The Gender Pay Gap for Women in Creative Fields

By Erin Ollila on December 14, 2017

According to Honeybook's 2017 Gender Pay Gap Creative Economy Report, women make 32 percent less than men in creative industries, like writing, graphic design, and videography.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

Now, let me make you feel worse. On average, across all industries, women make 24 percent less than men. In the financial service industry, the pay gap rises to approximately 30 percent. Other fields, such as public administration, science and tech, trail right behind. All of these fields are dominated most often by traditionally employed professionals. When someone works a nine to five, her salary is largely dictated by her managers and the HR department. Her salary is slightly out of her hands.

However, so many creatives are part of the gig economy, which makes up 36 percent of the US workforce. We work alone. We're our own bosses. We decide the trajectory of our careers-which means we get to set our own rates.

So where's the disparity?

Why are the female photographers, writers, and other creatives getting paid 32 percent less than their male counterparts, despite, according to Honeybook, "80 percent having college and graduate degrees and performing similar work"?

Freelancer and mother

Image attribution: Alexander Dummer

Women: The Mother/Time Trap

Before I get started talking about ways that women can gain pay equity, I want to purposely sidestep to talk about how time impacts money, and I promise there's a reason why I bring this up.

When you're a woman, and you want to start a family, your career is temporarily put on hold for well over a year. First, there is pregnancy, and depending on the situation, this may mean severe morning sickness, exhaustion, and extreme anxiety about the future. All of which leads to unstable work conditions, especially when you're working on your own. Then comes maternity leave. First, can you even afford to take one, and if so, for how long? If you do manage to squeeze in time with your newborn, you effectively have no income from your business. Yet to put your baby in day care and get back to work, you need money to pay for it. Let's not forget to factor in the nights of sleep regression, teething, feeding, or any other reason those little humans want to wail us awake after you return back to work.

Or, if you followed a similar path as I did, you'll find yourself straddling two full-time jobs: parenting and your profession. In this case, there will be no childcare besides the occasional babysitting from happy grandparents. You'll work in the early-morning hours, during naps, and then late into the night when everyone else in the house falls asleep.

Mothers shoulder the burden-though the word burden here is completely inappropriate-of child rearing. They breastfeed the babies, assuage the toddler tantrums, wipe tears, hold hands, absorb the echoing chorus of "mama, mama, mama, mommy, mommy, mom, mommy, mommy, mom, mom," help with the daily homework, assign chores and punishments, and clean up for everyone else emotionally and physically at the end of the day.

Add entrepreneurship to this picture, and it's hard to understand how any self-employed working mother survives. The business, the one we're already getting paid too little for, is squeaked out in every stolen moment we can afford in our days. We borrow hours from our self-care, time with our spouses, movies with our children. We miss baseball games to meet deadlines. We skip sleep to stay current in our fields.

Oh, and one more thing. Our leads are already unsure about doing business with us, simply because we are mothers. This isn't a freelance-only issue. In fact, women who are traditionally employed deal with this as well, but we need to convince the people who may buy from us that we're invested in our business. In the Honeybook report, 40 percent of respondents "pointed to The 'Motherhood Penalty,' which is the opportunity cost of being a mother and perceived lower commitment," as being one of the major reasons for a gender pay gap.

If we're making less, yet working and fighting harder for it, something has got to change. We have the power to increase our income. We just need to do it.

Make More Money

"Raise your rates," they say. "You deserve more money," you'll hear. While this is all true, I'll be the first person to admit that raising your rates is hard, especially if you're working with clients you actually like who just aren't paying you fairly.

However, when a flower emerges from a seed, she also probably thinks that process is hard. Yet, she still emerges. The growth process just takes time.

If you aren't ready to raise your rates quite yet, you still have options.

First, attempt a cash infusion. Plan out short-term promotions where you can bring in a large amount of money at one time. Photographers can benefit well from this option as they can offer pop-up family photography sessions on a weekend or team up with a networking event to sell professional head shots to the attendees. Not only can she bring in a large amount of money in a short period, but the photographer may gain repeat customers from the people who book with her during the promotion. Other options include a flash sale on logos for graphic designers or website copy in a weekend by a writer.

gender pay gap photographer

Image attribution: Bossfight

Another option is to reach out to previous clients to see if they would like to partner with you for additional work or if they know anyone else who needs your services. It's safe to assume that business owners, like yourself, raise their rates over time, so your old clients won't flinch much when you quote them at a slightly higher rate. Also, even if the rate you quote them isn't what you want for the future, you're still temporarily adding to your overall income for the year, which is inching you toward closing the pay gap. If they refer you out, make sure to propose a new, higher rate to their colleagues. While you may have worked for a lesser rate in the past, these referrals might not know what the precise number was, and even if they do, they'll understand they aren't grandfathered into anyone else's negotiations. You lead the conversation with a new rate when it comes to new customers.

