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8th of March marks the celebration of International Women’s Day. In the beginning, this date was about female workers’ rights; after many revolutions and marches transpired over time, the day became internationally recognised as a focal point in the movement for women’s rights and equality.

International Women’s Day remains an important date that celebrates women’s achievements so, as we provide accounting for contractors at Gorilla Accounting, we believe it’s important to commemorate female contractors in the UK.

Women in the Self-Employment Sector

There are over 4.9 million self-employed individuals in the UK, which corresponds to, approximately, 15% of the workforce – in 2019, 3.31 million of these were men while 1.66 million were women. The flexibility of freelancing draws in thousands of women every year who are facing lifestyle changes (such as motherhood or retirement) or seeking to become their own boss.

However, there are still more men than women working as contractors or freelancers, with men accounting for 78% of full-time self-employed individuals, while women only account for 22%. Young people are also flocking to self-employment in order to have a better work-life balance – in the 22 to 30-year old demographic, men are twice as likely as women to work for themselves (12% when compared to 6%).

Women are also more likely to work in administrative and secretarial positions, as well as social care work, customer service jobs, health, education and other service occupations, while men tend to work more in skilled trades like machine operative jobs and technical occupations.

Women in Male-Dominated Fields

This refers to any sector or industry where there’s a higher-than-average number of men in regard to women, such as construction, manufacturing and IT. For instance, when it comes to the construction industry in general, only 14% of construction workers are women and only 2% work on sites. In addition, only 5% of engineers are women and only 3% of women work in manual trades.

Is it possible to raise the number of women working in male-dominated fields and ensure a more equal gender distribution?

Developing an early interest in fields that are typically associated with men, such as STEM disciplines and construction, can help women to see them as an option when they consider becoming their own boss. This means making more women aware of the many opportunities they can have in these sectors; while manufacturing, for example, may seem like a daunting industry to work in, the truth is that it’s a multi-disciplinary sector with a great variety of roles.

Due to this, there is something for every personality type, so it’s important to urge schools to promote careers in construction, IT or other fields considered typically male. This will also help to fight stereotypes and misconceptions – many girls and young women believe they’re not capable of working certain jobs so, by encouraging them early on, their perceptions of these industries, as well as on their own abilities, will change.

Reasons to Choose Self-Employment

There are many reasons for women to choose to leave permanent employment and opt to become a contractor or freelancer instead.

On a global scale, women are, approximately, 20% more likely to consider self-employment due to necessity instead of opportunity. This necessity can be anything from having just become a mother to unmissable family commitments.

Of course, many other women are motivated to become their own boss. The glass ceiling is a common way to describe the fact that, in a great number of organisations, there is a high number of women at the bottom but few at the top, meaning there aren’t as many women in managerial positions. According to a paper by the House of Commons, 19% of SMEs in the UK were led by women in 2017 and, in 2018, 29% of directors of FTSE100 companies were women.

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So, women opt for self-employment to make their own rules and set their own hours, rates and annual leave, which allows them to have a better work-life balance. After all, you don’t have to deal with many of the gender-specific challenges faced by women in the workplace.

This also means women don’t have to compromise between having a career or beginning a family. For anyone who wants kids but doesn’t want to have to put their job first when their children fall ill, for instance, becoming a contractor or freelancer is a great way to have it all.

The gender pay gap is also an issue that’s been discussed at length for a long time.

The ONS defines the gender pay gap as the ‘difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men’s earnings’. This means that the gender pay gap doesn’t refer to different wages between men and women for the same job.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that, when measuring how much men and women get paid, the number of hours worked, as well as the type of occupation, have to be taken into consideration. This is because women are more likely to work part-time than men and to work in lower-paid occupations.

When you’re self-employed, however, you don’t have to worry about this, seeing as you can set your own rates according to industry standards and your level of experience. Therefore, female contractors and freelancers are free to choose their wages – if you feel like you’re not paid enough, you can simply review your hourly or daily rates and adjust accordingly by giving yourself a pay rise.

