The Freelance Gender Pay Gap Might Be Even Harder to Fix. Here’s How We Can Try…

Being a freelancer is a great way to start a small business. If you have professional skills in technology, marketing, business consulting, or other expertise, being an independent professional freelancer is a great way to make a living with a flexible schedule.

Some people decide to become freelancers so they can get away from the restrictions and frustrations of office jobs in the corporate world. But one big problem with “real jobs” unfortunately can also be common for freelancers: the gender pay gap.

A recent survey from OnDeck, a small business lender, found that male freelancers charge about 26% more per hour than female freelancers. That means that the “freelance gender pay gap” is even bigger than the overall gender pay gap, where women get paid about $0.82 for every dollar that men get paid (or 18% less).

How can freelancers and small business owners fix this gender pay gap? Let’s look at a few ideas.

1. Better pay transparency

The gender pay gap is often a result of systemic problems and disparities. Big employers can try harder to fix it with pay equity policies and salary transparency — such as publicly posting the salary ranges for all job listings.

But these actions might not apply to freelancers. Freelancers often negotiate their own hourly rates or fees per project. To fix the freelance pay gap, freelancers should try harder to encourage pay transparency. When people know what a job (or freelance gig) pays, they can negotiate a better deal for themselves.

Freelancers and their unions or associations should encourage employers to openly post and share freelance gig pay rates, hourly rates, and per-project fees.

2. Better market research among freelancers

Big corporations do market research every day so they can understand what customers want and how much customers are willing to pay. Freelancers need to do the same. As a freelancer, if you’re part of any industry associations, professional groups, or discussion boards where you can network with your fellow freelancer peers and colleagues, there are a few questions that you should ask frequently:

  • How much does that client pay?
  • How much is that project worth?
  • Can you share the pay rates for that?
  • How much did you charge per hour when you were just getting started, and how much do you charge now?

Freelancers should communicate amongst themselves to share how much they earn or how much they charge. You might be surprised at how much more money your colleagues and competitors are charging for the same work that you’re giving away at a discount. Don’t accidentally end up in a situation where you’re not charging competitive rates. This isn’t about gouging clients or asking people to share sensitive secrets — it’s about setting your rates at a fair level.

3. Freelancers should join associations like the Freelancers Union

Being a freelancer doesn’t have to be lonely. Join professional organizations like the Freelancers Union. Look for industry-specific groups and professional development associations. Go to in-person meetings and networking events. Meet other people who are making a living in your industry as consultants, freelancers, or other independent professionals.

Because freelancers often work as solo professionals on one-off projects. Just by the nature of the flexible, short-term work that so many freelancers do, joining a union doesn’t always mean the same thing that it might mean for a factory worker, firefighter, or Hollywood screenwriter. You might not get collective bargaining power like the Screenwriters Guild or other high-profile unions. And that might not be legal, possible, or desirable for the gigs you want and for how you manage customer relationships.

But by joining a union or other professional association, you can get better information and insights on how your industry works and how much you deserve to get paid. Freelancers don’t have to go it alone. You can connect with a larger community of peers to get equipped with better tactics, tools, and contracts for how to ask for what you deserve.

Bottom line

The freelance gender pay gap is a reflection of larger systemic problems with how men and women get paid. But we don’t have to accept it! Freelancers, consultants, and solo entrepreneurs have the power to change the way they work, the way they charge, and the way they build community to advocate for their best interests and get a better deal from every client and contract. Understanding your value as a freelancer can help you command higher hourly rates and put more money in your small business bank account.

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