It’s a known (yet unfortunate) fact that women earn less than men in the workplace.
But many creators don’t realize a gender wage gap exists in the creator economy. Despite women setting their own rates and naming their own prices, they’re still earning less than men.
What does the creator economy wage gap look like?
Women outnumber men 2:1 in the creator economy but still take home less pay. According to the creators we surveyed, 35% of men earn over $100,000 from their business compared to 19% of women. Men are also twice as likely to earn over $150,000.
Women creators outnumber men by nearly 2:1 & were the more likely to have earned revenue in 2021.
…but men were more than 2x as likely to earn over $150k.
It’s clear the creator economy has a gender pay gap. It’s great that more women are taking control of their earnings. pic.twitter.com/PGKxNBajbI
— Nathan Barry 🇺🇦 (@nathanbarry) May 16, 2022
But what’s interesting is that while men earn more, both women and non-binary creators were more likely to make money from their business than male creators. Of those who reported earnings in 2021, 69% were female, 63% were non-binary, and 61% were male.
And while the focus of this piece is on pay inequality among genders, we need to acknowledge the racial pay gap and how creators of color earn less than white creators. Kaya Marriott, a blogger and influencer, shares her thoughts with me:
Women of color (Black women especially) consistently make less than white women. Or more often than not, are simply passed over for opportunities for not having the right ‘look' or ‘audience.’ – Kaya Marriott
Kaya noticed the wage gap between white and Black women while searching through FYPM, a website where influencers anonymously share their experiences—and rates—working with brands. “I remember feeling absolutely shocked and discouraged,” she tells me.
It’s a feeling many of us have felt—that moment when you realize you’re not getting the same pay as someone else in your field who might have equal—or even less—experience.
Why is there a gender wage gap?
Before we can identify ways to close the wage gap, it’s important to dig into the why. After listening to many different creators share their anecdotes, I identified seven core themes.
1. Money is still a taboo subject for women
Does talking about money make you uncomfortable? You’re not alone. Women are taught it’s impolite to talk about money. Take salary or rate negotiations, for example. When heading into salary negotiations, men are more likely to ask their coworkers what salary they earn prior to negotiating. That way, they know how much money to ask for.
On the other hand, women tend not to ask and lose out on valuable insight. Instead, women might base their salary negotiations on hunches and guesses.
In author Anna Wiener’s memoir Uncanny Valley, she talks about one of the tech startups she worked for, where workers were allowed to set their own salaries. Her quote illustrates how much lower women’s salaries are when they don’t know what those around them are being paid:
The infamous name-your-own-salary policy had resulted in a pay gap so severe that a number of women had recently received corrective increases of close to forty thousand dollars. No back pay. – Anna Wiener, Uncanny Valley
2. Women tend to seek permission to increase their prices
Tom Libelt mentors course creators and told me that when it comes to pricing, “women second guess themselves and often hire me to basically give them permission to proceed. This can encompass everything from course creation, setting prices, and marketing.”
When Tom mentioned this, I immediately thought back to a few months ago, when I posted a question in a private chat group (comprised mostly of men) about raising my rates:
At the time of asking the question, I had made up my mind that I’d be increasing my rates, but yet, I still asked. Looking back, I was absolutely seeking permission from my male counterparts.
And my experience isn’t unique. According to Harvard, women are less likely to negotiate their pay unless given explicit permission to do so, whereas men will negotiate regardless.
3. Traditional negotiation skills don’t work for women
There are many times when strong negotiation skills come in handy for creators: setting rates for brands, negotiating higher commission rates for affiliate marketing, or putting together a proposal for a potential client.
What’s interesting is that women negotiate just as well as men, but only when doing it on behalf of someone else. When women negotiate for themselves, their counterparts may view them as greedy. This (unnecessary) stigma disappears when negotiating on behalf of someone else.
But that doesn’t mean women can’t find success when negotiating for themselves. According to Black Swan Group, founded by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, women can use specific negotiation tactics, like mirroring and no-oriented questions, to win negotiations (and not be labeled as greedy throughout the process).
