The latest findings on the reasons that prevent women getting into FTSE350 boardrooms are depressingly familiar and shameful. Nevertheless, the shift towards self-employment, freelancing and independent working is having an impact on gender equality in the UK. The direction of travel is positive as the gap between the number of businessmen and businesswomen is closing. This post looks at the current situation regarding female self-employed and female-led startups in the UK.

There are 5.5m SMEs operating in the UK today, with 20% led by women – that’s 1.14m in total. There were 648,000 more businesses owned by women in 2016 than in 2000 – a 72% increase in 16 years. During the same period, male self-employment also increased from 2.357m businesses in 2000 to 3.221m businesses in 2016.


Regionally, London and the South East are the leading hubs of female start-ups, with businesswomen generating an extra 18,000 jobs in the Capital in 2015. That’s an increased economic contribution of £790m from female-led start-ups in London alone.


Globally, the percentage of female business owners compared to total business ownership varies from country to country. Women business ownership does not always correlate to the wealth and level of development of an economy. In the UK, 25.8% of total business owners are women. This compares with over 30% in countries such as Uganda, New Zealand, and Russia. For further statistics, check out this MoneyPod article, including the percentage of FTSE 100 female directorships.

Going solo

Anecdotally, I meet more and more women seeking self-employment or wanting to run their own businesses in the field of careers advice and coaching. For example, in the last five years, I’ve run workshops for the Career Development Institute (and its predecessor, the Institute of Career Guidance) for over a 100 people seeking to go solo. The vast majority are women.

Why do they want to go solo? Because the world of work is changing. For some, redundancy from the public sector is the driver. Some are seeking more control, autonomy, and flexibility over how they live their lives. Others simply want more meaningful existences, alternative and multiple streams of income. Many do not know how to make the entrepreneurial leap, hence the workshop.

To be clear, this is not about female traits or characteristics. It’s about labour market forces, empowerment, and increasing self-confidence. “Businesswomen”? No, self-employed, business owners, and entrepreneurs who happen to be women.

Thanks go to our friend Georgia Davies of MoneyPod for the statistics and infographics in this post.