Women in Work: Umbrella working is for everyone

While employers across all industries and sectors are trying to make the workplace more positive and flexible to support women in work, there still remains a huge discrepancy between the number of men and women employed.

But as the way we work is changing in terms of hybrid working, portfolio careers and the rise of the side hustle, there exists more opportunities than ever for women to get back to work in a way that is valuable, meaningful, and profitable.

Traditionally a man’s world, more and more women are recognising the benefits of contracting. In this article, we discuss why contracting is an attractive prospect for any women who might be rethinking their career, and how to avoid the pitfalls.

The discrepancy between rates of employment in men and women persists despite an ongoing push by governments, employers, and wider society to level the playing field. And with 78.1% of men and only 72.1% of women currently employed, there is clearly still progress to be made.

Things were starting to improve pre-pandemic, but higher rates of furlough and redundancies among women (not to mention juggling the lion’s share of added childcare, home schooling and other responsibilities that were presented to parents), has further increased the number of women not in work. Women have also been at the forefront of the growing number of people leaving the labour force entirely (due to toxic work environments, the pressure of outside responsibilities, or in search of a better work/life balance).

And as Julia Kermode, contracting champion and founder of IWORK pointed out, the disparity between men and women is even more stark in the contracting world. But why?

On a surface level, contracting seems to be the answer to many women’s prayers. Offering freedom and flexibility over your time and better control over career progression, generally higher levels of pay and a huge variety of roles and contracts to choose from. Combine all this with the bonus of being your own boss, and you’d think women would be flocking to become contractors in their droves.

Sadly, it’s not quite that simple.

While the flexibility is attractive, contracting can be uncertain for women. Women, arguably even more than men, often need the assurance of permanent employment benefits due to having children or other financial responsibilities.

As a contractor there is none of the usual protection women would get as an employee. This means no holiday pay, no sick pay, and no maternity benefits. It can also be quite lonely and overwhelming as a contractor when the responsibility for everything, from managing your own expenses to liaising with HMRC, falls on you.

Bridging the (gender) gap…

Working with an umbrella company can be the perfect bridge between self employment and permanent work for women who are considering their career options.

What does working with an umbrella company mean?

Put simply, an umbrella company provides a link between the end hirer and the contractor, by becoming the contractor’s employer. End hirers and agencies need a consistent supply of labour to meet their project objectives, but they often don’t have the internal capacity to manage the responsibilities of being an employer to a changing workforce.

That’s why many end hirers and recruitment agencies work with contractors under an umbrella company. The umbrella is the employer, and so takes care of all employer responsibilities.

Working with an umbrella company also affords protection and perks to contractors:

  • As an employee, contractors have the same rights as any employed person, including maternity pay, holiday pay and other statutory benefits.
  • The umbrella company does most of the heavy lifting that is otherwise a contractor’s responsibility, including calculating PAYE and NIC deductions.
  • An umbrella company gives you the benefit of continuous employment, no matter how many times you switch between contracts or roles. This can be crucial for being approved for a mortgage and other types of credit, and a big barrier for those who enjoy having the variety of working on changing contracts.

So, if contracting has always appealed to you, but you’ve been put off by the uncertainty and lack of protection you might experience as a contractor, umbrella working might just be the answer.

If you want to find out more, give us a call at MyPeople and we’ll discuss how we can help.