Authentic allyship in freelance

Freelancers are change makers. So let’s talk about how we can create change by moving towards intentional advocacy and empathy in how we see and support our marginalized clients. 
Authentic allyship in freelance

Hero image by Isha Gaines

Black history month, Pride month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month; each of these celebratory seasons is significant in the lives of so many people. These celebrations are significant because they give space to those with marginalized identities to celebrate who they are and/or where they came from. What’s important for us to remember is that allyship goes beyond the one month that these communities are celebrated. True allies do not simply celebrate and advocate for marginalized communities when it’s convenient or trendy on social media. Sure, posting to spread awareness and education is great, but doing the work behind those posts, year-round, is what really matters. That’s why we wanted to look at how allyship can exist in freelance. 

It’s totally possible that some of our clients may hold marginalized identities. Or maybe you don’t have many client’s from marginalized communities, but you’ve realized that you want to use your platform to educate your clients (who tend to hold dominant identities) about what it looks like to support those communities. Either way, we can all agree that using our skills and voices to advocate for those who are oppressed could make a significant difference in the world. 

At the end of the day, we all want to be genuine and intentional in how we operate in freelance. If we want to have a positive impact on our clients and educate those within our sphere of influence (including our clients) about how they can be better humans, then it’s important for us to note that we as freelancers have a unique opportunity. <tweet-link>We have an opportunity to operate as authentic allies in our freelance work and in doing so, ensure that we are serving our clients and our community well.<tweet-link>

What is a “marginalized identity”?

The first step in integrating authentic allyship into our freelance work involves understanding what a marginalized identity is and how it might interact with the world of freelance. According to the team at Cultureally, t​​he term marginalized describes the person or group that is treated insignificantly, pushed to the margins of society and rendered powerless. Some groups that have been historically marginalized include those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ folx, women, people with disabilities, and those of lower socioeconomic status. Each of these groups have been the subjects of discrimination in the workplace, education, and various policies.

From a more micro-perspective, members of marginalized groups have also been historically oppressed and treated as insignificant in social settings and in the services they receive or that they are able to access. Common examples include: colleagues treating a co-worker poorly due to the belief in race or gender-based stereotypes, intentional misuse of a person’s pronouns, assuming someone cannot afford a service because of stereotypes (i.e. racial, socioeconomic), etc.

In freelance, we may forget about the significance of making our websites accessible for clients who have disabilities or the importance of including diverse faces in our marketing materials.

Forgetting about these things may seem insignificant and/or unintentional, but it can contribute to keeping marginalized individuals from having full and comfortable access to freelance services.   

At a base level, these social experiences and examples of marginalization stem from a lack of valuing an individual’s identities and experiences, along with forgetting to prioritize hearing their voices and needs. So what does it take to advocate for and improve the experiences of our clients who have marginalized identities?

Allyship in our thinking

One of the most effective ways to support our clients who have marginalized identities is to act as an authentic ally. Carmen Morris, a Forbes Contributor, defines authentic allyship as “an authentic support system, in which someone from outside a marginalized group advocates for those who are victims of discriminatory behavior, whether that is at an individual level, or systemically and process driven”. Allyship is an intentional practice of leveraging one’s power and privilege to elevate and include marginalized voices and listen empathically to their needs and experiences. 

When we hear the word “allyship” it can be easy to assume it means your career and life goals are focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion work. But that’s not always true. Allyship can involve even just a small action that is focused on ensuring that marginalized folks feel supported and included in an experience (Dickenson). Authentic allies can exist in every type of work and social setting.

Authentic allies can exist in freelance too.

Allyship in our work

If authentic allyship means one can engage in even small actions of inclusion and support for marginalized communities, then we should start thinking about what actions we can start taking in our own freelance work. Start thinking about what marginalized identities your past and future clients might hold. How can you enhance your services so that clients with marginalized identities feel supported and included in the freelance process? How can you educate your dominant identity clients about what it means for them to be an ally for marginalized individuals? This might not be an exhaustive list, but we’ve got some examples of what authentic allyship can look like in two types of freelance work. Whether or not you’re a portrait photographer or a web developer we think these examples can inspire you to start incorporating authentic allyship into your work.

Examples of authentic allyship in freelance

Portrait photographers: 

  • Look through your portfolio and identify some of your blind spots—are the majority of your clients of the same race, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.? Think about how this might look to a potential client who wants to hire you; having an exclusive portfolio might make them feel like they can’t fully be themselves around you which will negatively impact their session experience and the way your photos of them turn out.  
  • Consider taking an LGBTQ+ competency training and adding some inclusive language and/or your own pronouns to your website
  • Be intentional about sharing Black and Brown love stories on your platforms and learn how to edit melanated skin
  • Encourage other photographers to diversify their portfolios and skills/services. 
  • Have a list of diverse referrals that you can give to your clients who might not think about intentionally supporting freelancers/businesses from marginalized communities (especially if you are a wedding photographer!). 
  • You can find more ideas on booking and working with LGBTQI+ clients in this article and other ideas on Stomping Out Racism in the Photography Industry here (both articles available via Unscripted). 

Web developers:

  • 26% of adults in the US have some type of disability. That means it’s pretty likely that at some point you will be building a website for a client who might have a disability that impacts how they view and receive content. So start diving into what it means to make a website accessible for people with disabilities. Make accesibility a top priority when you are working on a project for a client who might not have thought about the importance of such needs so they are aware as well. 
  • You can find plenty of tips and ideas on making a website accessible in this UC Berkley resource. 

ALL Freelancers:

  • If you can, use your privilege as a freelancer, who has control over where your profits go, to donate to causes that support the well-being of marginalized communities. A great example of this can be found in Emily May Photo. Last month, Emily chose to donate $50 from every wedding or elopement she booked during the month of June to The Trevor Project in honor of Pride Month. The Trevor Project is an organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth via mental health resources, a suicide prevention helpline, and educator trainings. She also was intentional about sharing LGBTQ+ resources and love stories on her Instagram

If you’d like more examples of how you can act as an ally in freelance, check out our article on Freelance for the community


Thanks to the beauty of freelance, the workplace is changing which means we have the opportunity to expand the voices that are heard in freelance and the quality of services that clients of marginalized identities receive. When we take steps to move closer towards being authentic allies we are engaging in actionship which involves “...consciously seeing one another as people with different experiences and different identities…” - Netta Jenkins.

Authentic allyship and actionship in freelance expands who we can be as freelancers and the positive impact we can have on the world around us. The more we consciously see the experiences and identities of our marginalized clients and then work to support and include them in our work, the more we can ensure that freelance is for everyone

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Marissa Morrow
Marissa Morrow
Marissa Morrow is a Colorado native who loves all things poetry, photography and music. Currently a full time staff member with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Marissa spends her off time doing photoshoots with her husband for their photography business, Morrow Manor Photography, and hanging out with their two cats. Marissa has been writing ever since she was young and finds storytelling in the form of poetry and photography to be one of the best forms of therapy. As a former advocate for victims of domestic violence she is passionate about social justice issues, self-care, and inspiring others with her art.
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