Could you tell me a bit about you. Your age, What you do and how did you get into your current line of work?
I am 35 years old and I work as a Business and Marketing Strategist. I started my career in 2009 in Paris and was lucky to get my very first job in a big luxury group as a digital Project Manager. Once I was in, I managed to move to another luxury group and then another one and another one... Basically changing jobs every couple of years and progressively climbing up the ladder (which accelerated even more when I moved to London 8 years ago as the employment market is even more dynamic than in France).
Today my main job is to be a Strategy Director within a large advertising agency, but I have also kept my own company where I consult for other businesses (because I like the diversity of projects, I think it makes me better at my job). I also have two smaller jobs on the side (I co-own a small creative studio and act as CMO of a tech start up), which I have kept as they are more of my "passion projects". Which seems weird as it is still work and not really a hobby, but I really do like marketing and strategy I guess! :p
Tell me a little bit about your relationship. How has your pay gap evolved?
Before I met my current boyfriend, I mainly dated guys that worked in similar spheres as me, and even though I always made more money than them, the gap was not super huge. But my current partner works in a totally different world: he is an artist with several creative and musical projects. Before covid, he had a band that he would regularly play with, which constituted his main income, and he would also have some other composition projects on the side which brought additional revenue from time to time. So he wasn't making a lot of money but his revenues were stable and it was enough for his needs.
When we started dating, a few "friends" working similar jobs told me they couldn't see themselves being with someone who didn't make at least what they make (which honestly I thought was also my case, before I met my current partner). But to me, being surrounded by someone who was so passionate about their work and also very happy and fulfilled by their career was a big change! I never thought I would end up with an artist but we are actually very complimentary and I think he is the perfect match for me. We both support and motivate each other and I really love this dynamic between us.
With covid, things evolved quite drastically as my partner lost the ability of working with his band and his revenues really shrunk. On my end, the crisis paradoxically offered many new opportunities as digital commerce is my speciality and the needs in this field grew exponentially. The agency I co-founded and the start up I am working with are two direct consequences of the pandemic. I don't think I would have accepted either of these projects in a different context. But strangely this crisis opened new doors to me.
The most unexpected consequence of COVID was that it created a huge gap between us when it came to finances. We are both very hard working and love our jobs, but I work in a field where the demand grew with the crisis and he works in a field where the demand pretty much disappeared with lockdown, and he still hasn't recovered from that. I haven't calculated the exact impact as I don't know precisely how much he is currently making, but I think I now make six times his revenue (which sounds so insane to me as I am typing my answers to you!).
Do you plan to start a family or is it something you’re still considering? And how does money come into this?
So I think that it was quite clear pretty early on in our relationship (after about a year) that we were both interested in getting married and having children in "the near future", with no particular time frame in mind (we're now both 35 and quite ready to become parents). Despite the uncertainty of the situation, the pandemic has actually reinforced this thought as the prolonged time spent together in lockdown confirmed that our couple is solid. We both really enjoyed our time together, barely argued and started to regularly talk about what our wedding could look like (here again, in a very theoretical way, as we don't have any concrete plan or timeline!).
However, now that I am actually considering starting a family, it just hit me that the reality of my current situation is very different from the way I was imagining things five or ten years ago, way before I met my current partner. At the time, I was working in big corporate companies, with a majority of female employees (because it was in the luxury/beauty/fashion sphere) and amazing conditions and employee benefits when it came to mat leave, child care vouchers, even some "fertility perks" etc etc. As a French woman, dating a Dutchman, I also see our friends in both countries starting to build families in two places that offer amazing conditions for family and new parents. Which I realise now, are things I always took for granted, but in comparison, the situation in the UK is quite shocking, there's virtually no help! Having children here costs a fortune and my current employer (not a big corporation) doesn't offer any kind of support.
What are your biggest worries?
As the biggest earner in our couple, I feel I will have to cover for these costs, which is never how I had envisioned the situation. My partner is telling me that he will do everything he can for the family, and to support us etc (and I know he is super feminist and will be a very involved father, splitting all the work 50/50). But the reality is that I currently make a lot more money than him, and I feel that until he has his big break in music (which might or might not happen) the responsibility of our future family, from a practical and material perspective, now falls on my shoulders. Which is something I had never actually thought about or envisioned for myself. I don't think I actually mind paying for the majority of the expenses, but the reality of the situation just hit me. This feels like such a huge responsibility, and this idea is slightly freaking me out! I also know that in the long term, childbearing does have an impact on a woman's earning, whereas men's earning profiles are relatively unaffected by having children (this seems to be the conclusion of all the studies I have read on the topic).