But this got me thinking: are women being taught these “female-friendly” negotiation tactics?
I decided to do a mini-experiment. I searched up “negotiations” on Udemy to see how many courses were being taught by women. Out of the 27 instructors on the first page, only four of them were women.
Reviews for several courses noted how the courses had “real-life examples.” If many instructors are men, we can assume that the real-life examples and teachings are based on male-negotiating tactics, which, as we’ve learned, are far less effective for women.
4. Women often end up in niches that are harder to scale
Some industries are harder to make money from and scale, namely those where handmade goods are involved. And women tend to occupy these niches in greater numbers than men. Take Etsy, for example, where an astonishing 79% of sellers identify as women.
Ecommerce coach Grace Hayden discusses the handmade business model in her TikTok video. She states that often, women burnout while selling handmade goods. The reason? They need to become both the manufacturer and the distributor; an unsustainable combination for one person.
@shopifysimplifiedCall me crazy but I believe you should be able to pay yourself fairly for your labor.♬ original sound – Grace Hayden
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to scale if you’re a solo artist. Take Shelby Abrahamsen, for example. Shelby is an artist who shares printables and teaches others how to grow their artistic abilities. Like Shelby, folks who sell handmade goods can thrive when they add digital products into the mix.
5. Women place greater emphasis on building (and keeping) relationships
When speaking with creators, I learned how much emphasis women place on keeping peaceful relationships with clients, customers, and other business partners.
Dielle Charon, a 7-figure sales coach specifically for women of color, told me how she notices that “men have been taught to seek value and opportunities, where women have been taught to value relationships.” She says that women fear losing their clients if they raise their rates. Blogger Gabby tells me how they notice the same thing:
In my experience, men walk away from something easily even if it means losing a little bit of money. While women will always try to come to an agreement. – Gabby
Women need to be mindful of when to cut ties with low-paying clients to make room for people who recognize their value.
6. Women spend more time on unpaid work
Parenting and running a household takes a significant amount of time and energy. And unfortunately, women are running the show, spending 40% more time on tasks like household chores and childcare compared to men.
To put that into perspective, for every 10 hours men spend on unpaid labor, women spend 14. Those hours add up, giving men more time to put towards growing their business.
7. Society expects women to help
Apparently, people expect women to carry their unpaid labor outside of the house. According to copywriter and mindset coach Dayana Aleksandrova, this is called “the mother complex”:
People expect women to help. It's called “the mother complex.” When someone hires a woman, subconsciously, they expect her to give and give and give, as is typical of a mother by nature, without requesting anything in return. – Dayana Aleksandrova
But being helpful can be a good thing and is a strategy women can use to their advantage. Kristen Bousquet, a mentor for creators, feels that helping her clients allows her to sell higher ticket items eventually:
The way I look at it, if I price my coaching services lower, I’m able to appeal to more creators, but also work with them to help them develop the self-confidence and skills it takes to fully believe in their abilities, then maybe they’ll go on to invest in higher-ticket coaching options.
I realize I could absolutely be charging thousands of dollars, but accessibility and genuinely being able to help the creator in their beginning stages is more important to me. – Kristen Bousquet
It’s worth keeping an eye on “the mother complex” within your own business. Is the additional help you’re providing growing your biz and in line with your values? Or is it burning you out? If it’s the latter, consider reducing the discounted—or free—help you’re providing.
How can we work to close the wage gap at the individual level?
After digging into reasons why women may earn less, I wanted to find a list of concrete solutions for anyone (not just women) who feels they aren’t earning what they deserve.
1. Focus on—and be confident with—the value you provide
If you find yourself constantly lowering your prices for fear of losing customers or clients, it’s time to shift your focus to the value you provide. You can do that by pricing your offerings correctly.
Coach Tom Libelt recommends a value-based pricing approach when pricing courses. He says that:
- The price of the course should be priced at 1/10th the value of the outcome.
