partner and I get homophobic abuse in the street on rare occasions and it’s unpleasant, but it doesn’t mean we live in fear. The fact that some people strongly dislike lesbians has nothing to do with the way we want to live our lives – and FIRE is a key part of our personal ‘empowerment’, if you want to call it that.

Being harassed by a stranger doesn’t mean we’re then incapable of monitoring our spending. The distribution of genders among FTSE 100 CEOs doesn’t stop me polishing my skills and looking for the next step up. The beach body ready adverts didn’t render me too traumatised to change my energy supplier and save £212 a year.

A far more compelling movement is one that actually focuses on helping people break barriers and build themselves up, rather than one that renders us all scared of the big bad world out there.

This is where FIRE comes in – the narrative is all about what you can do for yourself, and sure, some of us may well be in better positions due to family background or job history than others, but ultimately, there is almost always something you can do to improve your chances of financial independence. We cycle to work, keep grocery costs to under £100 a month between us, and indulge in frugal hobbies (foraged home-made wine, anyone?). The fact that we’re a pair of hippy dykes has nothing to do with the financial choices we make. Apart from adopting the cat; that one is entirely a dyke move.

My takeaway is that we should be suspicious of grand narratives and collectivising: statistics are controlled by people, not the other way round. So, I was much happier to be in a room with mixed company where we shared a perspective, focusing on the actions we were able to control and making progress, than in a misinformed march that shares a bathroom.


Notes:

  1. Image credit: The Evening Standard
  2. *Joke credit: Ed Latimore

There’s another London FI meet up on Friday 15 June from 6pm onwards in the garden at the Rose and Crown pub, 47 Columbo Street, SE1 8DP (short walk from Blackfriars tube or Waterloo stations). Hope to see you there 🙂


Further reading:

fin-coaching-widget

  1. Get Rich with Other People (Part 1)
  2. Financial Coaching

23 comments

  1. I’d like to offer a somewhat nuanced response to Chloe’s suggestion that the gender pay gap is due largely to individual choices (women picking certain professions, or working part time). While this is probably true, I suspect that those choices aren’t solely intrinsic; rather, they’re driven by the difficulty of combining work with motherhood. Indeed, controversially, I don’t believe that a gender pay gap actually exists: if you control for a single factor, namely motherhood, women earn the same as men, or even marginally more.

    If we accept that premise, and also that women’s choice to do lower-paid work is linked to motherhood, as a society we can think about how the nature of work might be reshaped so women don’t have to make such compromises. Should home working be further encouraged, offices be planned closer to residential areas, employers be required to provide childcare, creche costs to be socialised, or the school year be reshaped to avoid long summer holidays?

    1. My favourite rabbit-hole! Yes, intrinsic instincts and how much of a choice we’re actually making is a solid conversation to have. For instance, women are generally more drawn to comfortable, caring professions – Care Assistants, Nurses, Vets, Teachers. If there is action to be taken, I’d say it’s in valuing these professions more and paying them better.

      In talking about making work easier for mothers, we also have to consider non-mothers, or non-parents. I want parents to have reasonable adjustments, but I don’t want to have to unfairly pick up the slack, so we should be able to make a compromise. If the employer provides a creche, do my wages or pension go down? I’d object to that.

  2. you can’t eat rhetoric when you’re hungry. i enjoyed this article and the words “actionable advice.” here in the u.s.a, we got a new president and half the country went apeshit due to injured sensibilities. we had to fill out a huge stack of hurt feeling reports. good point on the real empowerment angle.

    all the best- freddy

  3. I really enjoyed this guest post. And reading about the interaction that took place really makes me wish I had gone!! Sadly, I’m overseas on 15th June but hopefully I’ll make the one AFTER that. May I suggest the Fitzroy Tavern near Tottenham Ct Road as a potentially future venue?

    On another note, could you please share links from informed “economists who have shown that the great gender wage gap is almost entirely down to individual choices” ? I’d be curious to read more.