So I think the concern for me is coming from two places: a. the responsibility of being the highest earner, and the weight that this puts on my shoulders. And b. the concern of knowing that my income is very likely to be affected in the future because I am a woman and that I wish to have children (which is something that not only will affect me, but also my whole family if I keep being the breadwinner). Maybe I am worrying for nothing... but I am looking at the statistics and that's what they seem to say…I think I'm scared of the impact a pregnancy would have on my career and on my ability to make money, and at the moment, these thoughts are preventing me from starting a family. Or rather, I keep thinking about this and I'm don't feel reassured or relaxed enough to actively start the process.
What about feminism and ideals around money, work and raising a family?
I also had a weird epiphany recently about feminism/gender stereotypes and that I thought might be interesting to share. If I am being very honest, I think I have always dreamt of earning a comfortable salary and being an independent woman/paying my own bills (yes, that's definitely the impact of Destiny's child et al. on my teenage self!). But now that I am reaching this point in my life, it feels much more stressful than anticipated. The funniest part is that I actually discussed this with two very close male friends of mine, and both told me that as men they had always visualised things this way, that they felt formatted by society to feel responsible for the material support of their respective families. Which I understand and can totally see now, but as a woman this thought is very new to me. That seems like a logical result of feminism/gender equality, but paradoxically, I had never thought about that! I am aware that I am in a very privileged situation, and I also feel guilty about the way I am feeling because there's objectively no reason to complain. I believe I should simply feel grateful for being financially stable and of having found a fantastic partner to build a life with. But all this is so far from the norm and from what I see around me with other couples, friends, family… that I have difficulties to feel fully comfortable in this situation, which is very weird because I really am a feminist, so in theory I shouldn’t feel bad about this.
I don't know if you have ever seen it, but when I was in my 20s I came across this interview of Cher that made a huge impression on me. In the interview, she says: "My mom said to me, 'You know, sweetheart, one day you should settle down and marry a rich man. I said, 'Mom, I am a rich man.'" I remember my younger self thinking "wow this is so cool, so badass! I want to be a rich man too!" But now that I am there I am thinking, is it badass, really? Or does that make me a greedy person? Or an emasculating girlfriend? It is a very tricky and ambivalent feeling. I am feeling both proud of myself and also quite guilty, it's very strange.
I should also ask! Do you combine your finances? How does your partner feel about it?
We don't combine finances at the moment, but I would say this is more of a consequence of Covid. Before the first lockdown, we were not living together. I was living in my own place (which I purchased a few months after we met, after a year-long process initiated way before he was in the picture) and he was renting a room in a flat-share ten minutes away from mine. When Covid hit, he moved in with me for the first lockdown and started using his room as a music studio. So he would keep paying his rent in the flat-share, I would pay my own mortgage and we would only split the bills for food and household essentials (with me covering for some extra from time to time as his finances were super tight). I never asked him to participate in anything else because I knew how the lockdown impacted his finances.
Now that things have started to come back to normal, we have realised that we love living together and that we are both happy to see this temporary arrangement becoming a permanent situation. So we have decided to open a joint account, we literally just received our debit cards last week! But so far the account is empty. We have planned to sit together in the near future to map out all our spendings and determine what our monthly spend looks like and how much we should transfer to this joint account to cover for the bills. What we are planning to do is to split all the household expenses (food, cleaning products etc etc) and all the bills related to my flat now that we are both living there all the time (electricity, water, internet, council tax etc). But I won't ask him to contribute to my mortgage, as the flat stays mine. He also keeps paying for his music studio, as there's not enough room in my one bedroom flat for all of these instruments. This split might evolve with time, as his revenue grows and as we get children etc... but as it stands it feels quite fair to me, I hope?
How does your partner feel about the situation?
I am not entirely sure how he feels about the whole situation. I know he is very proud of my successes and genuinely doesn’t mind that I am making more money than him (which was a first to me, I found it so refreshing to have met such a supportive man!). I think it is really unfair that we both work very hard but I happen to work for an industry that pays very well and he works in a field that is much more uncertain when it comes to finance. I know it does affect him from time to time, as I feel he would like to spoil me and contribute more financially. And it also really saddens me that he might feel like that... But despite how he sometimes feels, I do consider myself very spoiled.
He is an extremely attentive and thoughtful man, who always has a million attentions for me and thinks of the best surprises and presents. And actually the things that bring me the most joy rarely are the most expensive, so in the end it all works out! But mostly, the happiness, stability, time, attention he bring to me are priceless. I’d love him to make more money but mostly for what it brings to him, symbolically. To me, I feel his making more money would mainly mean a more evenly split mental load. I think I am more interested in what this would represent psychologically, as a way to relieve my stress, rather than from a practical or material perspective. I don’t actually mind if he makes a lot of money or not, but I’d love to know he has a stable income that we can always rely on.
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