With the many negatives associated with the pandemic the last few years, one consistent “silver lining” thrown around is the not-so-fringe benefit of the expanding gig economy — be it the ability to turn your side hustle into a sustaining professional life, or the freedom to add freelancing to your work repertoire thanks to a more flexible, work-from-home schedule.
As unemployment rates reached an all-time high during the pandemic, the gig economy exploded, adding more than 165 million creators to its ranks globally, and is predicted to rise to a $500 billion industry by next year. To no one’s surprise, women dominated this migration. They could now get paid to work from home while spending more time with their children and families. A glorious, never-before-offered “we-can-have-it-all” silver lining, right?
As it turns out, women working in the freelance world with “flexible” schedules not only continue to hustle hard to further their careers and business endeavors, but they also now do this in addition to working to fulfill household duties and care for their children. And, according to a recent report that struck a nerve throughout our gig-worker communities, they get paid much less than men do to do it.
Yes, even in the freelance economy, men continue to make more than women — to the tune of about 28%, according to a study by FreshBooks. In fact, data shows that male freelancers on average charge 48% more per hour than their female counterparts do.
This has left many of us who live and breathe the gig economy — including the hundreds of independent writers our agency counts in our network — to wonder: Will we ever be free of the glass ceiling?
To answer that question, let’s first look at how we got here.
With more than a million women exiting the workforce during year one of the pandemic, there was a surplus of women looking for work and exploring non-traditional, more-flexible ways to make money. Many of these women were mothers who’d left traditional work environments out of necessity — school closures, lack of childcare, the need to homeschool, etc. — as evidenced by a study showing that 61.5% of mothers of children under 12 years old assumed the majority (or all) of extra care work in 2020 (compared with 22.4% of fathers).
Why else? You guessed it: money. Women earn less than men in almost all occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in 2020, their earnings were 82.3% of men’s. And the gender earnings gap spirals even further for women of color, who on average earn 65% less than their white male counterparts.
The thinking goes that, with most women earning less in addition to carrying the weight of homelife and childcare, it would be best for them (not their male partners) to leave the workplace to fulfill the needs of home and family. And with their newfound flexible schedules, women can now explore other, more independent ways to make money and cultivate their business ideas from home. In theory, yes. But in practice, according to many experts we consulted, not so much.
“I’ve spoken to a number of women of color who decided to leave the traditional workplace — with frustration at being undervalued and overlooked — and have opted in to the gig economy instead to have more control over their career,” observes Daniela Pierre-Bravo, bestselling author of The Other and Earn It, reporter for Morning Joe on MSNBC and founder of Acceso Community, a mentorship program for women. “But running into a new market that sometimes has unclear guidance on pay and market rates online can both be an opportunity and a source of confusion for many of these women.”
In essence, the glass ceiling once associated with the trappings of the traditional workplace has now permeated the gig economy — the very outlet that could have offered women more freedom, more flexibility, and a more level playing field. The prospect of having it all has crumbled into doing it all. Stay home, work hard, and get paid less than your worth to do it.
So where do we go from here? A true silver lining for women freelancers may be this: you are not alone. There is strength in numbers, and in networks. In the last several years, along with the gig economy explosion has been a rise in networks dedicated to supporting and advocating for freelancers to get the jobs they want, at the prices they deserve. Such is our ethos and mission at Gotham Ghostwriters, a community of more than 3,000 gig workers in the writing and storytelling space, the majority of which are women.
Another is We Are Rosie, a community that represents a network of 15,000+ marketing freelancers. “We strive for gender pay equity,” says Holly Wasson, Chief Community & Marketing Officer at We Are Rosie. “We have a 99% pay equity between M/F track record by ensuring that we pay based on the role, not by who is filling it. So if we see that a woman is charging too little of an hourly rate for an opportunity, we have her raise her rate to be equal to a male marketer. And vice versa.”
“Don’t be afraid to start a community of allies in this space,” agrees Daniela. “Plan get-togethers to work together, casual coffee chats, and use this time to connect like-minded women together to discuss issues like pay transparency and serve as a support system.”
Two other important factors are education and confidence. Do your homework. Know and understand the salary game, research the competitive rates in your field, and from there, what level of compensation you are entitled to.
Adds Daniela, “My best advice is to reach out to as many people as you can — both women and men — that have similar roles and ask if they can give you advice on the going market rate range for your type of services.”
And with all this in hand, know and respect the value you bring to the table. Demand transparency. And ask for what you deserve — just as your male freelance counterparts do.
This is the special August issue of our monthly newsletter, Words to the Wise. Sign up here to receive a curated round-up of the latest news and analysis from the publishing and storytelling worlds – along with some fun tidbits for language mavens, the newest content from us, and some upcoming things we’re excited about.