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'Absolutely floored': 38% gender gap in freelancing exposed

Lucy Dean
·4-min read
Fleur Madden hopes to close the pay gap in freelancing. Images: Supplied, Getty.
Fleur Madden hopes to close the pay gap in freelancing. Images: Supplied, Getty.

Australia’s female freelancers have been urged to pay themselves more amid fresh research showing the gender pay gap persists even when women are setting their own rates of pay.

In fact, on some job platforms female freelancers are being paid as much as 50 per cent less – a statistic that has Freelancing Gems CEO Fleur Madden stunned.

Madden launched the female-only freelancing and consulting platform in 2020 in a bid to connect female freelancers and consultants with employers and projects. While researching the freelancing industry, she found that women statistically charge 38 per cent less for their services.

“I was just absolutely floored by that because obviously we talk so much about pay parity and equal pay and equal work, but when we have the opportunity to dictate what we are going to be charging, as women, we weren't charging competitively,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“When we looked into that further, the answers we were getting around that was that women didn't feel confident to charge what they were worth, they didn't feel they had the business tools and [they didn’t have] the support.”

Madden, who has worked as a CEO of PR, business consulting and cosmetics retailers, set out to share the business tools and understanding she had at her disposal, and help Australian freelancers work out their worth.

Transparency around rates is essential, she said. However, for many freelancers and consultants, finding rate guides has also historically been tricky.

“There's obviously a lot of salary guides around, but not rate guides across industries,” she said.

Then there are the different rates for hourly work, day rates or monthly retainers. That was one of the key problems Madden wanted to solve, leading Freelancing Gems to launch a rate guide.

How to calculate your worth

When it comes to charging competitively, it’s a good idea to start with your expectations and work backwards.

That means working out how much you’d like to make as your “annual salary” and then break that down into hourly and daily rates, aligning with skills, value and experience. It’s a good idea to also speak to other people in the industry to ensure you’re not coming in too low – or too high.

Then, calculate your hours. With 1976 standard business hours in a year, around 1,664 are billable after sick leave and annual leave are factored in. If you want more time away from work, or to account for non-billable administration hours, you’ll need to factor those in.

Additionally, consider superannuation, tax and GST.

On Freelancing Gems, these are some of the base hourly rates for common job titles:

  • Graphic designer (From - Entry - $47/hour, Mid-range - $55/hour, Senior - $62/hour)

  • Marketing / Brand consultant (From - Entry - $51/hour, Mid-range - $70/hour, Senior - $117/hour)

  • HR consultant (From - Entry - $86/hour, Mid-range - $139/hour, Senior - $219/hour)

Additionally, it’s important to know the hourly, daily, weekly, project and retainer rates so that you can be flexible.

Then, Madden said, “Give yourself a pay rise.”

The broader challenge

An estimated 70 per cent of the population experiences imposter syndrome; however, it hits women and people of colour at a higher rate. One study found that 75 per cent of executive women identify as having experienced imposter syndrome.

Madden believes it’s one of the factors behind the pay gap in consulting, but that transparency and a support network can begin to close it.

“At Freelancing Gems, we match women with another consultant who is on a similar journey so you can call on each other if you wish to, if you need guidance,” Madden said.

“I think there are a lot of women’s business groups out there that do a tremendous job but this is a very specific niche, being a consultant or a freelancer.”

She experienced imposter syndrome after returning to the paid workforce after her first baby.

“I really had to give myself a kick up the backside and remember who I was, what I’d done and what I was capable of.

“I had to step into my own power, and I think we all need someone around us who calls us out when we play small, or when we want to play small, whether that’s your friend, or your business network or someone in your family, and sometimes you need to do it for yourself.”

This lesson is especially critical as more women take up freelance and gig economy work.

The pandemic has seen Australia experience a record expansion in casual employment, according to analysis from The Australia Institute’s Centre For Future Work.

That’s why women need to ensure they’re charging at the same rates as men, Madden said.

“No one is waiting for any of us – we have to go and bang down those doors.

“No one is going to open them for us, without us having a knock first and if they don't open it, knocking it down.”

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