Freelancing Gender Challenges Go Beyond Just Pay

sexual harassment at work, office woman and her lustful boss

One of my hopes with this blog is to make room for the community of women in freelancing to help steer its direction. When I asked people for things they’d like to see me blog about, one of my connections on social media suggested I write about women having to deal with strong-headed male clients. That certainly got me thinking.

My second blog post was about the gender pay gap that exists in freelancing. Well, now that I have been poking around online and thinking about my own experiences, it appears the gender issue goes beyond just unequal pay. While there is little data on gender issues in the freelancing world, Ms.Tech is collecting her own data. It turns out, women are more likely than men to be asked to do revisions. Women are more likely than men to be emotionally and professionally threatened.

Not only that, but there are also issues with harassment and sexism in the freelance “workplace.” If a male client is making inappropriate comments about your social media photo or asking inappropriate questions, what do you do? This is an issue Antonia Taylor talks about in her article in The Guardian. She has experienced these kinds of situations first-hand.


Simply put, when you are a freelancing women, who do you turn to when you have a client who is sexist or who is treating you unfairly? There is no HR department. There is no immediate supervisor. You are on your own.

I am fortunate enough not to have been subject to this for the most part. However, I had one client last year who, now that I think

back on it, may have been micromanaging and controlling because I was a woman. He hired me to write a white paper. I based the outline for the white paper on a couple of other white papers in the industry that he had given me.

However, I hadn’t gone far enough with the outline. He had literally wanted me to combine those white paper TOCs into one larger one, quite the copy and paste. As we were in a Skype meeting, he proceeded to do the work himself, rather than hand it back to me.

Then I was gearing up to start writing and he wanted to keep having meetings. He was disorganized and was controlling every aspect of the project, right down to telling me which sections I was to write first, second, and third. I couldn’t get anything going, couldn’t even start my research because he was holding everything up. He didn’t seem to trust me to handle it. I tried to explain my process more than once, and it’s like I was speaking to a wall.

I was getting frustrated and beginning to feel incapable, which I knew i wasn’t. I was at the point where I was going to talk to him about it. I was going to tell him that he hired me as the expert in writing, so he needed to let me do my job or I would be letting him go. However, time went on when I thought he was getting himself organized. One week, then two, then three. He left me hanging high and dry and never even told me. Of course, I let it go because he was NOT a client I wanted.

At the time, I new he was a very controlling work-a-holic business man. Now, looking back, I wonder if there wasn’t some gender discrimination there as well. Since I was a woman, he needed to hold my hand through the process because I clearly couldn’t manage on my own despite having 12 years of experience at the time.

Suffice it to say, there are issues out there. We can’t control what clients do or how they act when we get hired by them. However, we do have control over who we work with. If there is a client who is making you feel uncomfortable, being sexist, making inappropriate comments, or otherwise being unprofessional, you do NOT have to work with that client.

Think of that freedom! If you were working for an employer, it wouldn’t be so easy to leave your job. It’s your only source of pay. You would have to jump through the HR hoops. But as a freelancer with multiple clients you can choose to cut the ones you aren’t comfortable working with.

I know, it can be tough. As freelancers, it’s always there in the back of our minds. Don’t let any job or client go. What if another one doesn’t come along right away? This one paid good money. I can’t let that go, can I? I can say that this client of mine, who was paying me close to $2,000, was hard to let go, but I was prepared to and I didn’t chase him when I didn’t hear from him. It just wasn’t worth the headache!agreement-3489902_640

No client is worth feeling demoralized or incapable. Not one. Fortunately, most clients are wonderful to work with, at least in my experience, and I hope in yours too.

Now, if you have a story about a client being inappropriate or difficult, please feel free to share in the comments section below, especially if you think it might relate to your being a woman. We can learn from one another. We can realize that we aren’t alone in this. And we can help each other learn and grow to handle these situations if they arise in the future.

And my next post will be something lighter! Perhaps the home office and places to work as a freelancer.

Cheers, Karen

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