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Female Freelancers Are Paid Way Less Than Men For The Same Creative Jobs

Women in the “creative economy” are making 32% less than their male counterparts.

Female Freelancers Are Paid Way Less Than Men For The Same Creative Jobs
“Over a third of the female creative entrepreneurs still make less than the minimum wage in 15 states.” [Photo: JGalione/Getty Images]

Gender-based wage discrimination in traditional business settings can be insidious because women who start out being paid less may be continuously offered less competitive raises or salaries when they change jobs. But many female entrepreneurs in creative fields—perhaps even those who think that owning their own business shelters from such bias—are actually seeing a similar disparity play out in a different way.

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These women still have to set their job rates or negotiate project fees, and many feel that they’re treated differently and afforded less bargaining power than men. As a result, the pay gap among self-employed female creatives is actually far worse. And many may not even be aware of it.

[Image: courtesy HoneyBook]
The view from below the typical glass ceiling looks like this: Women doing comparable work still make about 24% less than men, or 76 cents for every dollar, according to PayScale, a data analytics company that crunches salary information. That actual wage gap varies slightly by industry. It actually goes up in fields like scientific and tech services (25%) and finance and insurance (29%).

But new research shows an even bigger disparity among self-employed entrepreneurs in creative fields, a sector that’s often tough to measure because many entrepreneurs are independent and do freelance work for many different employers. Overall, women in the so-called “creative economy” are making 32% less than their male counterparts, according to HoneyBook, a business management and networking platform that caters to people in fields like photography, floral design, event planning, and graphic design.

To prove that, HoneyBook compared over 200,000 invoices submitted to clients through its platform. It then surveyed over 3,100 platform users to find out whether they perceived a problem and why it might exist.

[Image: courtesy HoneyBook]
The average male creative on HoneyBook makes $45,400 per year. Factor in that 32% reduction rate, and the average woman makes just $30,700 for similar services. Another issue is that many of those being underpaid may not be aware that a man doing the same job could get paid more by the vendor. Among those surveyed, the majority were sole proprietors who may be paying more attention to their business flow than standardized rates; 63% reported thinking that pay among genders was likely to be equal.

Women who are cinematographers receive 88 cents of every dollar that men might make. For event planners, photographers, and musicians it’s 76, 60, and 46 cents per dollar, respectively. When lump-sum payments for projects are factored into an hourly wage, it gets bleak. “Despite the fact that 73% of creative entrepreneurs, both male and female, hold bachelor’s degrees, over a third of the female creative entrepreneurs still make less than the minimum wage in 15 states,” notes the report.

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Huge disparities emerge at both the lowest and highest end of the success scale. For instance, 37% women surveyed make less than $9 per hour; that’s nearly twice the proportion of men. But while nearly 20% of men are billing more than $50 per hour, only 7% of women currently do. As a result, men who were surveyed were also twice as likely to make over $50,000 a year, and two and a half times more likely to make over $80,000.

To counteract that, HoneyBook tapped several successful female entrepreneurs in these industries for their own tips and tactics, which can be found here. One good tip: If employers won’t respect the negotiation process, it may be time for talented women to simply charge more and not budge on their own prices. Anyone who feels underpaid should reach out to others in the field to figure out their price structure. In one sense, other companies are competitors, but many are likely female owned or may understand the problem (for instance, 87% of HoneyBook’s 50,000 users are female). The ultimate goal isn’t to steal business but defeat discrimination.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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