When broadcaster and founder of networking group Freelance Mum, Faye Dicker, wanted to return to her role as the presenter of BBC Bristol’s early morning breakfast show after becoming a mum for the first time, she found it almost impossible. Why? Because as a freelancer, there just wasn’t the opportunity to be a mum and work, she says.
Being a woman in the radio industry was challenging, Faye tells me, particularly if you were trying to juggle family life with work.
“There was a big piece of research done by an organisation called Sound Women about there being far fewer female voices in radio. Their findings were that after the age of 36, there was a huge number of women who stopped working in radio due to family commitments and having children.
“Radio was an industry that wasn’t particularly supportive of that,” the mother of two goes on to claim. “Their findings applied directly to me. I was 36 when I had Jemima and going back into my role on local BBC radio wasn’t considered. Job share in that role wasn’t contemplated.
“I found it hard to believe that a pioneering organisation such as the BBC in those days couldn’t contemplate a job share for an on-air position. And as a freelancer, there’s no offer of a job back, it’s simply an end to an engagement.
“The BBC isn’t alone in this. If you’re freelancing there just isn’t any security, which can make you particularly vulnerable. Like many other women, I welcome any move to make the return to work more supportive, whatever someone’s employment status.”
Although the BBC has recently been in the public spotlight over its gender pay disparity, it is outwardly making a step to change attitudes and ensure both men and women are treated equally in all aspects of their roles at the organisation. But more still needs to be done, Faye believes, and not just in the broadcasting industry, but across all other sectors.
Before she moved into radio, the Bristol-born mum was in television production, which she says was always on a short-term contract.
“Although technically speaking I wasn’t a freelancer at that time, I was already in that mind set of being a freelancer. Particularly as I began writing a column in Britain’s Evening Post – that was my first venture into doing freelance work.”
Faye moved from television into radio after realising that she missed the performance aspect, which she believed presenting offered. She says it was being able to “express myself in a certain way” that she missed the most.
Since she became a radio presenter, nearly 20 years ago, Faye has been self-employed. She worked at the radio station in the mornings and then would go home to do voiceover work.
The 42-year-old from Bristol says: “I realised to be a successful freelancer, I needed more than one string to my bow and I couldn’t just rely on presenting. So I took out a small loan from my parents – at the time it felt like a really big deal – to set up a studio at home to do voiceover work and it flourished instantly.”
As a voiceover artist, Faye, who began her professional career at the age of 14, went on to become the voice for Great Western Railway alongside various TV adverts and e-learning platforms.
Speaking about the challenges she faced as her voiceover business grew, Faye says: “I never want to complain that I have too much work, but it can be a difficult balance to strike. It can be hard sometimes to say no, because you never know when the next piece of work is going to come in.
“But actually, the longer you do this, the more you realise you are a business, an entity, and you have to look after yourself. Self-care should be number one as that will enable you to keep offering a really good product and service. It is about striking the right balance on a day-to-day basis.”
Despite the challenges growing a business can have, one of the biggest difficulties for Faye came six years ago, after having her first daughter. She went on to work on her voiceover business full-time and this, she tells me, was particularly hard.
“I was a full-time freelancer and a mum, and both of those things can be quite isolating. Both come with similar challenges, because there’s a little person entirely depending on you, and there’s a business entirely depending on you.
“And sometimes you can’t get out of the house, sometimes you are trying to reply to an email whilst looking after a baby and that is actually really, really hard and desperately lonely.”
Faye, who got her Equity card at the age of 16 when she was making a regular appearance on BBC’s Casualty, adds: “This is why I set up Freelance Mum. I thought I can’t be the only mum that is trying to run a business and look after a baby.”
Initially, the former Dartington College of Arts graduate started Freelance Mum as a podcast. She went off and interviewed fellow mums in business. At the time, she believed this was the best way to tell the story and build a community.
However, the more mothers she interviewed, the more Faye realised that it was the face to face interaction that was needed. So she decided to “stick my neck out on line” and start a networking event.
In fact, Faye, who was recently named as one of the top 100 most influential women in the west by Bristol Post, set up her first Freelance Mum networking event, just nine weeks after giving birth to her second daughter.
“It was quite mad really, I was breastfeeding a new-born, while trying to conduct a networking event.
“But having a second baby actually gave me a bigger drive to set this up. It made me realise I had to take my business even more seriously and I needed a model that was going to work around my family.”
Faye, whose early inspirations include former children’s TV presenter Floella Benjamin and Meryl Streep, went on to add: “For my first Freelance Mum event, I did not charge because I didn’t think anyone would come. But 15 people turned up!
“The trick to the meetings and their success was making sure the children and the parents were catered for equally. So we have treats for the kids and we go on net-walks, which allow mums to network and talk while pushing their buggies or their toddlers on scooters.
“Getting that fresh air and fresh perspective is really important because sometimes the only time you can hear yourself think is when your child is sleeping peacefully.
“I also make sure there are microphones at all the events so everyone can hear the guest speakers, whatever they are doing. You can’t have a guest speaker who cannot be heard because of a toddler having a tantrum in the background.”
March 8 was International Women’s Day, which was conceived nearly ten years ago to not only promote gender equality but to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history. And this year marked the centenary anniversary of women getting some rights to vote.
To celebrate this day, Faye, hosted a brave, bold and bonkers networking event at the oldest independent girl’s school in the country, Redmaid’s High School, Bristol.
“It was amazing,” Faye tells me after the event. “We had over 40 women turn up and it was just great seeing everyone coming together.”
She admits that she got quite emotional at one point and described Elinor Hamilton’s story (Elinor is one of the UK’s leading female TV and radio voiceover artists and a guest speaker at the event) as “touching” and the “stand-out” moment for her.
“We get so caught up in our day-to-day life, we forget to pause and do things other than eat, breathe, sleep and work. And that’s what International Women’s Day means to me. It’s about stopping and taking stock of just how far we have come as women and just how far we still have to go.
“And it is about celebrating our successes along the way… celebrating that now women can have their own career and their own family, they can do and be who they want to be. I think it is really important that we all come together and take time to celebrate that success.”
*Freelance Mum meet in Bristol on the second Tuesday and the fourth Friday of every month.