Thanks to the global pandemic, there has been a sharp rise in freelancing opportunities. But the good news comes along with a harsh truth. According to research, women freelancers are paid 19.5% less than men. With the recent rise in awareness about feminism, the gender wage gap is narrowing down in a few professions. But when it comes to freelance work, there is a big disparity between how much men and women are charging their clients. The problem gets worse for women of color.

Why do women charge lower rates than men?

While freelancing allows women to work on their own terms and conditions, and ask for their own price, there are many other factors that influence how much a freelancer can charge a client. Industry standards are definitely what dictates a freelancer’s rates. A woman can’t charge more money simply because she wants to.

A freelancer may set their own rates but it is largely influenced by clients and other industry professionals. If all other women are charging much lower prices than you are, you won’t get clients. They will simply hire other freelancers and get the job done.

Another big problem when it comes to women deciding their freelancing rates is psychological. Due to sociological factors, we women have not fully realized our potential, nor have we been given the opportunities for the same. In the face of sexism, we struggle to see the true value of our work and end up charging less because we don’t think we deserve more. This needs to change.

Other problems women face

The freelance world is lucrative but there are some very big disadvantages that come with this profession. Freelance allows us to be our boss but without HR, it can still be a problem. Our clients can treat us poorly and we can’t report it to anyone. Also, freelancing jobs come without any employee benefits. For example, women don’t get maternity leave. If they are planning to take a long leave, they have to save up in advance to survive.

If you’re a freelancer, it is very likely that you’ve been asked for a discount on your work. Someone might have even asked you to work for free in exchange for “exposure”. It’s not uncommon to hear when a freelancer hasn’t been paid for their work. From talking to other women freelancers, I have noticed that more of my women friends have been asked for discounts than my men friends. I have also noticed that clients ask for more revisions from women freelancers as compared to men. It’s hard to ignore how women freelancers are treated differently than their male colleagues.

Women in developing nations

When it comes to addressing the gender wage gap, much of the conversation revolves around women in countries like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Western Europe. It’s almost as if women in other countries don’t even matter. But the problem in these countries is much worse.

India is one of the countries with the largest economic gender gap (32.6%), and only 22.3% of women are engaged in the labor market (Source). In Mexico, women were paid 18.8% less than men in 2019 (Source). In 2017 in Iran, women comprised just 19% of the paid workforce with seven percent growth since 1990 (Source).

Women in developing nations have to overcome huge physical, sociological, and even religious barriers to find work. They are not given the same educational opportunities as men which is why they struggle to find suitable job opportunities. And when they do find job opportunities, they are not paid similar wages to that of their male colleagues.

Are women naturally less skilled than men?

Margaret Mead in her book, Sex, and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, studied tribes in Papua New Guinea to answer this question and found radically different results when she compared the behavior of women and men to that in other patriarchal societies. She recorded that in the Arapesh tribe, both men and women were peaceful and nurturing, while among Mundugumor, men and were both ruthless and aggressive. Perhaps most striking was Mead’s description of the people of the Chambuli region, where the women were dominant and far more aggressive than men, while men were dependents and in need of emotional support.

In short, Mead suggested that none of these traits were ‘human nature’: they were all instead simply possibilities, which were either taught or encouraged. It was not their sex that made women curl their hair or listen to people’s feelings or race that made some nations regularly attack their neighbors. Rather, it was the social expectations and norms that had developed slowly for centuries, and which laid the groundwork for each individual’s psychological makeup. Women have been taught for years that they may not be as skilled as men and that is definitely affecting the freelancing world too.

“We must recognize,” Mead reminds her readers, “that beneath the superficial classifications of sex and race the same potentialities exist, recurring generation after generation, only to perish because society has no place for them.”

What can women freelancers do about it?

  • Have a solid contract where you list out your terms and conditions. Don’t leave out anything and be clear about what you are and are not willing to do. As CNBC points out, “This document lays out in writing what you’ll deliver, the timeline, your rate and payment terms, deadlines, an indemnity clause to protect against loss or liability and more.” If you don’t know anything about contracts, you can read this amazing piece: Freelance Writing Contracts: The Beginner’s Guide by 
  • Join online groups. Online groups can be accessed from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection. Solidarity is always good when it comes to achieving something. There are hundreds of groups out there where women come together to share opportunities and tips about working in the freelance world. If you’re a beginner, these groups are a wealth of sources. Some groups I am a part of are: Binders Full of Writing Jobs, The Left(L)ist, and Binder Full of BIPOC Non-Tenured Women and Non-Binary Academics. The Instagram account @freelancingfemales is another great resource.
  • There are some freelancer unions that you can join that are specifically for women. But sadly, they are not accessible to women in many countries. You can search online for such unions in your local area.

Wrapping Up

The gender wage gap is not just an issue for women, it’s an issue for men too. As Venus Williams pointed out in her piece, “Sexism isn’t a women’s issue any more than racism is a Black issue.” All genders have to come together to address this problem.

If we need to make a real change in the system, collective action is required. When we realize that women are as capable as any man, the desired goal won’t be far away. Women can become leaders and confident freelancers when we acknowledge that we have the capacity and necessary attributes to play such a role. We need to change the way we see ourselves and we need to realize the true value of our work.