How to Prevent Discrimination as a Freelancer

Written by Bethany Johnson on March 6, 2017

Amid the dismal current headlines, I recently stumbled across this delightful story: Last year, New York City’s Councilman Brad Lander introduced an amendment to the celebrated NYC Human Rights Law to specify freelance and independent contract workers as included in those protected against discrimination.

“Wow,” I thought, “This is great!” But then, I realized I don’t live in New York. Fortunately, living a few hundred miles from New York City doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to prevent discrimination as a freelancer. I’m not powerless. The trick is knowing your rights, carefully vetting clients and doing your part to prove your worth. Here’s how this process plays out:

To Thine Own Self

First, I researched my rights. Talking with a licensed attorney is one of the best things I ever did for my business. I learned I’m allowed to outsource my work if I choose; I can work remotely as much or as little as I’d like; I have a right to start work at 3 a.m. every day if I choose (and I did, for years); and I may even work for my clients’ direct competitors.

Are all these things best practices? No, and everyone’s situation is different. You may not benefit from hiring a virtual assistant, for instance. But I’m clearly protected by law, making it easy to politely turn down any discussion about those particular topics with clients.

I also use a pen name to approach ghostwriting clients, and yes, my pen name is brilliantly unisex. Once I’ve learned to trust the prospect, my true name appears, and so does more of my work history. I can’t advise you on your legal rights as a contractor, but I can encourage you to talk with an attorney, so you’re never unsure. Then, brainstorm other rights you’d like, and simply work them into your contracts.

Learn to Vet and Vet Again

Next, flip the tables. Your discerning eye can make or break your business. When you learn how to vet prospective clients, you also discover how to prevent discrimination and ensure you’re the best partner for them. Start with their purpose, mission, vision and goals. Do they align with yours?

Then, scope out the company’s current web presence. Are the people pictured diversely represented in a variety of positive scenarios? And if so, is it because they chose an “inclusive” stock photo, or are you seeing the true faces of their people? Is there an “About Us” page that mentions what they value?

Do a quick search for the client’s name on news sites to see if they’re involved in the community or giving back together. Your sifting may turn up a bad apple or two, but once you’ve weeded those out, you’ll fill your roster with healthy working relationships.

Finally, Get Real

The most surprising tool I ever used to learn how to prevent discrimination was a book called Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. I was shocked to learn of my own faulty mindsets and implicit biases. To process what I learned, I took the online Hidden Bias Test, a remarkable tool developed by psychologists at Harvard, University of Virginia and University of Washington.

Want a proactive way to prevent being on the receiving end of common biases? Try these enlightening exercises. I gained a new perspective, and you will, too. Whether discrimination comes from clients, prospects, providers or colleagues, you can do your part to squelch it. Know your rights, vet your clients and channel your creativity to prove your worth.

In your free time, join me in advocating for the protection of freelancer’s rights, like the heroes in New York City. Together, we can make discrimination a thing of the past.

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