Finally, changing clients from a once-in-a-while basis to a monthly retainer is another way to earn more. I'll sometimes work with small businesses that will hire me to write a web page or a string of blog posts. Once we've worked together and they see the work I produce, they regularly question whether we'd be a good fit to work on a retainer basis. While each client situation is different, a writer may propose a use-it-or-lose-it retainer at a set monthly fee that gets billed every month on a certain date. This guarantees a certain amount of income and less anxiety about feast-or-famine times in the freelance life cycle.

Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Adjusting how you sell your products and services isn't the only way to attempt to close the pay gap. Negotiating the numbers is equally important. For some reason, though, women don't seem to be too keen on negotiating. In fact, 61 percent of the Honeybook report respondees suggested that "negotiating power, meaning that women are less likely to negotiate higher costs and are treated differently during negotiations" was one of the leading reasons why a gap exists.

Why bother ruffling up feathers for a small increase in price, right? Well, here's an easy-to-understand example of just how important a small bump in pay affects the long term.

In an article for the Muse, Vicki Slavina mentioned the implications of a seven-thousand-dollar difference in salary over the course of a career. For example, two colleagues start work at the same time. One with a salary of $100,000. The other employee negotiated a bit and was hired at $107,000. Now, spread out over the course of a year, seven thousand dollars might seem like chump change. In fact, it's only a little more than a hundred dollars a week. When you factor in taxes, it may seem silly to negotiate for such a small amount.

But consider how that difference in pay compounds over the course of these two professionals' careers. Assuming both employees get the same amount of promotions and raises over time, the employee who didn't negotiate the extra salary will have to work eight more years than her counterpart to have as much money in retirement as he does.

Now, think how deeply that may affect a freelance professional. If we aren't asking for more money, and then going back to the drawing board when a potential client lowballs us or states they can't meet our demands, we'll either lose the entire sale or settle for something much less than we deserve. Plus, keep in mind that many businesses factor negotiations into the sales process. It doesn't matter if a lead finds you or you pitch them, if they're the one who talks money first, it's highly likely they're suggesting a number lower than what they'll actually pay.

Take a risk-negotiate.


Raise Your Rates

Okay, I told you that raising your prices didn't have to be the first thing you did to adjust the gender pay gap in your personal life. But here we are at the end of the article, and I just can't complete it without telling you how important it is to earn what you're worth. All those mindset coaches and financial gurus out there are telling you to increase your rates because they know that you're underselling yourself.

As a freelancer, you set your rates, so if you are being paid below market value, you're in a strong position to change that. Call or email your current clients and let them know that your current pricing structure will be adjusted to a new one shortly. Give them an effective date of when this will happen, and make sure they have advanced notice of at least a month or two so they can plan for the change. When you contact your current clients, be respectful, yet direct. There is no need to explain why you're raising your rates. Don't personalize it. Just do it.

Let's face it, you may lose some clients, and that's okay. You're just making room for a better client to fill their space. If you don't mind working longer hours temporarily, you may want to consider allowing the client you're about to lose to purchase higher amounts of your product or services at the current rate, so long as the work is completed before the new pricing structure goes into effect. You can also mitigate the risk by staggering when you tell each client about your new rates, instead of telling them all at once.

Moving forward, all current clients who stayed with you and all future customers will be paying you what you rightfully deserve. It might take a few rounds of raising your rates before you get to where you want to be, but you'll eventually get there. And, remember, traditional employees get regular raises from their employers. Factor that into your annual business review and consider making a rate change yearly.

Do you have any additional suggestions on how female creative professionals can gain financial equality with their male counterparts? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Featured image attribution: Bossfight


Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. After a 12+ year career in human resources – specializing in employee health and dental benefits, as well as wellness programs– she's jumped headfirst into digital strategy and content creation. Erin believes in the power of words and how a message can inform – and even transform – its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print, and includes interviews, ghostwriting, blog posts, and creative nonfiction. Erin is a geek for SEO and all things social media. She lives in Southeastern Massachusetts, neighboring Providence, Rhode Island, one of her favorite small cities. Learn more about her at