ASJA’s Role in Creating a Stronger, More Diverse Freelance Community

Emily Paulsen
Photo by cdd20 on Unsplash

Freelance writing is more than a way to make a living. It’s a way to make a life. It’s also a route more and more people want to take.

McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey released in September 2022 found that more than a third of the American workers identified themselves as “independent,” up from just over one-fourth in 2016. What’s more, independent workers—especially those who were full-time freelance—reported higher levels of optimism compared to those with full-time employment.

I see this optimism among ASJA members, too. While we may grumble and complain that the freelance path feels too much like a roller coaster, we have chosen this route for good reasons.

Every freelance writer, and every ASJA member, has their own story of how and why they got on this path. My journey started in my mid-20s when I realized that the work I did after hours and on weekends was actually more interesting than my day job. It also paid better and gave me more flexibility for balancing personal and professional goals. I did the math and realized I could support myself on freelance work alone. I gave my two-week notice, and I’ve never looked back.

A Need for More Diverse Voices

But access to freelance writing as a career is not equal across the board—something we see in the bylines in publications, bookstores, and brands. And, frankly, we also see it in the membership of ASJA.

Writers from underrepresented groups—people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities—have at least as many reasons to choose to go the independent route. Many ASJA members have chosen freelancing in response to unreasonable demands and instability in newsrooms and other workplaces. For writers from marginalized groups, those stresses can be compounded by tokenism, implicit bias, and pressures to champion diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

We need these voices in independent journalism, content marketing, and publishing in general.

Providing Opportunities Through ASJA

Choosing the freelance route can be risky. It takes financial resources and a strong support network to power through that start-up phase and keep going through the ebb and flow of assignments.

This is where ASJA comes in. ASJA is one of the largest organizations of professional freelance writers in the country. We provide networking opportunities, resources, support, and community that help freelancers build their businesses, hone their writing skills, and meet their personal and professional goals.

For ASJA to meet its mission to be the voice and career resource for independent, entrepreneurial, professional nonfiction writers, our membership should reflect the demographics of our profession.

Laura Laing has been beating this drum since she became president. As she said in her July 2021 blog post, “While it’s difficult to pinpoint the demographics of all freelancers, we know that there are more writers of color, queer writers, economically disadvantaged writers, disabled writers, and young writers who are qualified to join ASJA but don’t.”

Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Task Force

Changing that is not just a matter of opening the doors. It’s about creating a welcoming home.

In 2021, ASJA formed a Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) Task Force to look at ways ASJA could increase opportunity and “create a welcoming community for all freelance writers of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, ages, ability, and cultural and religious beliefs.” In fact, those words in quotations come directly from our DEAI statement rolled out in Spring 2022.

That statement forms the foundation of our DEAI efforts. But it’s by far not the only action we’re taking. We are strengthening our relationships with diverse writers’ groups. Five writers of color received full scholarships and stipends to attend our spring conference. Additionally, our conference organizers have built themes of diversity and diverse presenters into our educational offerings.

We are far from finished with this work.

Continuing Towards DEAI

In fall of 2022, the ASJA Board approved the hiring of Janet Stovall of Pragmatic Diversity to guide us in this process. Ms. Stovall brings more than 30 years of experience as an independent contractor specializing in DEAI communication, facilitation, workshop development, and consulting for companies and non-profit organizations. She also serves on several non-profit boards. She works with freelance writers, and her first book, “The Conscious Communicator: The Fine Art of Not Saying Stupid Sh*t, released in Fall 2022.

As she has pointed out, “My lived experience affords me deep insight into your target audience. Indeed, I am your target audience.”

As I step into the role of President of ASJA—something that still amazes that 26-year-old who took a leap—I’m honored to continue the work that Laura has started. Our DEAI efforts will help ASJA support a stronger, more diverse community of professional freelance writers as we all navigate this freelance life.