The Big Ask: Closing Gender Pay Gap For Creative Work Starts With Pricing

Shadiah Sigala, co-founder of HoneyBook, knows about the gender gap for freelancers.
Shadiah Sigala, co-founder of HoneyBook, knows about the gender gap for freelancers.

It’s not better working on your own if you are a woman in the creative fields of blogging, writing, photography, design, event planning and more.

It’s way worse.

Female creative entrepreneurs—also called freelancers, contractors and drivers of the highly skilled, creative economy—endure a gender-based pay gap, larger than the national average. Females earn 32 percent less, with an average income of $28,830 per year, while men earn $43,643 for the same work.

A new report from HoneyBook analyzing more than 200,000 invoices from more than 5,000 members, also shows that 63 percent of the female respondents believe they are paid fairly, while 72 percent of the male respondents believe the pay was fair.

“We believe this creative energy is the future of work in the U.S.,” says Shadiah Sigala, co-founder of HoneyBook, a platform that manages invoices, payments, networking, referrals and business support for more than 50,000 creative entrepreneur members.

The growth is a result, she says, as, “More people are seeking services outside the traditional realm.”

A study from Intuit found that 54 million Americans—one third of the U.S. workforce—work as freelancers instead of holding down salaried, traditional jobs.

In the HoneyBook study, more than 80 percent of the contractors work alone. Unfortunately, though while the market for creative work is growing, that does not reflect in wage fairness.

“We see a real data-driven, glaring  gender pay gap for the same type of work,” Sigala says.

This pay gap is larger than in salaried professionals at 32 cents per dollar, compared to an average of 24 cents per dollar in all other fields combined.

“This is a space where clients are engaging because the person’s art is beautiful or the photography is exquisite so it lends itself to higher prices. This is not a car and driver taking you somewhere,” Sigala explains, who cofounded HoneyBook in 2013 with Oz Alon, CEO and co-founder; Naama Alon, chief of creative + vision and co-founder and Dror Shimoni, CTO and co-founder.

What they found is the community of these creative entrepreneurs has also seen a shift within itself of more transparency and sharing of leads to elevate everyone. “We have seen #CommunityOverCompetition spread,” she says.

The gender gap is noteworthy not just for the size, but because these freelancers determine their own pricing.

The study shows that 20 percent of females are making over $50,000 per year, compared to 42 percent of men. Only 8 percent of women are making more than $80,000 per year compared to 20 percent of men. Seven percent of females are earning $50 per hour, compared to 19 percent of males.

As photographers, women earn 59.56 cents on the male dollar. Cinematographers earn 87.84 cents, compared to males earning a dollar.

“We asked women if people are haggling with you over price,” Sigala says. “And they say, ‘No, what I ask for is what I get.’”

So one solution then, is for women to ask for more money with confidence. Sigala has other concrete suggestions for fair pay. “We want to promote real solutions.”

Do the homework. “Work to dig down and give specific recommendations,” says Sigala. Know the market price and have the knowledge of how much is the  going rate of a certain project in that city.

“Then point to your quality work and say what it is worth for you to do this job,” Sigala suggests.

Herself the embodiment of what she calls the American Dream come true as a first generation Mexican immigrant, Sigala attended Pomona College for her undergraduate work. While there she became a community activist and ran a non-profit organization for homeless families.

After graduating in 2006, she went to Harvard Business School for her masters. With her degree in 2008, Sigala went to work in health care reform and worked in the public policy division of Aetna Health Insurance until 2011.

“With my desire to change the world and knowing how the private sector can change public discourse, I knew I was onto something,” Sigala says. She then became a creative entrepreneur herself.

She opened a boutique catering company, Bon Vivant Catering, and ran it from 2011 to 2012. “Like most of the HoneyBook community, I thought it was so glamorous and fun, and I love cooking, but then I had to pay  taxes and invoice and market myself. “

She adds, “That was the impetus to found HoneyBook.” That and her own wedding planning.

“I was working with all these vendors and here they were asking me to fax them a contract and send them a paper check.”

With $47 million in venture capital funding to date, Sigala says HoneyBook is “fearless” and has a mission for people to come first.

Her suggestions to close the gender pay gap in the creative economy are to talk openly about money and finances; negotiate with confidence and know your worth; collaborate instead of compete and stop working for free.

“You need to start treating your business like a business and get really to the nuts and bolts to understand your work is worth more than minimum wage.” Sigala adds, “The crux of it is understanding your value and matching your value with price.”