The Coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected women in work, with research showing that it has dramatically impacted the gender pay gap. Despite this worrying trend, which is said to have set gender equality back a decade, more women are thinking about going freelance.
Recent data published by the Office for National Statistics revealed that women consistently spend more time doing household work and carrying out childcare responsibilities.
At the start of the lockdown, men did an average of 2 hours 25 minutes of household work and childcare whereas women did 3 hours 32 minutes each day. By September, the number of hours men contributed fell to just 1 hour 57 minutes compared to women, whose average remained similar at 3 hours and 17 minutes.
More than two thirds (67 per cent) of women reported they were homeschooling their children in late January 2021 (compared to 53 per cent of men), with 53 per cent saying it was taking a toll on their wellbeing.
On top of this, many female freelancers have struggled financially because of an increasing gender pay gap during the pandemic.
According to research by the trade body, IPSE, there is a greater gender pay gap (the difference in pay between men and women for an equivalent role) among the self-employed compared to employees – 43 per cent to 17 per cent. Overall, on average, women charge £65 less than their male counterparts.
Women have also been hit with more late payments than men, adding to their financial worries. Almost half (49 per cent) said they experienced late payment pre-pandemic compared to 40 per cent of men. During the pandemic, this figure dropped to 23 per cent for men but remained high at 40 per cent for self-employed women.
As a result, not only has this left, on average, female freelancers financially worse off than men, but has had a severe impact on their wellbeing. More than a fifth (22 per cent) reported not having enough money to cover basic living costs (compared 11 per cent of men) and nearly a quarter (23 per cent) have no money to cover work-related expenses.
The survey also found that almost two-fifths (39 per cent) of self-employed women were losing sleep because they were worried about their finances.
Chloé Jepps, head of research at IPSE said: “The pandemic has exacerbated the financial divide between male and female freelancers. A big driver of this is the fact that significantly more women than men are affected by late payment – and the impact of this is also worse on female freelancers’ mental health, driving them to stress, sleep loss and lack of confidence.
“These are broad trends across the female freelancer community: there are also many self-employed mothers with added worries. Too many freelance mums still receive less government support just because of when they took maternity leave.
“Overall, it is clear that although more women have clung on in self-employment, of those freelancers who remain, the financial strain of the pandemic is hitting women harder, both practically and in terms of mental health.”
“This is an area that both government and industry should look at – to ensure all self-employed people regardless of gender can enjoy the freedom of freelancing and play their vital part in economic recovery.”
Despite these concerning figures, according to the Future Strategy Club, freelancing remains a fast-growing industry for women, with 58 per cent now considering it.
Avalyn Kasahara, Membership Director at the creative and consultancy service members club, said: “This year has been particularly tough for women, with many suffering from the gendered economic impact of COVID-19.
“Nevertheless, more women are looking towards starting their own business or beginning freelance work. Freelancing empowers women to gain control of their careers by becoming their own boss.”