IPSE at What's next for Women's Enterprise Policy

Last week, the Enterprise Research Centre (ERC) and the ISBE Gender and Enterprise Network (GEN) hosted an event on What next for Women’s Enterprise Policy.

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IPSE attended the event to explore how we can help develop an enterprise ecosystem that supports women to develop successful and sustainable businesses, as well as understand how the findings of our new report on Women in Self-Employment sit within the wider debate on the topic.

The rise of women in self-employment

The event started with a discussion on gender stereotyping in the field of entrepreneurship, with the ideal entrepreneurial characteristics, as described in policy, academic and other discourse, often being ascribed to men and masculinity. According to the research presented, this subsequently creates barriers for women who wish to start their own business and be entrepreneurial.

And yet, our report shows that women continue to challenge gender stereotypes in self-employment, with a great proportion of them deciding to choose this way of work because of the greater control of hours (63%) and choice of where to work (56%), as well as better work-life balance (55%).

In fact, the rise in self-employment since 2008 has been driven by a 69 per cent increase in the number of highly skilled female freelancers, compared to a 43 per cent increase among men.

The number of freelance working mothers has also increased by 79 per cent since 2008, allowing mothers to pursue their careers and spend time with their family.

Gender shaping entrepreneurial resources and practice

The discussion also covered gendered differences in the ownership and command of resources in entrepreneurship.

For instance, evidence showed that women have access to a lower amount of start-up capital, are less likely to apply for bank loans and often avoid investment.

Our research among the self-employed supported some of these findings. We found that while a similar proportion of self-employed men and women succeeded in obtaining financial products such as rental properties, personal loans, car finance and business bank accounts, women are more likely than men to struggle when it comes to saving for later life and obtaining a mortgage.

For instance, a substantially higher proportion of men (54%) who applied for a mortgage whilst self-employed than women (46%) succeeded in obtaining one.

Similarly, self-employed women (76%) are substantially more concerned than men (63%) about saving for later life. This is perhaps associated with the fact that a higher proportion of them (37% compared to 26% for men) are currently not saving for their retirement in any way.

Women are also less likely to invest in higher risk assets, with a substantially smaller proportion of them (9%) investing in stocks and shares in comparison to men (17%).

Parental leave and pay

One of the topics continuously covered throughout the debate was parental leave and pay for the self-employed. Research suggested that the limited benefits related to maternity and childcare in self-employment, combined with patterns of income fluctuations could be detrimental to some women.

Our own research confirmed that parental leave is a serious challenge for self-employed mothers, especially when lower levels of parental pay are combined with the 43 per cent gender pay gap in self-employment.

At the moment, self-employed women are only entitled to Maternity Allowance, not Maternity Pay. Maternity Allowance only entitles self-employed women to £148.68 per week or 90 per cent of their average weekly earnings – whichever is less. Partially because of this, only a third (33%) of self-employed women  claim Maternity Allowance for the full 39 weeks it is available to them. Another third (30%) do not claim Maternity Allowance at all.

Another key reason self-employed women do not feel able to take all their maternity leave is that they fear the damage it could do to their businesses. A quarter (25%) of them also say they need more than the statutory 10 Keeping In Touch days to maintain their business.

Conclusions and recommendations

The discussion concluded with the question of how we can encourage good self-employment for women, as part of the UK’s Good Work agenda, and shape productive self-employment, in line with the government’s Industrial Strategy.

In an attempt to answer these questions and ensure that self-employment remains a positive choice for women, our report provides a set of practical recommendations for both industry and government.

We believe that the government should make training for the self-employed easier to access and increase the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) benefit and mentor support to two years in order to allow women to choose training that suits their needs and supports them in establishing their businesses.

A review of the parental rights and pay for the self-employed could also take a fresh approach to how parental policies and pay can be made more flexible to meet the needs of the UK’s five million self-employed.

The report also included a broad range of policy recommendations around training and mentoring, business support and finance, parental policies and information and data collection, which can be accessed here.

Meet the authors

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IPSE is the leading association for contractors, consultants, interims, freelancers and the self-employed. We strive to bring our members the most comprehensive and useful range of information and services and all the latest news about what affects your business.
Inna Yordanova

Senior Researcher