Freelancing affords a level of control over your work schedule and the types of projects you want to prioritize more than traditional forms of employment. But for Black women thriving in the gig economy, it can often feel like an uphill battle.
In addition to the financial uncertainty that freelancers face, Black women specifically are subjected to lower pay and forced to relive the racial trauma that affects them daily by being commissioned for projects centered on the “Black experience.”
Freelancers are protected from discrimination by law, but this does not change the fact that prejudice, sexism, and racism are still rampant across many industries.
Let’s explore some issues Black women freelancers face and focus on actionable steps to help protect one’s mental health in a competitive gig economy.
Issues affecting Black women freelancers
Being Black and being a woman are unique perspectives, and individuals that identify as such can sometimes feel they are being targeted as spokespersons for these demographics. While it is important to raise up Black voices and encourage diversity to overcome disparities in many industries, no Black woman should feel like she is being valued only for this perspective.
Many times, Black women are not able to write or design within their areas of expertise because clients seek out Black freelancers for specific pieces centered around Blackness or diversity alone. There are many issues involving racism and subconscious bias that prevent Black women from securing gigs in niche fields, and this can be a significant source of professional and personal stress.
What’s more, Black women are often compensated less than men and white individuals, and this is not limited to the freelancing industry. Even Black women with advanced degrees earn less than white men with less education and experience. This pay gap especially affects those who work in creative industries, and Black artists sometimes have their work stolen by companies without being compensated properly, if at all.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Monica Williams is an expert in race-based trauma who works with people of color in many industries, including freelancing and journalism. According to Williams, “All Black Americans suffer from some degree of PTSD.” Being repeatedly exposed to traumatic racial injustices through media outlets and in everyday life is oppressive, and it’s often compounded by experiences of racism in the workplace.
Additionally, the discrimination that Black women face on online freelancing platforms makes getting gigs difficult. Freelancing Black women make less money than other freelancers and are often commissioned to cover topics that are deeply racialized and traumatic. Black women deserve to be recognized as whole individuals with experiences and expertise to offer in fields outside of race issues.
While diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) is becoming a top priority for many major companies, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. It is widely recognized that diversity is critical in any workplace, not simply for employee mental health, but also for the way it boosts company performance. But that doesn’t mean every company is putting their money where their mouth is.
Steps to protect your mental health
When considering all the potential liabilities that come with freelancing, rarely does mental health come up. In addition to concerns such as protecting yourself from cybersecurity issues (which have become an increasing threat for remote workers especially since the pandemic hit) and focusing on gaining and keeping clients, you should also be taking time to address mental wellness.
As a Black woman working in the gig economy, it is imperative to consider mental health a priority. Not only is practicing self-care good for your general wellbeing, it's also a self-sustaining act of resistance in those moments when you feel like things are stacked against you. There are a number of focus points for keeping yourself mentally healthy while working as a freelancer.
1. Find your people
Take time away from the emotional labor of helping white people understand the Black perspective and connect with a group of like-minded freelancers and entrepreneurs. Save your energy and seek support from those who have first-hand experience with similar personal and professional struggles. This is also a great way to network and invest in your professional growth.
2. Practice mindfulness
Make time in your schedule to check in with yourself and practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation has been proven to increase productivity as well as ease psychological stresses such as anxiety, depression, and even chronic pain.
Anxiety is common, especially for young professionals, and the first step to handling your stress is recognizing it. Spend some time with yourself each day to focus and recenter to avoid getting caught up in life’s stressors. If you think you need additional help, be open to seeking mental health services.
3. Take tech breaks
Set aside time each day when you will limit your exposure to media dealing with racism. It’s important to stay on top of current events, but constantly inundating yourself with news and social media can have adverse impacts on mental wellness.
This is even more critical during the pandemic, when many people are still working from home and surrounded by nothing but technology all day. Be sure to take occasional breaks from screens and social media, and give yourself a reprieve. Go for a walk, spend time with friends or family, and don’t look at your notifications for a few hours.
4. Get adequate sleep
As freelancers, we often work late into the night and push through the weekends to stay on top of deadlines. It can be hard to put the laptop and phone away, turn off your notifications, and get restful sleep when there are so many things distracting you.
Prioritize rest, and stick to a sleep schedule. Practicing breathing exercises can help reduce stress by lowering the blood pressure and increasing your ability to focus on rest. Try to stick to a consistent bedtime and wake up time, making adjustments and exceptions only when it's absolutely necessary.
5. Manage your finances
Know your worth, and get paid for the work you do. Don’t be afraid to raise your freelance rates and only take jobs from clients that value your time and energy. Ask for compensation when emotional labor is an aspect of your assignments. Make it known what your specialties are, and don’t settle for only being funneled pieces that pertain to your Blackness or your identity as a woman.
Also, take time to organize your finances and budget appropriately. Just because you are a freelancer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be planning for your financial future, including debt management and retirement planning. Being financially well-situated will be a significant stress reducer, which will boost your mood and increase your confidence.
The experiences and expertise of Black women are diverse, and as freelancers, Black women have to keep reminding the world that they are more than just Black or female. This can be professionally challenging, as well as emotionally and physically draining, and it often takes an extra toll on mental health.
There are a number of steps you can take and tools you can use for better stress management. These tips can help you create a self-care routine that preserves your energy and prioritizes your mental wellbeing so you can give more to yourself while also thriving in the gig economy.