Is there a gender gap in freelancing?

First published on MYOB website (8th June 2018) by James McGrath. Source:

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When it comes to negotiating in the workplace, women are at a disadvantage. Does this disadvantage persist in freelancing, where a contractor’s work is worth what they’re willing to negotiate?

While there’s plenty of data on a gender pay gap when it comes to like-for-like regular contracted work, the data is scarce for freelance work.

This is because due to the nature of freelance work, the rates people charge are often opaque – there’s no central point of data.

But the examples that do exist point to a gender gap in freelancing work. When it comes to negotiating rates, is it a skill gap for women, or a confidence gap?

READ: Turning ‘Can I pick your brain?’ into work

HR expert Anneli Blundell told The Pulse that as freelance work by its very nature could attract those strong on negotiation, there was potential for women to be affected by a lack of negotiating strength. Blundell pointed out that patterns in the differences between men’s and women’s salary may come down to the way they negotiate.

“My suspicion is that the effect is magnified when it comes to freelancers,” Blundell said. “If they’re in the workforce as freelancers, that would be a magnified issue if they’re constantly having to [negotiate] with every client.

“If that’s not as strong as a man’s, already I’m going to do myself out of money with every conversation I have.”

Why women under-negotiate

Blundell says while men will often open a negotiation with the aim of getting as much money as they can, a woman will go into a negotiation with a figure in their head of what they perceive as fair.

“It turns out women will negotiate, she said, “but they will negotiate mostly when they feel the offer is not fair.”

That’s a problem, because if their notion of what’s fair in any given negotiation is under the given market rate – then they’ll work to a number below the given market rate.

“They let the market dictate what ‘fair’ is for them,” said Blundell. “If you’re going to pay me $20, I may say ‘Oh, that sounds OK’. But if I don’t know that someone down the road is getting $40, then I’m getting ripped off.”

She says the tendency of women to negotiate to fair rather than to see what they can get comes down to a myriad of factors, some starting from the home.

READ: How to lift your freelance rate

UK market research agency ChildWise recently carried out a household survey looking at children’s pocket money and found that, on average, girls made 20 percent less than boys.

“Women are socialised to be humble, be grateful, to not look over-ambitious. When we act outside of our gender stereotype, which is to be nurturing, warm and caring, we invoke what’s called a social backlash,” explained Blundell.

“So we get stuck in a double-bind when it comes to negotiating and asking for more money. I’m subconsciously worried that I’m going to get a backlash and people are going to see me as someone I don’t believe myself to be.

“I’m seen as money-hungry, overly-ambitious, or not taking care of other people.”

It’s a whole lot to unpack, to say the least.

So how do you make sure you’re going to be paid a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work?

Top tips for breaking the cycle

Blundell has three main tips for female freelancers concerned they may be underpaid:

Ask around

The nature of freelance work is that it’s hard to figure out what the actual market rate is – unless you ask fellow freelancers.

If you charge below the going market rate for your work, your contractor is very unlikely to correct you.

Instead, ask fellow freelancers what their rate is. Compare it with your own rate for similar work to get a flavour of what the market will value.

Remind yourself of your worth

Blundell said it would be a useful exercise to remind yourself how you got to this point in the first place.

“Women need to convince themselves – or to remember – why they’re good at their jobs in the first place,” she said.

“A good way to start to remember is to think about all the clients you’ve won in the past.

“Pull out all the testimonials you’ve had, pull out all the awards you’ve had – build yourself a bit of a brand book where you can remember why you’re already doing well and use that as leverage when asking for what you’re worth.”

Try charging more (with new clients)

Blundell said advertising rates above what you’d normally charge could, in effect, start to attract a new calibre of client.

“Price point is a very powerful thing,” she said. “If I’m contracting and I see two providers, but one is more expensive, then I’m going to assume that the one which is more expensive is better.”

But, she did warn that just putting up rates wasn’t the best way to go about it.

“Don’t put up your rates and do the same amount of work for an existing client – that’s a pretty easy way to lose clients,” said Blundell.

Instead, she advised female freelancers to try out a new rate with new clients.

“If you do that, then what you can do is slowly turn your book over to new clients who are paying more.”