- If you're offering services, then anchor the course at 1/5th of the pricing of your service.
If you’re selling digital products, you can apply Tom’s advice, or you can scope out your competition to see what they’re charging. Pricing services feels a bit more abstract, however, which brings us to our next tip: talk openly about money with your peers.
2. Talk about money openly with your peers
Although speaking about money is considered taboo among women, a fast way to tackle unequal pay is to have an open discussion about money. Kaya Marriot notices that the lack of transparency around rates is damaging to creators:
As creators, we often function in our own bubble; our rates being compared only against what we charged last time. Without public averages or people across all demographics, niches, and follower sizes sharing how much they charge or make, people won't know they are under-pricing themselves. – Kaya Marriott
Social forums like niche-specific Subreddits or Discord channels can offer an anonymous place to ask people how much they’re charging. You can also reach out directly to creators in your niche to see if they’re comfortable discussing their rates.
But it’s worth noting that if you choose to speak to people about their rates, make sure to speak with a broad and diverse group of folks. Nearly every person you chat with will have their own internal biases around pricing and money, and if you base your rates off what one or two people say, you still risk undercharging.
3. Hire a virtual assistant to negotiate for you
When I spoke to Gilde Flores, a music composer, about rates and negotiation, he said something that caught my attention: he “turns to others to negotiate for [him].”
We mentioned earlier how women have more success in negotiations when doing it on behalf of someone else. I loved Gilde’s suggestion because it wasn’t something I had ever thought about. If you’re not comfortable with your negotiation skills, hire a VA to manage negotiations for you.
4. Remember to give yourself a raise
When I asked creators how often they give themselves a raise, I was happy to hear that both men and women were raising their prices at least once a year, some even opting to review their rates every quarter.
Many creators want to avoid pushback on their rates at all costs and fear raising them too high. But several creators noted how they embrace pushback and use it as a “gauge” to determine whether they should raise their rates.
New to freelancing, don’t know how to price your services?
Or when to increase the rates?
Sadly, Industry research won’t help you too much because the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t apply to freelancing.
Only one tip 👇
— Himanshi Solanki (@himanshisolanki) March 23, 2022
Wedding photographer, Kari Bjorn, echoes the same sentiment as Shreya from the Tweet above. For her, the sweet spot is to book 40-60% of leads coming through her website—that’s when she knows she’s priced her services just right. If she’s not getting enough pushback, she knows her rates are too low.
You should also consider things like inflation and the cost of living when raising your prices. If either one shoots up, it’s time for your rates to do the same.
5. Automate and outsource what you can
Studies show women are more productive when they know their children and unpaid duties are taken care of (I can’t say I’m surprised).
In a perfect world, women would share the load of unpaid labor with their partners, but that grossly oversimplifies the issue.
If you can, rearrange the household duties so you have more time to focus on your business. But if not, there are other ways to free up time:
- Outsource work to a VA to tackle “work-chores” (tasks that don’t bring you joy)
- Use ConvertKit’s automations to automate your email marketing funnel
- Set up email autoresponders to answer FAQs, so you don’t have to reply to every email that lands in your inbox
- Batch your content creation process to save time
What can men do to help close the wage gap?
Women shouldn’t face the responsibility of closing the wage gap alone, and there are plenty of things men can do to help:
- Can’t take on a project? Pass it off to someone underrepresented.
- Be transparent about your rates
- If you notice a friend charging less than they should for their offerings, let them know
- Take a look at the work you do around the house: is it enough for your partner?
- Hold brands accountable and ask them if they plan to pay male, female, and non-binary influencers the same rates before agreeing to work together
Together, we can help creators from all walks of life earn a fair wage for their craft.
The power to close the wage gap is in our hands
As cliché as it sounds, knowledge is power. Closing the wage gap won’t happen overnight, but acknowledging one exists is the first step for everyone, regardless of gender, to make a change.
We’re excited to see how women and non-binary people move forward in creating businesses that earn more money and impact more people.