    Cheers

    1. Hi Ricky,

      Sorry for not including links, that was remiss of me. It was a bit hard to choose which one to go by but for a long read I recommend this for the US Department of Labour Statistics (https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/public-policy/hr-public-policy-issues/Documents/Gender%20Wage%20Gap%20Final%20Report.pdf) or for a quick summary then this is good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcDrE5YvqTs

      The overall thing to look at is what is measured and is it multivariate – does it consider hours worked, experience, occupation. E.g. total earnings are frequently more disparate due to a tendency for males to disproportionately work overtime, so even for the same role the total earnings can be justifiably higher.
      You can of course go down an endless thread by throwing in factors from outside of work, but I feel that obfuscates the facts.

      If I had to pick out an area where prejudice is present, there does seem to be a bit of a feedback loop around disparate starting offers and employers tending to offer more to males. I hope that’s helpful, maybe we can discuss it at the next, next meetup.

  4. I also loved the guest post. I couldn’t agree more with the idea that real empowerment comes from thoughtful analysis of your behaviour and goals and taking action to get there. Whining accomplishes nothing and the collectivist victim mindset is another excuse not to own your decisions in life.
    I’ve accomplished a great deal in my life due to not recognizing all the boundaries other people say exist. I’m getting pretty high up in my career and have yet to bump into the glass ceiling.

    1. Thanks! As I say, individuals control statistics, not the other way round. It can be worth pushing to be the outlier 🙂

  5. A coherent and refreshing perspective Chloë and well done TEA for addressing this topic.

  6. Great guest post, I really enjoyed it! Now to read the linked article A Story of a Fuck Off Fund! 😀

  7. “A far more compelling movement is one that actually focuses on helping people break barriers and build themselves up, rather than one that renders us all scared of the big bad world out there.

    Well said. This is the best piece I’ve read on this issue in a good while. The cult of victimization has done nothing for the victims and only created more tension, animosity, and divisiveness in society. There are other approaches, as you clearly laid out.

  8. That was a fantastic article. I just have one concern. Um, I have a cat. I’m male. As far as I know, I’m not a lesbian. I don’t even think I’m gay – well, strictly speaking anyway. How does having a cat become a “dyke” thing?
    And I and my better half would share a pint with these two (the author and her partner) any day!

    1. Thanks – I think having a cat becomes a dyke thing when we gave him a bow tie, but I might be wrong.

  9. Fatbritabroad · · Reply

    Hi i might come to the next meet up do i need to pm someone for contact details? So i know who you are when i get there and don’t have to walk round th’e pub asking ‘are you financially independent

    1. We’ll be in the pub beer garden (assuming its sunny). And, if the last event is any guide to numbers, you won’t be able to miss a group of >40 people. Anyone that wants updates should join the London FI Facebook group.

  10. I loved the post, thanks for sharing it with us Chloe.

    Although I’d have to disagree with some of the sentiments, just because you haven’t experienced any sexual discrimination in employment doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist – the black swan effect.

    I do think as a society we have tons more to do on the male side, to encourage men to take on more housework and child-caring roles. I’m a firm supporter of equally paid paternity leave.

    1. Thanks, nice to hear.

      Absolutely, we do tend to wear our own lenses – I am wary of anything distorting my view. Absolutely sexual discrimination is still happening and high up in companies – I think Uber is a prominent example of this. There are all sorts of abuses from higher ups and I love that being FI gives you the power to challenge it confidently. I think there are many interesting discussions around finding a balance in workplace culture for what is appropriate behaviour that doesn’t allow genuinely unfair treatment but also isn’t overly politically correct and stifling.

      On the second part, I couldn’t agree with you more. The talk of the ‘second shift’ is important, and men generally do an ‘extended shift’ of their own. I think we should advocate for greater flexibility so that couples can come to their own arrangements.

  11. Jonthetourist · · Reply

    Just brilliant. Chloe, an alternative career beckons if you tire of tech. Although the money for writing is not tempting.
    As an aside, @Mello2018 is just a bigger version of the FI get-together, plus exhibitors and some brilliant speakers. All welcome.

  12. londonwageslave · · Reply

    Loved this post and the fresh perspective. One of the best aspects to the FIRE “movement” (if you can call it such) is the focus on clear, actionable advice and cutting through bullshit to get to the core issues.

