What’s it like to be a female freelancer?
Kaleigh shares her first-hand insights on being a female freelancer and some of the realities that come along with it. This episode is a conversation about how different industries have room to improve their diversity efforts and what Kaleigh and Paul are doing to help make change happen.
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You were just featured on the Jennifer blog and Jennifer is a clothing line that makes really nice hoodies, and I think a whole bunch of other stuff, but you were just written about on their blog about women and freelancing, so can you talk a little bit about that before we get into our lively discussion on this topic?
So that was a unique opportunity to talk about my experience over the past four years, what it’s been like as a woman working in the tech world, because that’s where most of my clients fall. I work with a lot of software companies, ecommerce platforms and places like that, and so that’s kind of the world that I’ve been immersed in for the past four years.
I wanted to share a little bit of the statistics and the conversations that I have with other women who do similar work in that setting. It’s pretty interesting. If you look at some of the statistics in this, women in tech are paid about 18% less across the board. At conferences, men hold about 63% of stage time, so that’s 37% that women get. And then you have these stories like the sexual harassment cases at Uber and the document that went around at Google and there’s a million stories that have come out this year, and I’m sure there are a lot that are untold.
I wanted to talk about my experience working in this world and I have to say that this is not a conversation for me about how it’s so hard for women and men have it so great… and that I’m anti-men. This, for me, is just a conversation to shed some light on a reality of this industry and this niche that it is a little bit tougher for women still and it’s not an equal playing field and we have some work to do. There are some things that I’m doing personally to work against that and to help other women that I know are working in this field, and I can talk about that a little bit later, but yeah.
I think that that’s really interesting that … we’re close, I think 63%, that’s only 13% off from 50% equal stage time and 18%, that’s leaps and bounds better than probably it was in the past, but it’s not equal and I think that’s where the conversation begin. There’s still not a fair even playing field for men and women in the tech industry, specifically.
I’m glad we’re talking about this. It is, obviously difficult to talk about, especially since I’m a guy. Honestly, it’s hard because … and I brought this up with a bunch of other guys the other week about talking about this disparity between the genders in freelancing and in tech. These aren’t the bro-iest dudes that there are on the planet and I was like, “Why aren’t we talking about this?” because I was just genuinely curious.
The main thing was that they’re like, “I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want to offend people.” I think dudes need to get over that a little bit, because I think that this is definitely is a conversation that needs to be had and even if it is a little bit awkward, I think that it’s still something that’s really important, because it sucks and logically doesn’t make any sense. There’s a website with a clock where you can see … because women get paid less than men, especially in tech, and there’s a clock that says, “Women should check out of work at this time, because they’re not getting paid for the extra time,” and it just really draws a picture of how ridiculous this is.
What I think is interesting here is that tech is all about disruption, right? That’s the big, oh, “I’m disrupting … Uber’s disrupting everything and every company is disrupting everything!” But I think it’s not disrupting the fact that there is still this inherit gender bias in jobs and it doesn’t make sense, and I think something, obviously, needs to happen here.
I agree, and I have talked to so many women who are freelancers who, if they’re fellow writers, then they’ve talked to their men counterparts who work with similar clients or even the same clients, and they find that they have less edits that they’re asked to do or they’re paid more right off the bat. If you had to compare this man and this woman who are doing the same type of work, the quality’s at the same level, it’s for the same type of client, the woman almost always gets paid less, and they get asked to do more for free, too.
I’ve had that happen to me as well where somebody will say, “Well, why don’t you just throw that in? Or why don’t you just knock 20% off of that quote you sent over to me.” I know that that’s something that probably happens across the board. That’s not just because I’m a woman, but even just speaking opportunities. There are a lot of places where I think women have interesting and important insights to share, but they don’t get the chance to do that because it is still … I mean, the balance is still off.
There are things that we can all do to fix that and to take steps towards fixing that and I think having this conversation is a really nice starting place.
I’ve talked to my wife, Lisa, who obviously is not in tech, but I’ve told her when we’ve had conversations about … and we’ve had conversations about being assertive and I acknowledge the fact that I could work just as hard as other people who are different than me and get more results, just because I’m a white dude. I’m a straight dude. I’m a dude in a first-world country.
When I have conversations with Lisa about things like assertiveness, she’s like, “That totally would work for you and it’s totally cool that you’re assertive,” but she’s like, “If I was the same kind of assertive, I would be called a bitch.” And it’s just so frustrating.
It is frustrating and I think that that happens all the time. I think it’s been happening for years, but I think there’s a real opportunity, especially in the freelance community, for women to help each other and for men to help women, too, to open the door for new opportunities to say, “Hey,” … point out women who are really smart and who are doing really great work and say, “Hey, this person should be speaking at this conference.” Or even just sharing the work, like on social media or introducing them for opportunities when jobs open up.
