Self-employed women lost almost double the income of male counterparts during pandemic

Emma Maslin

Self-employed women surveyed lost almost double the income of their male counterparts during the course of the pandemic, but remain more optimistic about the future of their business.

Research of over 2,000 sole-traders, freelancers and micro-business owners showed that women lost 20% of their income, compared to men who only lost 11%. The news comes after academics said that the female self-employed have been ‘overlooked’ by government support schemes, with female take-up of the SEISS grant lower than male take-up.

Overall, those who said the pandemic has changed their overall income, lost an estimated 15%. The primary factor for the drop in income was not because of the closure of physical premises, of which only 14% of respondents attributed the primary reason, but because demand for products and services dropped.

As a result of the drop in income, women have also suffered a greater mental toll than men. Over half of women surveyed say that their mental wellbeing has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, compared to 38% of men. The primary reason for this is due to concerns about providing for themselves and their families. Lack of human interaction with colleagues, friends and family and concern over the future of the business were the other primary factors. Only one in ten said that their drop in mental wellbeing had nothing to do with work.

Despite a difficult period, now that restrictions are lifting and the road to recovery is clearing, ‘optimism’ is the prevailing state of mind for the self-employed currently. With female respondents (30%) slightly more optimistic than their male counterparts, despite being more heavily impacted. Additionally, enthusiasm for being self-employed and running micro-businesses has not dimmed, with half of respondents agreeing that they love doing what they do so much that they don’t see it as work at all.

The research also showed that the most significant motivations for becoming self-employed were: greater control over schedule; the satisfaction of building something themselves and following their passion. Does being your own boss appeal to you?

Cameron Shearer, co-founder and CEO of Superscript, who commissioned the research, said: “There’s rightly been a lot of focus on mental health in the workplace during the pandemic. So we wanted to explore the human impact on the self-employed and micro-businesses, who make up 95% of registered businesses in the UK, and don’t have access to resources like HR departments for support.

“It’s been a tough time for the self-employed as they have tried to keep their business, which they have worked so hard to build, above water despite demand for products and services dropping off a cliff. Self-employed women have been disproportionately impacted, which illustrates that society still has a way to go to encourage female entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, now that the fog is clearing, it is inspiring to see the resilience and adaptability that the self-employed have shown, and they will benefit from that in the long-run. We are seeing more demand for business insurance as confidence and optimism returns and more people look to set up on their own. There will be a lot of opportunities in the next 12 months for small businesses to grow and thrive, and I expect this to be a very fruitful period as the economy returns even stronger than before.

Emma Maslin, money mentor, Founder of The Money Whisperer, (pictured) said: “Like a lot of other self-employed women who took on a disproportionate amount of the homeschooling responsibilities during lockdown, keeping a service-based business running wasn’t easy. It was a challenging time, but those of us who choose self-employment thrive on challenge. I never want to go back to paid employment again so I kept my initial motivation for working for myself – freedom – at the front of my mind, and pivoted my business. Now it is more successful than ever.

“The self-employed have shown great resilience over the past year, often with little or no financial support from the Government. Small business is the lifeblood of the UK economy and for a strong recovery, we need to see entrepreneurship supported from all angles going forward. Certainly, the availability of flexible business service offerings, including insurance, is critical to enable small businesses to recover, grow and then thrive.”