'I needed more in my life': Pandemic spurs women to choose flexibility, freedom over traditional office jobs
- Women are choosing freelance work over office jobs.
- The number of freelancers is expected to keep rising as workers seek more flexible opportunities.
Through the pandemic, women found themselves working and schooling their kids at home and caring for sick or aging relatives — according to the US Chamber of Commerce, more than 1 million women have left the workforce since 2020.
But for some women, leaving the workforce was not because of childcare, unemployment, or retirement, but instead, because they've chosen to become their own bosses.
Women have, in growing numbers, used changes the pandemic has caused to launch their own careers or businesses as freelancers or consultants — trying to find flexible and meaningful work on their own terms.
"There's definitely been a shift," Emily A. Hay, an entrepreneur who founded Hay There Social Media, a social-media-marketing firm, told Insider. "My LinkedIn feed is full of women doing this, wanting to do this, or thinking about doing this."
Since 2010, Hay's business has employed an all-female freelance team while training women to start their own freelance social-media businesses.
The Mom Project, a digital-talent marketplace, has been helping women and companies connect on these flexible job opportunities, including freelance and contingent work, since 2016.
"We have about a million women on our platform," Pam Cohen, the chief research-and-analytics officer at Werklabs, the independent-research unit of The Mom Project, said. "And that number has risen steadily. They are all looking for flexible work, with many of them looking for contingent or freelance work."
The number of freelancers and contractors is increasing
According to Upwork, a freelance marketplace, the percentage of full-time freelancers increased from 28% in 2019 to 36% in 2020. In 2021, that number remained nearly the same, though the number of freelancers is continuing to grow; Upwork expects freelancers to make up nearly half the US workforce by 2027.
For women like Kimberly Hermann of upstate New York, freelancing opened the door to flexible, lucrative work and control of her life, schedule, and career.
"I needed more in my life," Hermann, who runs her own business called Raising Social, told Insider. "My kids weren't babies anymore and I didn't want to go back to what I did before kids, which was being a dental assistant."
Hermann wasn't looking for a full-time, in-person job. She wanted to challenge herself professionally, make money, and learn new skills. But she said the job needed to fit around her life.
A friend told Hermann about Hay There Social Media's training program and she jumped in. Since then, her business has been growing and she told Insider she loves working when she wants and for whom she wants.
"It's so flexible," Hermann said. "I can work in the in-between hours of raising my kids and I can set my own hours. But then I have the freedom to go to my kids' activities."
Flexibility and freedom in the workplace
Cohen said women are opting for freelance opportunities because this kind of job offers them flexible work during life circumstances such as raising young children or caring for elderly relatives. Others have the freedom to pursue freelance work because they have a partner or spouse who has a job that includes benefits like healthcare.
"For a lot of women, it's about finding work that fits into your life," Cohen said.
As companies that previously embraced remote work, like General Motors and Snapchat, are now mandating that employees return to the office, freelancing and contract work could be even more appealing for women seeking flexibility and a nontraditional career path.
Cohen said these challenges and changes will likely continue to fuel the shift toward contract or freelance work for women. "More people are finding satisfaction in project-based work," she said.
"People, women especially, want that independence and flexibility."
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