The Freelance Fight for Equal Pay

The wage gap can still exist when you’re your own boss.

Elissar / Creative Commons

The “gig economy” is taking over—and the wage gap is coming along for the ride. According to Fast Company, as of October 2017 the average annual revenue for women was $15,400, or 24 percent less than men. And women freelancers are faring even worse: they make 32 percent less than their male self-employed counterparts.

Our understanding of the wage gap has, by and large, been structured to office environments and other forms of organized employment. We know that women make less than men, even in their teenage years at their earliest jobs, and that they face penalties for starting families and speaking up at work that hinder their earning potential. On top of that, they are less likely to be promoted, to negotiate for the wages they deserve and to make it to the highest rungs of power in virtually any sector.

Freelancers, however, work in an entirely different set of conditions. They set rates, seek out clients and compete largely based on services provided and their technical capabilities. How can women still get paid less than men when they’re the ones in control of their paychecks?

Just like the corporate wage gap, there’s many theories—all of which come down to sexism. Women are inherently taught that they are worth less than men, and they are instructed throughout their lives to be “seen and not heard.” When they start freelancing, they are more likely to sell their services for less initially, and to negotiate less aggressively as they advance. 

According to Forbes, the wage disparity for freelancers can depend on the niche—it’s understandably and unfortunately worse in male-dominated industries. But despite the many women who pursued self-employment to avoid workplace sexism, the wage gap is pervasive across fields for freelancers, and just as insidious as the gaps faced by women in traditional work settings.

Female DJs get paid 46 cents for every dollar a male DJ makes. Female photographers make 60 cents to every male dollar. Female cinematographers make 88 cents for every male dollar. Yet, according to a survey conducted by Honey Book, 63 percent of freelancers surveyed didn’t believe that there was a wage gap facing workers like them. 

Massachusetts recently passed a revised equal pay act outlawing any and every form of wage discrimination. Any employer who violates this law is liable for any unpaid wages or damages of the affected employee. This is one step, in one state—and it’s centered around “employers” and “employees.”

Where does this leave freelancers? Unfortunately, on their own again. Equal pay in every industry, and especially for freelance work, is something that women have to advocate for themselves.

Today, to mark Equal Pay Day, women freelancers can—and should—take action. If you’re a freelancer, you can join or start an action group for other female-identified entrepreneurs in your niche. Do your research and know what you should be paid so that you can be compensated fairly next time you book a gig. And take a step today to become a skilled negotiator—whether you find your strength and sense of worth through a leadership training or reading Lean In

It’s on us to close the wage gap in every sector. We can be the bosses we deserve by making sure we refuse to settle for anything less.

Nikki Vergakes is a Boston-based PR Specialist, blogger and podcaster. She also writes for She Zine, co-host and produces the We Went There Podcast, and contributes to The Bougie on a Budget. She also serves as the Co-College Liaison for the Boston chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

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