Each year the press remind us of how women are ruling the classroom and slowly but surely closing the gap in the boardroom, but do women come out on top when they go it alone?
I’m smart enough to know better than to approach an article like this armed only with opinions; so I thought I’d let the measurable trends speak for themselves here.
Recent ONS figures revealed that women now account for at least 38% of the freelancing community with a 1/3 of that number (13% of the total), being mothers. This is an estimated 25% increase since 2008, which shows that freelancing is quickly becoming a profession where the sexes really are equal.
There are plenty of stereotypes thrown around that suggest women may make better freelancers. I’ll leave you to judge their validity;
- Women are better disciplined, so less likely to struggle with the unregimented and autonomous work dynamic of freelancing
- Women are predisposed to multitasking, and can therefore juggle the multiple contracts and work streams necessitated by freelancing
- The fairer sex are more accustomed to sleep deprivation, so can accommodate the often long and ungainly hours of self-employment
- Women are more personable and consequently better suited to marketing and the importance of relationship building in freelancing
I’m not sure how much stead we can put in stereotypes as an argument for the success of female freelancers. Instead, we can consider why women are turning to freelancing in the first place.
It’s long been suggested that the traditional office is a more hospitable environment for men, an assumption which a recent poll reinforced, – the results showed that 80% of Britons believe that it has become more difficult for women to progress in large corporations.
A recent Real Business article, ‘The boys’ club concept lives on’, suggested that the corporate world is still polarised by gender attitudes with men under 30 looking favourably on male employees, believing that women spend too much time flirting and arguing.
This may explain why freelancers between 25 and 34 are mostly female; either there’s not enough worth flirting with in the office, or they feel the office environment is too regressive to be worth the effort.
One very real obstacle in office employment (and a strong incentive for women to move into freelancing), is the issue of maternity leave, not to mention the potential difficulties of balancing the ensuing childcare with a career. As a freelancing mum the flexibility offers them the ability to juggle childcare with work, translating into hefty savings (nursery costs alone account for £11,000 on average a year).
The Government’s recent changes to Child Benefit, which capped parents claiming at £60,000 annual earnings, has made freelancing even more appealing to mothers, as they are able to maintain their income at a certain level and retain some or all of their Child Benefit.
It’s undeniable that the rise of the female freelancer is due to it’s increasing attractiveness to working mothers – which is likely to further increase when the Government rolls out their planned childcare vouchers for working parents in 2015.
So, to the question at hand – do women make better freelancers? Well, it’s not being reflected in their income (not yet, anyway). Male freelancers still take home more money every month across the board, although the female haul is estimated, according to Forbes, to be rising 10% faster than their counterparts.
What we can say with certainty is that freelancing is becoming an extremely attractive, and increasingly lucrative market for women – especially those that are struggling to smash the corporate glass ceiling, or with children to look after. As to whether women are actually ‘better’…well, we can hash that one out in the comments.