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7 Challenges You Face as a Female Freelancer, and How to Smash Right Through Them

by Jennifer Billock Mar 18, 2015

I’M A FREELANCE JOURNALIST. You know, the historically old-mens-club profession that women struggle to survive in. You’ve seen Anchorman, right? We can’t tell the news! We’re only women! But the sad reality is that although my profession has come a long way, women are still underrepresented. And that goes for freelancers in every career. We’re trod upon. We aren’t taken seriously. But we don’t have to put up with that garbage! Here are seven challenges faced by female freelancers—and what you can do to push through them.

CHALLENGE: Getting fair pay for equal work.

Yes, women still have a hard time getting fair pay for work. No, it’s not something that has disappeared because we’re now better adjusted as a society. According to the American Association of University Women, we ladies make only 85 percent of what men with equal qualifications earn. And that’s across all professions, freelance or not.

SOLUTION: Negotiate. Start high and don’t let anyone pay you less than you’re worth. You may think you need to take whatever rate is offered, but trust me, you don’t. Take a stand for all women and demand more.

CHALLENGE: Finding assignments outside the pigeonhole.

Millennials may find this type of behavior old-fashioned, but it’s true: Women are typecast into specific topics just by being a woman. The (mostly male) powers-that-be have a tendency to think that because we’re women, we want to work on projects about weddings. Flowers. Babies. Makeup. Everything else, like sports and bars, go to the men.

SOLUTION: Ask for more varied assignments. Be clear about your interests and the type of work you’re looking for. If you’re a writer and pitching stories, you lead the way with your article topic; if you only pitch hard-hitting topics, you’ll put yourself in a niche that you can be proud of.

CHALLENGE: Conforming to feminine appearance standards.

Thanks to years of supermodels and unattainable beauty standards, women are now forced to look a specific way at business meetings. If you aren’t dressed in a perfectly professional way that combines grace, confidence, the exact amount of make-up and humility, you probably don’t stand a chance. There are even companies still that require women to wear skirts, closed-toe shoes, and nylons, or else risk being fired. We just want to wear pants. Why can’t we wear pants?!

SOLUTION: It’s not much of a solution for leaving the house looking however you’d like, but I do most of my work via email. My Gmail avatar is a picture of me with my typically brown hair (rather than the current purple that resulted from a night of boredom). Only my nearest and dearest know the current color—and I like it that way. But when I do meet prospective clients in person, if they can’t handle my hair, then they aren’t getting my work. So no matter what you look like or what you’re wearing, stand tall and proud. If someone doesn’t like it, too bad for them.

CHALLENGE: Finding enough support while parenting.

A lot of companies these days are still hesitant to offer a decent amount of paternity leave. Which means if you’re a married female freelancer and you have a child, you don’t get much help during the workday. Let alone if you’re a single mother freelancer. By nature, freelancing is fickle. Your monthly pay can vary wildly without notice — and that often doesn’t leave room to pay for daycare. And because of our wondrous womanly bodies, we can also develop serious illnesses during and after pregnancy that leave us bedridden and unable to work. For most freelancers, if you aren’t working, you aren’t getting paid.

SOLUTION: If you can find an inexpensive, good babysitter, hold on to that person! But if not, bid for higher paying jobs and get work done as often as possible: during naps, television time, late in the evening when the kids are in bed. If nothing else comes through and you just can’t get work done, consider applying for unemployment or state-aided assistance.

CHALLENGE: Enduring all the “mother assumptions.”

To flip parenting on its head, it’s also hard being a female freelancer who doesn’t have children—because if you’re a woman of a certain age, everyone assumes you do. But oddly enough (to many clients), some women don’t want children and prefer to work at home. No, I don’t have a baby sleeping in the other room. No, I’m not working freelance so I can spend time with my non-existent kids. No, I can’t relate to that client who says, “My kids are crazy lately! I’m sure you get it.”

SOLUTION: This appears to be getting better as more women decide not to have children, but in the meantime, sneak in that you don’t have kids whenever you can. If someone can’t look at your project because they “have to get to the kid’s birthday party,” follow up with a, “Have fun! I don’t have kids, but who knows, maybe one day.” And if anyone assumes you do have children, be perfectly honest with them: “I don’t have kids and I’m not sure why you think I do.” We need to start calling people on this nonsense.

CHALLENGE: Tempering your attitude.

This one goes both ways. Women with a strong personality and bold attitude shock businessmen. We’re supposed to be delicate flowers who are nurturing and don’t have strong opinions. So our own attitudes play against us. But then, the myth is perpetuated. Men in the business world are often more hesitant to take advice or tips from a woman, or they don’t take us seriously.

SOLUTION: Don’t stop being you, sister. The somewhat depressing glory of seeing your suggestions pushed off is seeing someone fall on their face, then go back and have to do exactly what you said for things to work. If you change your attitude to a mellower version of yourself, you’re doing a disservice to women of all kind. If we embrace our personalities and hold them dear even in the face of adversity, it will eventually become the norm.

CHALLENGE: Finding work in general

It’s no secret that freelancing has been, and continues to be, a male-dominated word. For some reason, that gives a lot of clients the idea that because you’re a woman, you don’t know what you’re doing. Or, you’re just not as good as the legion of men who are doing the same work. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But it often costs us capable ladies lucrative work.

SOLUTION: You could always pull a Men With Pens, and go by a male pen name. But honestly, that deception seems a little time-intensive and counterproductive. This one is tough because there’s no real solution except for working harder and finishing stronger than men. It’s a constant battle, albeit one we’re ultimately winning, but it will take a long time for things to even out.

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