The freelance gender pay gap

A new report finds that, while the gender pay gap appears to be shrinking for creative freelances, women are doing more projects than men to push up their pay.

mum who works at home


Many women leave the corporate world every year to freelance. They do so for a wide variety of reasons – flexibility may be one; escaping a difficult work culture may be another…

But while life in the freelance world can be more flexible, that comes with decreased security over income. And while freelancers escape office politics, they may still face difficulties over equal pay and have fewer rights to counter these.

A recent report highlights a gender pay gap among freelance creatives. HoneyBook is a US-based platform for those freelancers. It analysed the earnings of male and female freelance creatives in 2017 and found a 32% gender pay gap.

It has just followed up on that report and found that the annual earnings gap has fallen to 11%, but that women are completing 17% more projects than men with earnings for each project being 35% less than what men earn per project.

The analysis is based on an analysis of hundreds of thousands of invoices and an in-depth survey of freelancers in the US and Canada.


HoneyBook may be US based, but its findings are echoed in the UK and Europe, although the size of the gap depends on the industry involved.

According to HoneyBook’s report the creative freelance earnings gap is not related to qualifications: 71% of the women whose earnings were analysed are graduates or have higher qualifications compared to just 54% of the men.

So what is happening? According to the analysis, women creatives are underpricing their work in nearly every industry, in some cases such as music and photography, severely when compared with men. The only area where they charge over what men charge – by just $0.01 – is cinematography.

The survey asked if knowing how much men were charging would make a difference and 80% of women said they would increase their charges if they were aware of the differential. This tallies with the growth of gig economy support platforms which aim to highlight rights issues, for instance, rates database sites.

On the positive side, the HoneyBook report shows women are becoming more aware of the gender pay gap.
Interestingly men and women differ as to their view of what is causing the gap.

Women are much more likely to attribute it to women undervaluing and underselling their services and wage secrecy than men while men also blame women’s negotiating skills. Women also mention the ‘motherhood penalty’, with significantly more women than men feeling the need to hide their parenting responsibilities from their clients for fear that it will impact their pay.

Raising awareness

To address all of this, Honeybook is devoting its first two monthly guides of 2020 to topics that support closing the gender pay gap: annual planning in January and financial health in February.

It says: “In an industry where entrepreneurs set their own prices, a large part of the solution to the gender pay gap comes down to awareness and education so that freelancers can be empowered to take action.”

It also provides some advice for freelancers, including being clear on why you are freelancing, what you, stopping treating your business like a side-gig,  knowing what your business needs to be sustainable, adopting an CEO mindset by treating yourself as a business and looking to outsource some elements of your work, asking for help, writing down your successes and setting goals and considering regular price rises, given undervaluing yourself may have a knock-on effect on clients result in less referrals.

Also important is to consider your fellow freelancers as colleagues rather than competitors. Honeybook states: “Remember that the entire industry benefits from higher pricing. Sharing your pricing and income insights will help everyone earn more. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all!”

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