Is the gender pay gap encouraging mums to go freelance?
If you’re a woman, you’ll earn less than a man. Those were the Prime Minister’s stark words in her first statement from Downing Street in July, reflecting a social injustice thrown again into the limelight this week by Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) research. It showed that although the gender pay gap has somewhat narrowed, the difference in hourly wages between male and female employees remains at 18% - an enormous amount over the course of a lifetime.
The widening of the pay gap appears to be linked to childbirth; a new mother returning to work may return only in a part-time capacity, or in some cases find their hours reduced or job role changed. But increasing numbers of women are taking matters into their own hands: shunning employment entirely and becoming their own boss.
The number of new mothers going freelance rocketed 70% between 2008 and 2015 to a record 287,000. Their reasoning is clear; by working for yourself, you have the ability to earn significantly more than your counterparts in employment. There’s no limit to what you can achieve when you run your own business. On top of that, working for yourself means you can fit work around other commitments like childcare, ultimately offering a better work-life balance for parents.
Charlotte Wibberley is a business consultant and 2015 IPSE Freelancer of the Year finalist. “Running my own business gives me the freedom and space to follow my career passions without compromising on being a mum to my two children,” she says.
“Had I stayed in the corporate world, I would have faced difficult situations when my kids were off sick, or had special events on. On top of this the rigid hours and commuting time would mean less mummy time with my kids and wouldn’t have made me happy. As a freelancer, I can juggle my workload and clients around my personal life to ensure that I’m clear and present in both areas.”
Hayley Williams, founder of Cambridge-based Keystone Marketing, agrees. “If it’s my daughter’s sports day, if it’s my son’s nativity play, I can go. I don’t know whether I’d have gone freelance without having a child. Being a mother is what started me out, but it’s not what defines my path now.”
Flexibility isn’t the only benefit for Hayley, however. “I’d definitely say I earn more as a freelancer,” she says. “You’re pitching yourself as an expert – you need to be able to prove it but in my experience organisations are prepared to pay more for your specialist knowledge. I think clients ultimately feel they’re getting a better service too – when I’m paid to come in and do a day’s work, I’ll do a day’s work. There’s no chatting by the coffee machine, no standing around.
“Going freelance has motivated me to work harder than ever too; my brain’s often full to bursting but as a freelancer you feel you have to prove yourself, and clients do recognise that.”
Hayley also has a few words of advice for budding freelance mums. “It’s about risk versus reward,” she says. “I built up gradually – from two days a week to three to evenings and weekends – and if you love what you do you really will reap the rewards.”