‘Stay Home’ and Work? Implications of COVID-19 and the UK Governmental Response for Self-Employed Women
The Gender and Enterprise Collective* (Haya Al-Dajani, Angela M. Dy, Carol Ekinsmyth, Sally Jones, Lorna Treanor, Julia Rouse, Natalia Vershinina)
Given last week’s government announcement of the stimulus bill meant to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the UK economy, it is important to recognise the implications for women broadly, and self-employed women more specifically. Such bills are notoriously gender blind, thus discounting the impact on the extent to which self-employed women are at most risk from the CV pandemic crisis. Further, self-employment is far from homogenous, so a blanket approach to support is insufficient. The self-employed contribute around a third of UK employment growth in the past decade; women-driven part-time self-employment has comprised most of this increase. Statistically, 34% of UK business owners are women; of these, 33% are sole-traders, 40% are in partnership businesses and 28% company-owners. There were 5.8 million registered small businesses in the UK in 2019, and 5 million self-employed, comprising more than 15% of the workforce.
Micro-enterprises, or businesses with less than 15 employees, are the largest group within the small and medium enterprise (SME) category; of these, sole traders tend to earn particularly low incomes. In 2015/16 their annual income was £21,000, almost £10,000 less than the average employee income. There has also been a decrease in sole-trader profit since 2008 generally, but notably, a 2% decrease in profit for 2015-16 despite an increase in the numbers of self-employed. We can conclude from this that people are therefore remaining in low income self-employment, with reports of individuals being trapped in poverty as a result.
Although men are more likely to be self-employed or own businesses than women, we argue that self-employed women comprise the most at-risk group during this crisis. Women’s self-employment tends to mirror the patterns of their employment: service-based lifestyle businesses, mostly in crowded, lower-margin feminised sectors such as personal services, caring, health, community, education and edutainment, and social activities, that have grown with the rise of the gig economy. The majority of these operate in the small to micro category of brick-and-mortar or interpersonal businesses that have been forced to close. On average, women start their businesses with 53% less capital than men, tend to draw more upon private capital and family finances, are more likely than men’s to be small, and turn over less income annually. While we hold that these patterns of disparity are not the fault of individual women, but rather due to structural factors, the overall picture is that in an economic downturn, it is women who are most likely to be disproportionately negatively affected.
In addition, there exists a mostly invisible, feminised economic system run ‘by women for women’: a business support system of women providing caring and domestic services that enable self-employed women, of all backgrounds, to manage their businesses. This feminised domestic support is often provided by a ‘care chain’ of immigrants and/or women of colour, whose physically embodied labour makes possible the knowledge work powering the digital economy, but is impossible to translate into the digital space as required by the conditions of the COVID-19 home confinement.
The home is a gendered space where traditional gender roles and relations have proved persistent. Most women in heterosexual relationships are responsible for the bulk of domestic labour and child and elder care duties. Gender affects every sphere of home life, including physical space allocation, emotional support to family members, and the ‘mental load’ of planning, scheduling and food shopping. When homeworking, men typically are designated the home office, while women are more likely to work on the sofa or at the kitchen table where they are more accessible to family members; due to men’s work being prioritised, women are more likely to be disturbed while men are ‘left alone’ to complete their work. Lastly, in a time of emergency, when illness is spreading and schools are closed, it is women who are most likely homeschooling children, checking on people within intergenerational family and friend networks, as well as engaging in newly established mutual aid groups. Those interested in the welfare of self-employed women must therefore ask: in this setting, what is the scope for women to keep businesses running alongside extra domestic demands? Even if their businesses do enable working from home, how will the confinement impact their incomes, and how might they benefit – or not – from the governmental support on offer?
We recognise that many small business owners and self-employed individuals and freelancers will be relieved at Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Thursday 26th March of a support package for UK entrepreneurs. This is said to capture 95% of the self-employed population, but there is a lack of clarity surrounding those individuals and their enterprises who are eligible for this support. The necessity to minimise fraudulent claims is understandable; however, many enterprising individuals who have recently started their own business (and have not submitted a self-assessment tax return) or whose firms are just gaining traction, but have not yet generated a profit, will not be supported. This has implications for the future pipeline of enterprising small firms in the UK, as 40% of UK registered businesses are less than 3 years old and most businesses take 2-3 years to turn a profit. In relation to women’s enterprise, it is likely that most women entrepreneurs will qualify for the support outlined, as their businesses have closed or are operating at a reduced capacity. While self-employed people of all genders will be eligible for a taxed grant of 80% of their average profits, up to a maximum of £2,500, for many women in particular, given low profits over the preceding period, access to Universal Credit may in fact be more beneficial than the proposed support.
