Will the creator economy help close the gender pay gap?

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It’s a tale as old as time and one well documented—women get paid less than men to do the same job. 

According to Payscale’s 2022 State of the Gender Gap Pay Report:

  • Qualified women get paid less than equally qualified men
  • Educated women get paid less than educated men
  • Women with children get paid less than men with children
  • Women who get promoted get smaller raises than men who get promoted

On Twitter recently, freelance writer Brooklin Nash asked women the following question: “What are some professional double standards you’ve faced?”

Answers varied, but many pointed fingers at salary discrepancies:

Even prominent public figures aren’t immune to the gender pay gap. Remember when Mark Wahlberg got $1.5 million for the “All the Money” reshoot, and Michelle Williams received less than $1,000? 

And, the members of the women’s US soccer team—a decidedly more accomplished team than the men’s team—were making 89 cents for every dollar the male soccer players made. 

So, Why is there still such a significant pay discrepancy between men and women? Does it exist in the Creator Economy? And, is there an opportunity in a changing world to rapidly close this ridiculous pay gap in an evolving economy? Let’s take a closer look. 

The traditional workplace is designed for men

The traditional corporate workplace has favored men since the Industrial Revolution. Consider the evidence.

1. Overwhelmingly male corporate leadership

More people named “Jeffrey” got CEO jobs in 2018 than women did. And, research from McKinsey & Company shows a highly disproportionate number of male-to-women leadership ratios. 

As of 2020, women Senior VPs made up 28% of the workforce, only 21% of C-suite members were women, and there were only 85 women who were promoted to a managerial role for every 100 men.

If we evaluate this in terms of the standard American grading system, below 30% is ~20% lower than an F minus. 
We’re not doing great in terms of narrowing the leadership gender gap. This failure is a problem when seeking pay equality. When men continue to be the corporate decision makers, women suffer.

2. Rigid working hours

Most corporate jobs (pre-pandemic) required employees to work in-office for eight hours a day. This 40-hour workweek norm naturally divides the economy from the home. 

While childcare and household tasks are both parents’ responsibility, the onus of childcare,  elderly care, and household management overwhelmingly falls to the woman in the relationship, according to The Times.

Without proper consideration and some big changes around the 40-hour workweek expectations, it’s challenging for women who are also caretakers to thrive in a traditional office and at home, especially when commuting is required.

Inflexible working hours are also one of the reasons women choose to leave the 9-5 and join the Creator Economy. CEO & Founder of Right Now Communications, Regina Carswell Russo’s reasons for leaving her office job centered around this idea.

“I left for two reasons; flexibility so I could be more present raising my two young sons (at the time) and have a more balanced work/life and to have more control over my earning potential,” said Russo.

3. The office is a man cave

There are also more subtle ways the traditional office favors men

For example, office temperatures are statistically colder on average and less comfortable for the sex with a lower metabolic rate.

Work and tech equipment is also designed for the average male body, not the average woman's body. 

What’s more, today’s office spaces are often an open floor plan, which places high value on social interactions and likability. 

In a New York Times article, Kristen Egziabher explained how when she started working remotely, she got a promotion and an 11% raise. The reason? Judgment and likeability were taken out of the equation. Instead, she said she was evaluated exclusively by her work.

It’s also critical to note that there is a glaring lack of spaces to accommodate some basic and extensive women's needs. Where’s the mother’s room to pump? Where’s the childcare space?

Bottom line: The traditional office isn’t one-size-fits-all in terms of design, leadership, pay, promotions, comfort, etc. It represents a game with rules designed by and for men where men hold the cards.

The pandemic shifted how we work and how we think about work

The pandemic disrupted the status quo in almost every possible way. Tragically, this meant infection, increased death rates, isolation, and economic hardships for large portions of the global population.

It also resulted in a complete shake-up of how the traditional office functions. In the last two years, we’ve seen:

  • More than71% of office workers working remotely
  • The rise of the Creator Economy where the number of creators in 2021 was up 48% when compared with creators in 2020
  • The Great Resignation where over 4.53 million Americans quit their jobs and left for better opportunities

This is a lot to unpack, but it’s evidence that in the past couple of years, we’ve shifted how we work and how we think about work. 

It’s clear now that securing a position at a traditional 9-5 job and commuting to the office isn’t the only way to make a living.

For many women, falling in line at a 9-5 isn’t always the best career investment either, especially considering the time constraints, leadership gaps, inflexibility, and caps on earning.

The New York Times sent out a questionnaire to 700 people about returning to the office. Reasons for not wanting to return included safety, time with kids and pets, more time for leisurely activities, etc. 