I think the more that we can do those types of things, I think that that’s what’s truly gonna make a difference. I mean, talking about it is great. It’s kind of the first step in the equation, but I think action is really what makes the difference and doing those types of things is a step in the right direction.
Totally agree. So thinking about things like if somebody is like, “Oh, do you know a freelancer or somebody for a guest on a podcast?” I always just try to recommend women, because I look at the shows that I’m on or I look at the freelancing work and I know so many women developers and WordPress developers and I look at the work that they get versus the work that the dudes get, and like, this is just silly. This just doesn’t need to happen.
I think a lot of times people … and I’ve heard this before as well, is “Oh, I don’t want to be associated with feminists,” or “Feminists hate men,” and maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never experienced that. At the last women’s march that I was at, three women came up to me and were like, “Thanks for being here. I appreciate you coming out and supporting us.” I’m like, “Whatever, I care about this stuff.”
I don’t feel that feminism is as divisive as some people think that it is. I think it’s pretty inclusive or for the most part, it can be inclusive and I think … and correct me if I’m wrong, ’cause I don’t want to be like, “I’m the dude explaining feminism!” That’s just not the place that I want to be, but to me at least, it feels like feminism is just about raising the bar for everybody.
I think that’s 100% true. I think it’s really just about … Okay, I think that when it comes to internet communities, when it comes to start-ups, when it comes to a lot of different businesses, it can be fairly cliquey. That doesn’t mean it’s groups of exclusively just men or it’s just groups of people who work within a specific industry, the problem comes when there’s not any diversity to those groups, and there’s only one type of person or one race of person or one gender of person or people get left out completely because of who they are and how they identify for themselves.
It’s not okay, so we need to find ways to invite more different types of people into our groups and to stop being so exclusive in our little tight-knit communities that we create.
I don’t think there’s any downside to that. Honestly, I’m not being some altruistic hippy, but it seems like things are more interesting when there’s a variety of different voices and different stories and different perspectives.
It just makes everything more interesting and it’s kind of … I want to touch on what you just said about inclusivity and that in the VC, in venture capital, because I was talking to somebody the other day about … because venture capital is you basically have to be an introverted anti-social white dude who’s dropped out of an Ivy League university to get venture capital.
It’s one of these things, I was talking to somebody much smarter than me about this and they were saying that it just kind of was this confirmation bias. In the beginning, we see companies backed a bunch of nerdy white dudes and it paid off with the Zuck’s and Gates and those kind of people and it just paid off, so instead of thinking these are the things that people did well, they were just looking at the surface. “Oh, these people all just happen to be nerdy white dudes.”
The idea for getting a good return on investment for VC money is to back nerdy white dudes. It doesn’t make sense and it’s funny, too, ’cause I’ve talked to freelancers for so long, ’cause I’ve done this for so long and I’ve found that a lot of women get into freelancing because they don’t like the way that the corporate world is working or they don’t like the inherit gender bias of corporate hierarchy, so they’re like “You know what, peace out, I’m just gonna do this on my own.”
I think that, one, that’s really awesome; and two, I think that that kind of opens up the the idea that you can kind of create the business that you want when you’re a freelancer, so I think that you don’t have to put up with other people’s shit as much. I think sometimes that does happen, but yeah.
Can you talk to me about freelancing specifically? Because I know that there are things like women communities for freelancers springing up and that kind of thing, so can you talk to me about that a bit?
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there are more online communities forming and I’ve formed a mastermind group myself of women who work in a similar industry or with similar types of clients on similar types of work and they’re coming together and they’re finding ways to do those things that we talked about, like open doors and introduce them for different opportunities.
They’re kind of doing it on their own. They’re like, “Well, if nobody else is gonna do this for us, we’re gonna form one of our own and do what we can to help each other out and to give each other a leg up.” I think that that’s fantastic and that’s one of the goals of the mastermind group that I started, was to bring these really smart women together and to help them find more relevant opportunities that help them advance their career, myself included—to just open more doors and create more opportunities for women who are struggling right now to get those opportunities, whether it’s to speak or to apply for a job or to be part of a panel. Whatever it may be. We need these women voices included in the conversations that are happening in public spaces and so, these communities are kind of a stepping stone for that, I think.
I’m seeing them pop up, whether they’re Slack groups or Facebook groups or Twitter chats, I’ve seen a couple who are hosting live webinars, where they’re just teaching what they know for free. I love that. Yeah, I love that things are moving in that direction and I hope that that trend continues.
