Freelancing is a female issue

by Jul 7, 2015

A study last year by the independent research firm, Edelman Berland, reported that in the U.S. 53% of all full-time freelancers out of a total of 53 million, were women. The  U.K. 2012 Freelance Industry Report, estimates that more than 71% of freelancers are women between the ages of 30-50. In 2013, there were 1.7 million freelancers in Britain.



These studies and others, illustrate that an increasing number of women, more than men, are opting for self employment.The growth of the part-time or collaborative economy, estimated by this report from Deloitte to be worth £46 billion, is also attracting women, especially those tapping into technology as part of their business model.

Freelancing is definitely a gender or female issue.

So what makes women want to move out of corporate life and into the relatively precarious role of freelancing, independent or self-employment?

For many the answers are:

  • disillusionment with corporate culture
  • lack of flexibility
  • work/life balance
  • lack of promotion prospects and pay gap
  • lack of affordable childcare
  • long commutes

[Tweet “Many women suggest that the traditional corporate work structure doesn’t work well for them”], with 40+ hour weeks, and the gender gap in income and opportunities, only fuelling a sense of disillusionment.

Freelancing can offer an escape from that grinding corporate hamster wheel.

You might be a Sarah Blakely wannabe, setting up an enterprise around an idea such as Spanx, as a fully fledged entrepreneur. Or selling a small product range on Etsy. You could be a self-employed contractor or consultant, marketing your own skills as an outsourced resource, an Uber driver or AirBnB host. The route doesn’t matter. I’s important to plan appropriately.


[Tweet “With the boom in the freelancing economy, we are seeing an explosion of “micropreneurs,” “] where there are clearly downsides.

Being self-employed is not always easy. Any independent worker will tell you about the stress of economic uncertainty and constantly chasing down contracts and engagements. Time off for any reason at all, is unpaid.

I will repeat that:  u-n-p-a-i-d.

Health insurance and pension plans have to be privately arranged. It is difficult to manage the peaks and troughs of a revenue stream, knowing when to walk away from a potentially unprofitable deal and how to pitch prices at the right level. Many of the figures are misleading. The average freelancing earnings in the U.K. is estimated  at £43000 for a 38 hour week, but what we don’t know, is net income after costs, or how many of these 38 hour weeks were worked.

The cost of flexibility

Very often, although the hours are flexible, many end up working longer hours, for less, than they did in a corporate environment, and with reduced long-term security. So what might seem like a decent hourly fee on paper at the beginning, can be deceiving, when all considerations and costs are factored in. Many women become what the Guardian referred to as “busy fools”,  with no understanding of their real variable costs and overheads, or how to price themselves.

There is also much anecdotal evidence of rates being driven downwards. [Tweet “Women also report that when they do negotiate market rates, they experience gender blow back.”] This is not even going into those forced into freelancing by zero hours contracts. [Tweet “Flexibility can come at a price, which many women don’t consider, or even understand.”]

You are the business

So if you leave corporate life to become a freelancer make no mistake, you are opening up a business.

You have just made yourself a business. You are the CEO of YOU!

3Plus Coach,Wendy Kerr author of Corporate Crossovers shares:

“68 % of women who start their own business earn less than they did in corporate life “

Many women get a rude awakening after the first 6 months. Wendy adds “58% of business owners have no business plan.” 

Lifestyle business

Women who might have been working to monetize a skill or a hobby within a couple, or who opt out of corporate life for family reasons, find themselves economically vulnerable with divorce and in later life.The issue of long term pension poverty for women, is gaining international traction and considered to be a crisis waiting to happen.

Samantha Graham started a home catering “activity” to capitalise on her excellent skills as a cordon bleu cook, fifteen years ago to fit in with her family’s schedule. Following her recent divorce, she became responsible for all outgoings, including electricity and petrol, and realised that she had many costs which had been hidden by her larger household bills.  These had not been not allocated in her pricing. Factoring in her time precisely, she realized that her hourly rate, was the same as her babysitter’s. Worried she didn’t have a scalable business which she could live on long term, she has returned to full time employment.

So if you have left corporate life, or are considering it, it’s important to understand all the factors involved.

Don’t be one of those women who ends up working flexibly, but with longer hours and lower rates.

This post originally appeared in LinkedIn Pulse


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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