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11th December 2014

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of people going into self-employment and freelance work in Britain. Within this trend, one of the most noteworthy developments has been the growing appeal of self-employment for women.

The figures suggest that becoming your own boss has never been more popular, particularly for female professionals.

So just how significant is the recent increase in women working for themselves, and what sparked this trend?

Women ‘central’ to self-employment growth

Between July and September 2014, the number of people going into self-employment rose by 6.6 per cent compared to the same time last year, the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows. This means 14.7 per cent of the UK workforce is now working for themselves.

Furthermore, the number of independent female professionals is up 8.6 per cent from last year, which is much higher than the growth in men making this career choice.

Celebrating the trend, the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) said women had played a central role in the recent increase in people going into solo work.

In September this year, IPSE launched a manifesto in which it outlined the changes it believes are necessary to support the UK’s expanding population of freelancers, contractors and independent operators.

One of the key measures proposed in the document is a concerted effort by the government to support the rise in women choosing self-employment.

Simon McVicker, director of policy and external affairs at the association, pointed out that four out of ten independent professionals are women, with the number of mothers working for themselves having risen by 55 per cent in the last five years.

He added: “The main political parties must re-examine how the self-employed are treated when it comes to maternity and paternity benefits. There’s absolutely no reason why hard-working self-employed mothers should receive a different amount to employees when caring for a child.”

There is no doubt that an increasing number of women have made the decision to work for themselves in recent years, but what exactly has caused this trend?

A desire for flexibility

Research published in June 2014 showed that the number of freelancing mothers had risen by 24 per cent in the past two years. Many women who had chosen this career option said they needed more flexibility in their working hours.

Announcing its findings, thinktank firm Demos said employers should be aware that parents are becoming increasingly willing to go solo if they feel unable to balance full-time work with family life.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) of female respondents to the survey said having a flexible work-life balance was very important to them, while 55 per cent of men said the same.

The results also showed that women were more likely to want control over their hours while earning potential was a more attractive aspect of freelancing for men.

Duncan O’Leary, research director at Demos, said: “For parents who want to spend time with their children, self-employment can provide the flexibility to ease back into work in a way that many workplaces do not offer.”

The constraints imposed by traditional employment were also underlined in a recent survey by the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). Half (49 per cent) of women who don’t currently have children thought their career did not provide the flexibility they would need to raise a family.

Furthermore, two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents had concerns about the impact having children could have on their career.

Career development

Going into freelance work could be an attractive option for women who want to gain experience in various sectors and give themselves a range of possibilities for career development.

Many female workers, particularly those employed in male-dominated industries, face the challenge of overcoming outdated stereotypes and narrow-mindedness if they want to reach the pinnacle of their profession.

Taking big business as an example, the proportion of women on boards of FTSE 100 companies is still less than one in four, despite the recent progress in this area. On FTSE 250 boards, the ratio of women to men is even lower, according to a report from Cranfield School of Management.

Freelancing offers the opportunity for women to be their own boss and seize every opportunity that comes their way, without worrying about institutionalised gender prejudice or inequality.

Earning potential

There remains a gender pay gap in the UK, despite recent data from the ONS showing that the disparity is at its narrowest since comparative records began in 1997.

The statistics agency said the difference between male and female earnings was 9.4 per cent in April, compared with 10 per cent a year earlier. This equates to a difference of about £100 a week.

It has also been suggested that most of the highest-paying jobs are still going to men. Male full-time employees are twice as likely to earn over £50,000 a year as their female counterparts, according to an analysis of official figures by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Even in sectors like education and law, where women are well represented, they still earn considerably less than men, the research showed.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “It feels like the glass ceiling is getting stronger, not weaker and we need a much tougher approach to stop future generations of women from suffering this pay penalty.

“Companies must be held more accountable for how they pay their staff and required to publish this information.”

One of the most appealing aspects of freelancing for both genders is the opportunity to earn more than regular staff working in a similar capacity. Your earning potential will be particularly strong if you have a specialist or in-demand skill set.

According to figures released by online freelancer marketplace People Per Hour, women are earning more for independent work than men, commanding an average hourly rate of £22.43.

Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and chief executive officer of People Per Hour, said: “The growing ‘mumpreneur’ trend has been bridging the gender pay gap in recent years. With the current boom of women taking the plunge into self-employment, it’s no surprise they are out-earning men in some professions.”

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