Paul Jarvis: I think it’s difficult to be the first to do something, but I think it’s so important, because I think a lot of times, we look for examples in order to say, okay this is something that I can do, right. That’s just how our brains as human beings work. When there’s more women speakers, then more women can see, “Hey I can do this thing.” Even with my wife as a firefighter and whenever they’re doing an event in the community, she gets a bunch of little girls saying to her, “I didn’t know I could be a fireman.”
Because the gender specificity is so ingrained in that job that it’s like, the term that a lot of people use is fireman instead of fire fighter. Fire fighter actually sounds a lot cooler.
I think that the more that people are trailblazing, the more that I think it’ll amplify and grow that much quicker. I just look at people like Marie Forleo or Danielle LaPorte who in the beginning, nobody was teaching business to women specifically. There’s a lot of women in the world who are running businesses or want to run businesses and by focusing on that, by being specific with their niche, which is another thing for freelancing, right, they were able to just do so well for themselves and be so smart in the way that they strategized their business in being like, “Well, nobody’s teaching this. Maybe I could do that.”
Obviously, now they do ridiculously well, which is super awesome, but I think there’s always a place for that and there’s a way to kind of … I think, at least I hope, that things can kind of grow exponentially. The small steps forward now, I think, can have bigger ripples as more and more people are seen.
I do, too. I think that that’s true. I think there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I mean, I know that things are a lot better than they used to be, but my feeling is, 63/37 is not 50/50. Saying that it’s good enough, that’s very frustrating to me and so I think that continuing to take steps toward helping other women into … Like you said, creating those examples for other women to follow, that’s what we have to do.
In freelancing, it’s hard across the board when you’re getting started, whether you’re a man or a woman or however you identify, so I think that we have to just help each other. I think that that’s the biggest lesson that I take from all this and from all of my experiences that I’ve had so far in my so fairly young career, is that we have to help each other and introducing other people for other opportunities and not being so … I mean, sometimes it feels like there’s not enough work in the world for all the freelancers to fairly have enough to pay their bills and stuff, so we get kind of competitive and we get catty over seeing other people being successful, but the more we can help each other and the more we can make referrals and make introductions and open doors for other people, that’s a good reflection of you and that’s ultimately gonna help your business, too.
I think that that’s just kind of the big takeaway for me, from this whole conversation.
Is that what you would … If a guy, like me, said, “Well, what can I do to help work at fixing this disparity in the genders and pay and speaking and that,” is that what you would say?
Yeah, just treat people equally and create more chances for equal opportunities. If you’re gonna refer somebody for a job, give examples of both a man and a woman, and if you’re on the paying side of the equation, if you’re the client and you have a male and a female freelancer who are both working for you and are doing the same type of work and the quality is the same, pay them the same. Don’t pay one more than the other just purely because one’s a man and one’s a woman. That just seems like a common sense thing, but it doesn’t always happen. Yeah, try to make it fair in whatever way you can.
I think the other thing, too, is that especially for me, it’s … I can feel like, “Oh, yeah, I’m feminist or I care about equal rights and that,” and it’s like, I have to check myself sometimes. Is this decision that I’m making or whatever it is that I’m doing, is this really lining up with that?
I think a lot of times, we might have good intentions, but sometimes our actions only pay lip service to what we said or what we think we feel and so I think it’s really important to just think about that and to check on … especially for me, I always want to check in on that, ’cause I’m like, “Shit, am I actually doing this? Am I living this? Am I doing the things that I feel are the right thing to do? Does that make sense?” And sometimes it’s not and it sucks, but then it’s a chance to, “Okay, well what can I do to fix this situation?” and I know that obviously, very much not perfect, but I just try to do the best.
Even in this conversation, I don’t know if … I’ve hopefully not said the wrong thing about any of this and I feel like I’m just saying what’s on my mind and trying to be honest, which is what I can do, but I also I just think that we need to check in on ourselves with things that we think we don’t do. Everybody’s like, “I’m not a racist,” or “I’m not sexist,” but it’s like, if you think about it, maybe there are some things that you’re doing that kind of reflect those things that you don’t want to be reflected and that’s an opportunity to work on those things.
That’s all we can do is to try to hold ourselves accountable and like you said, nobody’s perfect, so we’re all gonna mess up from time to time and as long as we’re working towards generally being better people and making better, more equal, decisions and being fair to people, I think that that’s all you can try to do.
Of course, there are other things you can do. You can get involved with causes. You can donate money. You can do lots of different things, but at a very, very basic level, that’s where it begins.
Anything else you wanted to add on this?
It’s not something that a lot of people are talking about. We see the news stories. We see the things that pop up, but then the conversation kind of dies down and that’s where I get nervous, is that … It’s like you said, we all have to check in on ourselves and when we don’t have these conversations, that’s when it becomes more easy to fall into bad habits. This is good. I’m glad we’re discussing.
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