Five ways to champion women, people of color and other marginalized groups.

Share story

I recently landed the sort of high-profile, handsomely paid freelance gig I used to only dream about. The editor, a freelancer herself who was new to the client’s team, took a look at the client’s all-male freelance pool and decided it was time to hire some women.

I greatly appreciated this editor going out of her way to hire qualified women writers, especially for a topic traditionally dominated by men. But I was also incensed at the thought of qualified women freelancers being denied the opportunity to work on this client’s premier projects until now.

It’s no secret that people who hire freelancers often reach for what’s easiest and quickest. Often they turn to their close network of friends, colleagues and college alumni. Sadly, this can lead to hiring people who look exactly like they do. In fact, research shows that people are more likely to hire those who hail from their own demographic. And because freelancers aren’t protected by federal anti-discrimination laws, those who hire them aren’t beholden to EEOC rules.

Extend this blind spot to conference panels as well as the images and examples used for websites, brochures and magazine articles and you get a pretty limited representation of society. But this isn’t a lost cause. There’s a lot freelancers can do to help our clients paint a more accurate picture of humanity. There’s also a lot we can do to look out for each other and make sure that well-off white men aren’t the only ones getting the best freelance opportunities.

If you want to help level the playing field, here’s how to get started.

Network with a diverse group of people. If your network mostly looks like you, it’s time to branch out of your professional silo. This may take some legwork. Spend time connecting with professional organizations for women, people of color, people with disabilities and LGBTQ populations. Your contact list — and the breadth of perspectives on your projects — will be richer for it.

Champion women and people of color. Recommend them for quality freelance jobs when you have a lead to pass along. Subcontract to them if you’re in a position to hire others. Mentor the newbies you meet. Write LinkedIn recommendations for them and testimonials for their professional website. Share their work on your social media feeds.

Ensure your deliverables are diverse. We all want to see ourselves positively represented in books, movies and TV programming. The same applies to professional settings and business materials. As a freelancer, you can do your part by seeking out a well-rounded selection of stock photos, fictitious names, interview subjects, keynote speakers and panelists for your projects. Embrace inclusivity at every stage of your work. Don’t just pay lip service to it at the project kick-off meeting, and don’t scramble to make it an 11th-hour addition. Your audience will see right through this.

Push back on violators. “It would be great to add some women and people of color to these panels,” is a sentence I have said to a former client who asked me to write their conference program. Your client may or may not want to do better. But you won’t know until you speak up.

Seek out socially aware clients. If your clients’ values don’t align with your own, it’s time to find some new clients. I promise your job satisfaction will increase. That said, I wouldn’t rush to break up with every client who’s still learning their way around inclusivity. As long as they’re trying to do better, and as long as their business model doesn’t commit egregious crimes against humanity, you may want to stick it out a bit longer. Someone needs to educate them. Why not you?