I don’t think it’ll be a shock to anyone when I say that pay in the fitness industry isn’t the highest. Depending on your source, the average fitness professional is self-employed, working for an hourly rate of (on average) either £10.51 (ONS) or £21 (emdUK). The vast majority of fitness professionals are women, and nearly a quarter of those women work part-time. So if you’re working 20 hours a week and receiving £21 per hour (let’s be ambitious) then you’re likely to be taking home around £420 a week/£1,680 before tax and any costs associated with running your businesses. That’s just over £20k per year before tax/costs. It’s not hugely surprising then that those who are looking to leave the industry cite low pay as a reason, especially when career progression (driven by professional training) is often limited due to cost, which fitness professionals have to foot themselves.
Over the weekend a friend drew my attention to job advert for a social media role at a London gym that paid £60 per month plus unlimited classes. I know it’s not specifically a fitness role, but it is in the fitness industry so I think the observations about the state of the industry apply. Admittedly, this example is at the very far end of the piss-taking spectrum, but it does illustrate how some companies value talent, time and work in an industry where low pay is already an issue.
What was particularly interesting was how the company in question defined their values and the image they wanted to communicate. They talked about clients who built life long friendships, personal transformations, community and celebrating women’s strength and capabilities. The Guilty Feminist and and Beauty Redefined were used as examples. It’s clear this company sees itself, or at least wants to be seen, as a place that champions and supports women. Which makes the low pay offered for this role perplexing.
Pay is a feminist issue. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggests that in 2016 the average pay of women working full-time was nearly 10% lower than men’s pay. This means that compared to men, women stopped earning on the 10th November 2016, and after this date were effectively working for free. The gender pay gap in part-time work is even greater at just over 18% in 2016. In 2012, 64% of the lowest paid workers were women. Admittedly, the ONS found that female fitness instructors are paid 22.9% more then men, but while this is promising I don’t think that negates the industry’s responsibility to pay fairly, particularly for part-time work. It is also worth noting that, while I am drawing on data from the wider fitness industry (the emdUK drew on data from people working in a rage of roles in the industry), the ONS data only considers the role of fitness instructor. When you look at the gap for marketing associate professionals women are paid 7.5% less than men.
Coupled with this is an issue is access to quality part-time work. This is work where the flexibility is not skewed in the employer’s favour (as is arguably the case in the example above), but work quality work that pays fairly with a balances power dynamic between capital and labour. Flexible working is a feminist issue, and an important social issue and can contribute to closing the gender pay gap. According to Timewise, only 6% of quality jobs are advertised with the opportunity to work flexibly, suggesting that lower value may be attributed to part-time working when no one in leadership is working flexibly. 1.5 million people are in jobs they’re overqualified for because they need flexibility (I’m one of those people), and 1.9 million aren’t meeting their full earning potential - which would most defiantly be the case for whoever takes up this poorly paid social media role.
This is why it’s so awkward that a company that positions itself as being all about lifting women up is advertising a role that is well positioned for a woman who needs flexible work, but is paying unfairly and suggesting an uneven power dynamic. This entirely contradicts the values of feminism. It undermines the work a lot of people are doing to overcome gender pay and work issues, and most importantly it totally undervalues an individual in an environment supposedly built to elevate people.
I really hope that the wage advertised was a typo, although even £60 a week or £600 a month would be a bit low for the work being advertised. I also really hope the company concerned listen to the outpouring on comments on the advert expressing dismay at the pay and take steps to apply the values they say they have to the way they work behind the scenes.
Update: the advert has now been removed from the company’s Facebook page. I have reached out to the company for comment.
Update 16 July 2019: since I wrote this post I’ve spoken with the owner of the company mentioned. The owner explained that where they had gone wrong was posting this job on an official job page on Facebook when actually they consider it a ‘skills swap’ and that they ‘absolutely did not intend to insult, exploit or cause offence to those who are looking for part time work’. They have emphasised that they are a sole-trader offering classes in public spaces serving their local community and they do not have the income to pay a marketing professional.
The owner went on to explain that they are a novice when it comes to social media and that this was compounded by dyslexia which can mean they don’t always find it easy to communicate effectively. In hindsight they can now see just how much they’ve asked for, and that these things can’t realistically be done in a few hours a week.
The ‘skills swap’ was premised on previous experience where the owner’s clients had offered to help with elements such as branding and building their website in exchange for free classes. The owner acknowledges now that this may have led them to become a little naive and that they are embarrassed and upset about this situation. They have suspended their search for support.
I do not intend to pass judgement on this statement.
* images: Alex Dixon