Another factor that motivates women to become self-employed is that they can be more creative and innovative when working for themselves. Traditional or corporate set-ups can hinder productivity and creativity in many people, because not everyone thrives in these types of businesses, so being able to create your own company culture or work from anywhere you want can provide the productivity boost you’re looking for in your career.

It’s easier to feel judged when you’re permanently employed, since you have so many people around you (and have a boss to answer to). Being a sole trader or the director of your limited company means you can make all the decisions without worrying about what others may think of you.

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What is Stopping More Women from Becoming Self-Employed?

Just like there are several reasons for women to choose the freelancing or contracting life, there are also a few challenges that make many hesitate. According to 2019 research from HM Treasurey, women are 55% more likely to be afraid of going it alone; in addition to this, only 39% of women said they were confident in their abilities to start a business (when compared to 55% of men), which is a perceived gap in ability, not an actual lack of skills.

Other fears include worrying about lack of income. While contracting and freelancing offers more freedom and flexibility, it can also offer some uncertainty. You may not have a set number of clients every month, for example, which means your wages may not be consistent. Managing time off while working for yourself can be a challenge but no one can go without a break or a holiday for long.

Working on several clients at the same time can help you to gain this sense of confidence and to shed the fear of poor income. Take a look at our “How to Manage Several Clients at Once” for tips on working on multiple projects.

Another common fear is the fear of failure. This isn’t limited to female entrepreneurs, as most self-employed individuals wrestle with the idea of failing at something they really want to achieve. There are many reasons why businesses fail so it’s only natural to worry about it; it pays to be prepared, however, so do your research ahead of time, fight that self-doubt every step of the way, continuously update your skills and don’t give up.

Taking the leap can be an intimidating prospect, but external factors can also hold women back. For example, the lack of start-up capital. Not having the necessary money to start a business can make individuals hesitate and, in some cases, put their plans on hold indefinitely. This is a valid concern, as initial investment can make or break a business.

Once you choose to become self-employed, you may stress about other obstacles, such as deciding which product or service to offer your clients; market research is a key step to figuring out potential opportunities and demands, as well as to see what your competitors are doing.

Other challenges include lack of personal income. When you’re a full-time employee, you’re used to receiving a salary every month; on the other hand, when starting a business, you will likely not draw the salary you ultimately want – or a consistent one – while you’re still getting established.

Finding customers is another source of worry for contractors and freelancers, and it’s easy to see why. You need to learn how to sell your skillset, constantly look for new clients and update your CV regularly – while still working on your current client’s projects without compromising on quality. This doesn’t just mean working hard, it also means working long hours, which can impact the work-life balance that you’re looking for.

More Women in Business

While, in 2019, only 1 in 3 entrepreneurs was female, an increasingly higher number of women are opting for self-employment. Just in the last quarter, 16,000 more women than men have become contractors or freelancers and, in the last decade, the number of women in self-employment grew by 57% (while the number of men only increased by 25%) – in fact, since 2000, around 762,000 more women became self-employed.

This showcases that more and more women are interested in becoming their own boss. They are also choosing to work in a wide range of industries and specialist sectors, including those considered to be male-dominated. 25% more women are now working in technology-related markets, for instance, and account for 16.5% of the IT industry.

The self-employment sector is estimated to contribute around £300 billion to the UK economy, and the rising number in self-employed women is adding to that.

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At Gorilla Accounting, we believe it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise awareness of the difficulties and prejudices that many women still face every day – whether in business or in other aspects of their life. Self-employment allows women to make their own rules and set their own prices, which can offer them a great deal of control, flexibility and satisfaction over their career.

As contractor accountants, we offer a comprehensive range of services designed to help contractors and freelancers to get off the ground, so don’t hesitate to get in touch on 0330 041 6093 or send us a general enquiry. As our client, we will always get back to you on the same day if you contact us before 3pm, so we’re always at your disposal.

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