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No, I haven't been baking (I've been CEOing)

My husband told me a funny story this morning about how my nephew (5) had asked where I was on the school run today and then said "She's probably baking - that's what she does most of the time". We had a laugh about it and then we got talking about how people tend to describe my work. And a lot of the time it as "baking" rather than "work". I am asked "Have you been busy with the baking?" or "Been doing lots of baking today?"

I think this is probably quite a common theme with a lot of stereotypically female occupations, especially ones that lend themselves to flexible self-employment. I imagine crafters get asked "Been doing a lot of knitting recently?" for example and an artist might be asked if she has spent her day painting.

Obviously, it's nice for anyone to show an interest in us and how we spend our time (a lot of people seem to think they know how my business is going just from Facebook posts, akin to knowing how TESCO's finances are by looking at giant strawberries on their delivery vans). But I do question whether this devalues the professions of many "making" businesses, and at least in the cake world, in particular the women who tend to run them. It moves the description of our work to one that centres solely on the actual process of production, rather than the business ownership side of it, and often that production is something that other people do in their spare time as a hobby, so don't see as particularly skilled.

Wedding Cakes in West Yorkshire

I spend around around 30-50% of my work time each week on my business, not on baking cakes. That might be editing photos, scheduling posts, replying to quotes, ordering business cards, filling receipts, completing business training and even writing a blog post! I spend a lot of time teaching classes now, during which I rarely bake. "Baking" describes one part of my work, and actually a part that is one of the most outsourceable - my Bakery Assistant can whip up a lovely Victoria sponge, but she can't accurately quote a wedding cake or understand the implications of the forecast my accountant sent me last week.

I wonder how many computer programmers get asked "Been doing much coding today?" or how many builders are asked "You got a lot of building on this week?" A CEO is the best example of the discrepancy between these attitudes: a CEO's remit covers such a huge range of responsibilities that no one would ask a specific question like "Have you been CEOing much this week?" because it makes no sense. Instead, logically they would ask "How's business?" or "How's work?"

I am a CEO. I run a business, with all the roles and responsibilities that entails. And so do thousands of men and women up and down the country. When people ask me what I do for a living, I don't tell them I make cakes. I say I own my own business. If you also run a business, I encourage you to describe it in those terms, instead of the process of production which is one small part of the huge skill-set necessary to run a successful business.

Data I found about the craft industry shows that even though the women:men ratio is 57:43, the average income of a UK craftsman in 1992 was over £37,000, that of a craftswoman was only £17,680 (sadly I couldn't find more up to date equivalent figures). Women are more likely to price their items lower and 35% of craftspeople had an item for below £5. Devaluing our skills and time is a real issue that leads to a significant gender pay gap, as well as affecting our confidence and ability to succeed and provide for our families.

So let's change the narrative on this. Let's make the effort to recognise people's jobs for what they are: real jobs, not just a hobby. Let's ask how the business is going, or how work has been today, instead of whittling it down to baking or knitting or painting. And next time someone asks you what you do for a living, be proud that you own a business and put it in those terms. We all need to recognise the value of this industry and the people who make it what it is, and language is a pretty essential cog in the machine of change.


Rebecca Severs

CEO, Three Little Birds Bakery

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