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Why more mothers than ever are choosing to freelance


July 20, 2018

I meet so many mothers who feel they are having to make unreasonable compromises when it comes to work and having a family.

Through our programme of development Game Changers I’ve met over 100 in the last 18 months alone who are looking for some sort of change. Many are frustrated with their employer but feel stuck, no longer motivated by the roles they have ended up in after maternity leave, are craving a more balanced lifestyle where they don’t have to make that decision about whether to do work they enjoy and feel has longevity OR be able to go to the odd sports day and not be working all hours to justify their existence.

Anyone who has struggled with returning to work after maternity leave or who has felt the frustrations of a lack of flexibility (still too often seen as a ‘perk’ purely for parents) from an employer will no doubt be unsurprised that mothers represent the fastest demographic of people going self employed (source: IPSE).

Self-employment can so often provide the flexibility, the autonomy, the opportunity to be in charge of your own career.

I’m conscious of painting too bleak a picture or suggesting that leaving the traditional workplace is the only way forward, which is very much not the case. In fact, I think we absolutely need to be wary of this trend because we need talented women leading big businesses in the UK which won’t happen if the pipeline isn’t available. Not to mention that some employers are doing really innovative and brilliant things on this front.

But for those who have always had that gut feeling that they want to go it alone one day, or who are fed up with the other options, becoming a parent can prove to be the perfect time to take the plunge.

I say perfect, I mean when you are surviving on two hours sleep, can’t remember where you left the car keys and wondering if you can even hold down a job anymore that isn’t always ideal. But perfect in that I think having children brings these huge questions of “what the hell am I doing all this for?” which can often be the tipping point for moving into something new.

Perfect in that we gain SO MANY new skills from parenthood that can be invaluable for going it alone – like creativity, resilience, negotiation skills to name but a few.

Perfect, in that often a period out of work through maternity leave can bring this space to reassess, to re-think a career path, long nights awake feeding tend to give voice to those ideas whirling around your head.  

Or perhaps it’s just that it is so flaming hard to find decent childcare or employment that does tick all the boxes that suddenly making enough to pay the mortgage by selling your own services feels like a walk in the park. Something like that anyway.

In all seriousness though, I sense there is something else happening here. The mothers I work with are often talented, ambitious, capable women who are determined to find a new way that works for their families. They are asking questions and expecting more, they are willing to walk away from employers who aren’t valuing their contribution, they are wanting more from life than just work, especially work that they don’t love.

That’s why I called the programme of development I run Game Changers, because honestly I think the women making these career shifts are doing just that.

And it is of course not just mothers, if we are to shift the landscape and achieve true gender equality we have to address the constraints placed on fathers in the workplace too. With shared parental leave take up so low (around 2% on the last count) and almost a third of Fathers still lacking access to flexible working arrangements you can see why things need to change for families full stop.  

There are some positives, like the new organisations and communities now becoming available to support these needs. I’ve heard plenty of freelancing parents mention Hoxby as a place to get involved in some brilliant projects alongside amazing people. It can feel pretty daunting having to go out there and hustle for work, the lack of security from having a regular salary is a big thing as a parent. And considering one of the downsides of freelancing CAN be that you miss out on that whole team scenario, this type of community feels like the future.

There are also more online (therefore flexible and widely available) courses on a range of topics like digital marketing to up your skills for self-employment and the whole portfolio career is becoming a far more trusted and accepted career choice.

I have to be honest and say that self-employment isn’t always the easy option and it’s definitely not for everyone. In fact it is 100% the hardest job I have EVER done.

But for me, and I know lots of other mothers, the benefits far outweigh the risks and the downsides. Ultimately it gives me the opportunity to design a way of working around the way we want to live as a family, which is truly invaluable.

This is a guest post from one of Hoxby’s #Workstyle Partners.

Guilty Mothers Club is an online development hub and membership platform for working mums. We provide a toolkit and sisterhood with the aim of supporting women to achieve the career they deserve alongside being the parent they want to be.

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