What stood out in this Times article was what Keren Gifford, an IT worker in Pittsburg said: “There’s not much point in returning to the office if we’re just going back to the old boys’ club.”

I talked to several women who left the frustrations of traditional jobs behind to build something better, and here’s what they shared.

“I decided to leave the traditional workforce because I was burned out. I had been working as a social media marketer for nine years. It stopped being fun. When I realized the work I was doing was having a negative impact on my mental health, I realized that it was time for me to make a change for the sake of my well-being,” said Jayde Powell, Freelance Content Creator & Marketer, and Co-Founder of Weed For Black Women.

Ellis Fitch, Partner at Edify Content, said, “I got very tired of workforce constraints. I always heard, ‘That's a great idea but’ followed by laments about budget, bandwidth, or bureaucracy. Going out on my own, there are still constraints, but I have more creative flexibility. On the financial side, it was so frustrating to do good work and still have bonuses be dependent on other teams or fight for even the most nominal pay raise. The traditional workforce is just exhausting,” says Fitch.

Mindy Thomas of Upload Creative LLC told me why she decided to start her own business. She said, “My decision was fueled by the need to have complete autonomy with my own schedule. I left my 9-5 job in August of 2020, two days into the school year when it became clear to me my children would be learning from home indefinitely. Endless earning opportunities and no salary cap are what keep me here now.”

These responses beg the question, Is it possible for (all of) us to leverage this unique time in history and change the rules of the game?

Beverly Bigelow-Nagy of Worthy Oui Cosmetics thinks so. “There are plenty of opportunities right now for women to start working for themselves. Since the pandemic hit. Women have started more businesses and are truly crushing it right now. The world is finally seeing how powerful women really are and that we can also run million/billion dollar businesses,” says Bigelow-Nagy.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the reasons why this time in history may present more opportunities to do things differently, make changes in what it means to have a full-time career, and, hopefully, close the gender pay gap.

Building a new normal as the Creator Economy continues to grow

With all the changes in the economy, there’s more opportunity now than ever to carve out completely new places to thrive. Consider the following.

1. The rise of more women creators, freelancers, and entrepreneurs

The growth of the Creator Economy can be largely (not exclusively) attributed to women and their entrepreneurial efforts.

Statista, for example, found that 84% of social media influencers who post sponsored content are women, while only 16% are men. Women represent 48% of all freelancers, while 45.5% are men. And, more women than men started their own businesses from scratch during the pandemic.

As noted earlier, more and more women creators are starting businesses, making their own rules, and holding the cards in a new kind of economy.

“The opportunities are endless for women creators. We are now living in an economy where women work from home. You can live in a rural place and still service clients from around the country. Also, freelancers have less of a stigma. The post-Covid world recognizes that there is more than one way to earn a living, and that living might not include working for one full-time employer,” said Krysten Godfrey Maddocks of KGM Strategic Marketing. 

The business world is also taking notice of the power of independent creators and entrepreneurs, and refocusing business initiatives to incentivize and reward them to team up. Sneh Ratna Choudhary explained, “women have been killing it as creators and now all the social media platforms and VCs have taken note.”

I covered this extensively in another Banknotes article, but here is a quick review of recent trends:

  • Social platforms like Facebook and TikTok are refocusing new initiatives around incentivizing and rewarding creators to stay active on their platforms
  • Venture capitalists are pouring millions of dollars into both individual creators and platforms that help creators monetize
  • Huge ecommerce brands (e.g., Amazon) are carving out space on their platforms for curated collections from creators and influencer videos
  • 72% of marketers are projected to invest in creators this year, which is up from previous years

This is all significant because it shows that industry norms are being broken, and the business world is innovating in new ways that reward both independent creators and innovative leaders in the Creator Economy.

Big businesses, small brands, and everyone in between are vying for the attention of creators with niche audiences—not the other way around.

If ever there was a time for creative women to set their own terms, conditions, and prices—the time is now.

2. Younger generations have different values than previous generations (they won’t stand for continued discrimination)

Gen Z and younger Millennials are far more progressive as a whole than the previous generations, and it gives me a lot of hope.

Statistics show these younger generations care deeply about social causes and highly value (even demand) diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI). They won’t support homogenized brands and organizations. In fact, they hold unethical organizations accountable and actively avoid companies without strong DEI values and initiatives.

The Washington Post drew attention to this idea in its recent article, “For younger job seekers, diversity and inclusion in the workplace aren’t a preference. They’re a requirement.”

The article pointed out how there are also now career centers dedicated to facilitating equity and inclusion in the job search. These career centers ask employers to share how DEI is part of their recruiting strategy and mission statements.

