The number of women joining self-employment is on the rise. We look at the latest figures to see which industries they are gravitating to and why. Plus, we look at how artificial intelligence could help fast-track more women into self-employment
The number of self-employed women in the UK has been steadily increasing in recent years. In the second quarter of 2023, there were approximately 1.55 million self-employed women in the United Kingdom. That’s compared to 2.76 million self-employed men, according to Statista.
The industries in which women are most likely to be self-employed vary depending on the region of the UK. However, some of the industries where women dominate as solo self-employed include:
- Health and social care: This industry includes occupations such as nurses, midwives, social workers, and care workers. In 2023, women accounted for 82% of all self-employed workers in this industry.
- Education: This industry includes occupations such as teachers, lecturers, and tutors. In 2023, women accounted for 63% of all self-employed workers in this industry.
- Personal services: This industry includes occupations such as hairdressers, beauticians, and fitness instructors. In 2023, women accounted for 58% of all self-employed workers in this industry.
- Administrative and support services: This industry includes occupations such as secretaries, administrative assistants, and bookkeepers. In 2023, women accounted for 56% of all self-employed workers in this industry.
- Creative and media industries: This industry includes occupations such as artists, designers, and writers. In 2023, women accounted for 55% of all self-employed workers in this industry.
These industries are all characterised by high levels of flexibility and autonomy, which may be appealing to women who are looking for a career that allows them to balance work and family commitments. However, self-employed women are also dominating in other industries, according to other research findings.
Female farmers are on the rise
Agriculture has the third highest rate of self-employed women in the UK, out of the top 10 industries, according to reports. Out of the total 19,500 women who work as farmers, 17,600 (or 90.3%) are self-employed, according to research conducted by money.co.uk.
Building finishing trades, that include metal plate workers, smiths, moulders and related occupations; upholsterers; painters and decorators rank in first place, and bed and breakfast/guest house owners and proprietors second.
However, there is one industry in which women are finding their true calling. The number of self-employed women as conservation and environment professionals has seen a 420% increase. Money.co.uk research revealed that this sector had the most “dramatic growth” compared to any other sector – rising from 500 self-employed women in 2021 to 2,600 in 2022.
In terms of the regions of the UK, the ONS says the South East has the highest number of female self-employed workers, followed by the North West, the West Midlands and the South West. However, Money.co.uk says of those women in work, the highest percentage of women who are self-employed is in the South West (see chart above).
AI: How it could propel female self-employment and startups
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to fast-track women into self-employment in a number of ways, according to preliminary research carried out by the FI. This could especially be the case for freelancers turned founders in markets in the Asia Pacific region where only 5.7% of startups have women founders — a percentage that has remained stagnant over the last five years, according to a Google report.
To help level the playing field for women startup founders — who will go on to build more equitable AI products for the world — Google for Startups is launching a fund for women-founded AI startups in Asia Pacific.
What is the Google for Startups Women Founders Fund?
The Google for Startups Women Founders Fund will provide an equity-free cash award of $100,000 each to six startups from India, Japan and Korea. These are countries where Google has seen a growing number of women-founded AI businesses through its programmes in Google for Startups Campuses in Japan and Korea, and through Startup School in India — which according to Google mentored over 14,000 aspiring entrepreneurs in 2022 alone.
Here are a few areas where AI could help fast-track female self-employment and startups:
- Providing access to capital: AI can be used to develop new financial products and services that make it easier for women to access capital, such as loans and investment funds. This can help women to start their own businesses or grow existing businesses.
- Matching women with mentors: AI can be used to match women with mentors who can provide guidance and support as they start or grow their businesses. This can be especially helpful for women who are new to self-employment or who face unique challenges. The Coralus (formerly SheEO) accelerator programme uses AI to identify and support high-potential female entrepreneurs. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator (WEA) uses AI to provide women entrepreneurs with access to capital, training, and mentorship.
- Providing training and education: AI can be used to develop training and educational programmes that teach women the skills they need to succeed in self-employment. This can include training in business planning, marketing, and financial management.
- Promoting entrepreneurship: AI can be used to promote entrepreneurship among women by raising awareness of the opportunities that self-employment offers. This can be done through social media campaigns, educational programmes, and other initiatives.
- Female-focused issues solved through female-developed AI: As more female entrepreneurs look to launch products solving female-related concerns (health, workplace, family, career, etc.) they can access AI to fast-track their growth through research and marketing campaigns.
As AI continues to develop, it is likely that we will see even more innovative ways to use this technology to accelerate all freelancers’ entrepreneurial goals. We welcome insights from freelancers on where they see the potential for AI in their specialist area or sector. Please feel free to share your ideas in our comments section.