The ability to bring social justice concerns to work need not reduce the smaller the unit you work in. I’ve got three simple suggestions of ways that even an individual freelancer can remain true to their values, and a call for help for more!
But, where did this all start? I was talking with folk who share the freelance life with me, and dreaming of ways we could work together. Common values, shared ideals, and varied skills made for a compelling possibility. I found myself asserting that issues like diversity, equality and inclusion were as important in freelance work as they were in organisations. It seems self-evident to us that working ethically is not always easy but that in our experience, the benefits play out in economic terms as well as social ones. Though there was agreement, we found ourselves without the time to work it through, and I left saying that I’d think it over. I’ve made a start, but it needs work. I hope you can help.
So, here are 3 ways I think even freelancers, alone or in small agencies, can walk the walk of social justice in their consulting, creating or making.
Do your homework
<a data-flickr-embed=”true” href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/fabiovenni/165609388/in/photostream/lightbox/" title=”Shary Bobbins”><img src=”https://farm1.staticflickr.com/53/165609388_74d00b91ea_b.jpg" width=”683" height=”1024" alt=”Shary Bobbins”></a><script async src=”//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js” charset=”utf-8"></script>
Before you take on a new client, find out a little about them. Who owns them? Do they pay tax (looking at you Facebook!)? Do they sell arms to oppressive regimes? Can you stomach that?
You might not feel you have a choice about who you work with, or that you have to keep quiet about unethical practice to get paid/keep a contract. But at some point you might need to know enough about it to avoid getting your work included in something dodgy.
Place one line in the sand
Don’t be afraid of your politics, and don’t scare others with it. Your primary obligation is to the client, but that doesn’t mean you leave your values behind when you walk into their offices. Pick one issue, and explain how you believe it can help the work you are doing for the them. Be friendly, not ranty…but raise the issues that matter to you. Not everything can be about saving the planet — and sometime sourcing materials from a dictatorship might seem unavoidable. But, for example… any saving made buying from bastards, could be make up with sales that increase due to an ethical purchasing banner. Race, Global Citizenship, Gender equality…, whatever — it matters! If you are looking at budgets, ask why female staff are being paid so much less than male team members? Tilt their worldview, while being a kick-ass freelancer.
Be open and transparent
Work, as much as you can, in the open. Not everyone can blog about their work in public, but there are intranets, and meeting minutes, and other ways to record discussions in the workplace. Find them. Use them. Don’t rant in emails! Make sure there are plenty of people in the room when you raise an issue (especially where there are HR implications) , and make sure your broader view is minuted, not just your criticisms.
I am sure that 90% of every unfair pay deal for women has been made behind closed doors, by a room full of men (unfounded assertion). And I am sure that in at least some of them, someone has disagreed, but we never hear it. Consultants and freelancers are often paid to be the people that say the difficult things, but even if you think no one heard you, your evidence for change might be appreciated by someone!
I’d love your feedback on these ideas, or thoughts on how to do it better. We all want better government, fairer communities, and decent places to work. So, try something different.