What’s more, the article points out, is that even in 2021, students were reluctant to ask hiring managers about DEI. The article states, “they didn’t want to appear difficult or seem to be seeking special treatment. But as the national conversation has shifted, so has student confidence.”

These younger generations already make up nearly half of the workforce. And, it’s becoming the norm for potential employees to ask companies about diversity and inclusion initiatives; we’re also seeing more companies make significant changes to match the values of younger generations.

This doesn’t mean the world doesn’t still have work to do in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It clearly does.

But, it certainly gives me hope that younger generations won’t reward brands that mimic an old boys’ club with their time and talents—either as employees or brand ambassadors—especially if there is a pay discrepancy.

So, are women creators and entrepreneurs making more?

It’s true there’s more opportunity now than ever before for women to shake up the status quo, and we’re seeing changes. 

More women are leaving traditional unrewarding jobs for better opportunities, branching out as independent creators, partnering with innovative brands, and building new businesses.

But, while the economy is changing and the traditional workforce doesn’t hold as much power in society as it once did, the question remains: are women creators and entrepreneurs getting paid more?

Are women earning more now that they’ve entered the Creator Economy?

Out of the 23 women I interviewed, 19 said they were making more than they were at their previous job, and 4 said they were making less. 

Here’s some of the growth the women who said yes experienced:

  • “My projected income for the year is going to be 6x of my yearly salary or a 350% increase.” -Sneh Ratna Choudhary
  • “I now make over 4x what I was making while being a full-time employee and work fewer hours and have more control over my life. -Lauren Michelle
  • “I have had an increase in salary of 162% since I started my own business.” -Andrea Valeria
  • “I have been fortunate enough to make more money as a business owner than I did as a ‘traditional’ W-2 employee. I also work fewer hours. I have increased my yearly income by 200%.” Jill Parkinson 
  • I saw a 250% increase from my annual 2019 engineering salary to my current gross revenue. -Gabby Beckford

As mentioned above, four of the women said they weren’t making more money, but they had different metrics for success than financial increases:

  • “I’m certainly not making as much money as a creator than I was as a salaried full-time employee, however, I have noticed that I work a lot less than I was before. Rather than working 80 hours for almost $3000, I can get that in one contract where I work no more than 10 hours. Having that time back is so important to me because I’m now more rested than ever and have the energy to do the things that bring me joy. -Jayde Powell
  • “I have been able to expand both my business and my craft as an artist. I wanted time to broaden my conception of myself, my business, and what I can do. I've made more money than I ever have as an artist and made connections to lay the groundwork for my future as well. I would never have been able to achieve any of this if I was still in my old role.” -Emily May
  • The biggest advantage for me in this position is the complete control of my time. I decide how it's spent. I decide who I work with and most importantly I set the standard for the value of my time and effort. Since I left my 9-5 position, I have launched a blog and podcast and guested on many others.” -Mindy Thomas

Many of the women expressed that working in the Creator Economy wasn’t purely about making more money. It was about being able to accomplish more in fewer hours, achieve a better balance between family and work life, have more creative freedom, and maintain control over how, when, and where they work.

But, are women creators making more right now than men with the same job?

It’s challenging to quantify this properly, considering how much variation between jobs there is within the Creator Economy and how little research there is around the topic.

When looking strictly at influencer rates, research from Izea says women are (mostly) still making less than men. 

Izea found women creators across most platforms made an average of $2,289 per post while men made an average rate of $2,978 per post. However, women were paid more for Instagram stories (an average of $962) than men (an average of $609). This is a result of their much higher engagement rates.

Female freelancers are also still charging less post-pandemic, according to Payoneer’s Freelancer Income Report.

While the rise of the Creator Economy is changing the way women work, where they work, and how much they earn, there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure equality. So, how do we do it?

Achieving equal pay in the Creator Economy is everyone’s job

First, it’s critical to remember that achieving equality isn’t only up to women. It’s up to everyone—and it all starts with transparency.

Some organizations, like Buffer, are making excellent strides toward pay equality with complete transparency.

Buffer publishes the salaries of their employees, educates everyone on their pay formula, and sends out updates whenever there is a change to the formula.

This company certainly sets a good precedent for transparency, making equal pay attainable. But, this is difficult in the Creator Economy when there isn’t one specific leader setting standardized rates.

This is where personal responsibility to pay women and men creators equally and openly engaging in conversations about rates comes into play.

Talk to friends, family, and colleagues about pay. Participate in TikTok trends where people openly discuss pay.

The economy is changing—especially for women creators—and there’s more opportunity now to do things right. Women will keep carving out the space they need to thrive, and it’s up to everyone to engage in transparent conversations.

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