Articles - 14th September 2020

What transparency does for neuro-diverse freelancers

Words by Lydia Wilkins
Illustration by Jon McCormack

Freelancing and pay, an almost iconic duo – like bread and butter, salt and pepper. Twitter has talked about this a lot in recent months with the changing media landscape, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is a cultural conversation we need to be having – as well as the impact on freelancers who are categorised as diverse.

Anna Codrea-Rado is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in places such as The Guardian, The New York Times, Vice, and others. If you’re a freelancer, you should probably be signed up to her newsletter, The Professional Freelancer. She also co-hosts the podcast “Is This Working?”

Having worked on the issue of freelance pay for over a year, Codrea-Rado published a Google form at the beginning of June. This is so that freelancers can share their rates – but without sharing their name. Titled The Freelancer Pay Gap, her newsletter noted that although a gender pay gap is tracked by the UK government, there is not a lot of data when it comes to being self employed – while noting IPSE suggests that the gender pay gap for the self employed stands at 43%. Other countries also have similar data. However, pay gaps are complicated issues – and the newsletter noted there’s not a lot of data. The picture is not full or complete – such as measuring data of people who are disabled and self-employed.

“What motivated me to start the campaign was to start collecting data that starts to at least give us a picture of the scope of the problem, so I wanted to understand whether or not, freelancers are getting paid different amounts based on their gender, their ethnicity, their location.” said Codrea-Rado.

As an Autistic person, I was really interested in this campaign; editors often commission me because of my condition, despite being a trained reporter – and able to write far more than just comment pieces. And, on occasion, my neurotypical counterparts have been paid more – for the same amount of work. It had not occurred to me that there may be a pay gap – and, if I am completely honest, I was shocked. This is also not a new concept to me – as other freelancers have spoken in private or publicly about similar experiences to mine.

What can we do to paint the full picture?

Always thinking of a way to solve a problem, I was intrigued by the possible solution Codrea-Rado was thinking of.

Describing transparency as making a big difference, her newsletter suggested sharing rates as a way to go forward. This, the newsletter said, would “contribute to a growing dataset that can be used to analyse the extent of the freelancer pay gap.”

Punteha van Terheyden is the founder and editor of Lacuna Voices, a platform for first-person stories, minus clickbait and sensationalist headlines. She also has endometriosis, as well as a hip condition that has impacted her mobility. She replied, simply, to say: “Don’t be afraid to speak up. Good editors will not ignore you.”

This may be difficult for some – but, following the publication of Codrea-Rado’s data, some freelancers have done this. Having seen what Codrea-Rado was doing, journalist Hattie Gladwell was able to increase her pay by quite a sizeable margin. (More information here.)

Adam Pearson styles himself with many labels – including presenter, speaker, actor, broadcast journalist and advocate. You may have seen him in the film Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. He also has a condition called Neurofibromatosis, and was a recent guest on How To Fail With Elizabeth Day.

“I think the best solution is wage transparency. You can’t have two researched doing the same job for different rates because one is white, or older, or has a car etc. Same Job title, same rates – end of chat.”

Laura Garcia is a journalist who co-founder PressPad, an organisation that has campaigned to #DiversifyTheMedia. Prior to the pandemic, they offered accommodation for internships – and now run an outreach program, to help other, young journalists during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Like with many other work related matters, there is strength in numbers. If freelancers support each other, work together, talk openly about their rates and share advice they can be a stronger presence within newsrooms.

“Media organisations also have to shift how they think about freelancers – they aren’t “the cheap option” or just “available whenever”. They should think of a freelancer’s time as an investment in talent, just like with more permanent members of staff.

“In terms of diversity, freelancing is the way into many more stable journalism jobs. Editors and their employers need to really think about how to make freelance positions equally accessible, consider hidden costs, etc.

“Otherwise their freelancer pool is going to be many talented people but all from similar backgrounds and life experiences!”

Making yourself heard as a ‘diverse’ freelancer is difficult in an industry where diversity is not a ‘given’ – and it’s harder still during a pandemic. But it isn’t totally impossible.

Advocating for others can positively impact us all. You can do that by helping Codrea-Rado by reporting your rates – if you’re a journalist (here), or anything else (here). This is publicly accessible, and you can compare rates prior to signing off on a new client. You can also check reviews of freelance experiences – via The Freelance Circle. Services such as as PressPad are helping young and aspiring journalists – and their Covid 19 outreach programme will be back in September.

Speaking up can be difficult – but I so wish someone had spoken up on my behalf at times. Some newsrooms can be unwelcoming – and I have had some bad experiences. If you’re an editor, don’t just commission us because we have a condition – commission us because we are good at what we do. And if we speak up to express our needs, please do not belittle us – it’s humiliating to us all.

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