  13. Survivor · · Reply

    Really refreshing article, thank you for the intelligence. I’d happily vote for transparency in wages and equality in law, 90% of my family are female, I don’t fear or hate women [or any subset of the general population generally] and on a purely selfish note as quite an introvert, I really resent the idea that someone at the desk next to me can get more money for the same value/work I put in.

    In my career, while a manager, when recruiting I had a budget and awarded it all to the best candidate regardless – there was a huge element of practicality in this to be honest, in that if things went wrong the mess was painful, on me, to deal with, so I really, really did want the best person for the job. Then I wanted them to be happy so they wouldn’t leave, resulting in the pain cycle restarting, [replacing staff] so I’d give them all the incentives to stay that I had the power to make happen. Given this ultimately selfish strategy, there’d be no contradiction in just saying straight that the salary for this position is X, no strings attached. [which most employers may claim is what they do anyway, but after contact with reality, only the smallest children can believe that]

    Basically, my idea of social justice is a good balance of meritocracy, with fair reward for effort, all safe-guarded by transparency within strong democratic regulation, to stop the strong preying on the weak. I don’t want to subsidise either the silverspoon brigade or the genuinely workshy, because I don’t feel worth less [if you carry others without choosing, &/or for no good reason, you are by definition judged as of less value] & if I take a hit for not putting in enough effort then I will pay the price in accepting the pain, fair is fair. So no human system can be perfect, but the Scandinavians seem to have come the closest on quality of life indexes ……we could do worse surely than learn off those who have shown the way.

  14. Chloe/TEA – You mentioned you discussed how long the Lifetime ISA would last? What was the general consensus?
    P.S. Great article by the way. Often people just want to find a scapegoat or someone to blame for their perceived poverty, or their existence as a just about managing person/household. The truth is we are all in control of our destiny and there is nothing more liberating than being free from wage slavery….
    QT

  15. I agree with pay gap being more due to individual choices. I’m in the medical field and being female has no impact on my salary. Actually, a dear male co-worker and I started on the same date. He had 15 years experience to my 10 years experience when we started way back in 2008. For 8 years, my salary was several thousand dollars more than his. I performed salary negotiations vastly superior than he did for I got top dollar coming in and he did not. I also managed a healthy sign-on bonus for a 3 yr commitment. He still does not know there are sign on bonuses within our system.

  16. britinkiwi · · Reply

    Great post – thanks! If I can be mischievous – sounds a little like Jordan Peterson who also talks about the impact of choice – plus even Jonathan Pie has picked up on the issue….

    Transparency of wages – important point. Here in NZsalaries are not even included in job adverts, even in health care. Although that’s a labour rights issue/information power gap for everyone and nothing to do with gender I bet it still impacts at least a little….

    Have you considered the Champion, off Tottenham Court Road? Sam Smiths at reasonable prices and I think they have a function room – no idea if it will suit 40 folk though.

  17. faithless · · Reply

    Great post.

    I’m inclined to believe that the gender pay gap is smaller than it looks, and that a lot of it is due to choices women make (although I remember reading some interesting stuff about females tending to not negotiate as hard as males on starting salary at their first jobs, which, given that raises tend to be pegged to existing salaries, can have an impact for many years).

    But I do question the reasons for females making these choices. E.g. a woman might opt to take a year off work when having a baby, as (so I hear) it’s hard and expensive to find good care for babies <1. It's acceptable for her to take a year off, and she has the legal right to this. But if it was equally as legal AND acceptable for the father to take this time off, would she still choose to be out of the workplace (missing out on career experience) for a full year? Would he turn down the opportunity to spend that time at home with their baby?

    Shared parental leave is our plan. Hopefully when it comes to it my husband can actually get the 6 months off, and not be discriminated against/fired for taking that.

    P.s. my husband does outearn me, he picked a STEM career and I picked Social Sciences (would I have chosen that if STEM careers had been better taught/resourced/promoted at my all girls school…? – I digress),
    but our good financial habits mean that doesn't have to restrict our decision about who takes what time off to bring up babies. Money = freedom.

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