In addition, as women-owned businesses typically generate lower profits, we expect the crisis to increase financial dependence upon partners or, in the case of single self-employed women or parents, cause substantial difficulties in providing for themselves or their families. As a result, they may be expected to consider debt finance to make it to the June 2020 assistance-receipt deadline given that they are less likely to have significant savings. Yet evidence shows that women self-employed/business owners are, reasonably, more reluctant to take on financial risk, such that the Business Interruption Loan Scheme might be less attractive or accessible to women.
Women’s ability to accrue financial resources and savings is typically restricted; as employees, this is due to gendered pay-differentials; as entrepreneurs, this is informed by the lower-margin sectors in which most women’s businesses are located, leading to a 43% gender pay gap among the self-employed. Maternity leave is one period where women’s earning power is significantly reduced: if a self-employed woman has had maternity leave over the past three years, this would have a significant impact upon their accrued and average profits over the assessed period under this support package. Even where some women can continue their service-based, income generating business activities online, anecdotal evidence shows that during the COVID19 ‘homestay’ they are doing so either at reduced rates or as a free community service.
We have recently published a series of State of the Art Reviews on ‘What Next For UK Women’s Enterprise Policy’. Drawing upon our expertise, in light of yesterday’s announcement, we posit a number of outstanding questions regarding the extent of support provided by this package, especially for women entrepreneurs, including:
- As women have been driving the growth in self-employment, is it possible that they will constitute the majority of nascent business owners (under 3 years old), who may not be entitled to any support?
- Will access to Business Interruption Loans be readily forthcoming for women entrepreneurs owning low-profit businesses? Will business owners be asked to put their houses on the line for collateral, or provide personal guarantors?
- What is the impact upon those within the ‘Most Vulnerable’ category such as pregnant and disabled individuals, and those with underlying health conditions for whom 12 weeks of self-isolation is mandatory?
- How will those who have not been explicitly addressed in the UK Government Financial Aid Package be affected, such as entrepreneurial refugees, asylum seekers and other migrant women who have no access to government funds?
- What might the implications be, now and in the future, for women’s informal economic and entrepreneurial activity?
As we are ‘all in this together’, provision should extend to 100% of the self-employed. Prior to the crisis, self-employment was the only growth category in the UK labour market. Thus, how we support self-employed people and nascent businesses now will determine the direction of the UK economy for decades to come.
* The GEN Collective are the Organising Committee of the Gender and Enterprise Network (ISBEGEN) an Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ISBE) Special Issue Group.
In embracing the conference theme of ‘Borders: prosperity and entrepreneurial responses’, the Gender and Enterprise Network (Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group) will host an international webinar during ISBE 2017. This webinar aims to conquer some of the political borders that separate the international entrepreneurship community by bringing us together to share and discuss the potential of entrepreneurship in conquering borders through virtual and physical presence.
A panel of gender and entrepreneurship experts, listed below, will share with us their research on how entrepreneurs conquer the borders in their minds, as well as the social, political and economic borders that define our present and future.
We encourage those interested to consider hosting a ‘webinar party’ where you gather in a classroom or auditorium at your institution to watch together, so that the content can transcend the physical borders of the ISBE 2017 conference, and inspire discussion and debate amongst your communities of practice.
|Prof Susan Marlow
University of Nottingham
|Gender, Entrepreneurship and Prosperity|
|Dr Lorna Treanor
University of Nottingham
|Overcoming Barriers and Borders: Crowdfunding and Women Entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland|
|Dr Natalia Vershinina
University of Birmingham
|EU Migrant Family Businesses in Birmingham: Reactions and Responses to Brexit|
|Dr Haya Al-Dajani
University of Plymouth
|Resourceful Arab Refugee Women Navigating Borders in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey|
|Prof Diane Holt
University of Essex
|Women, income generation and borders in the informal economy – A focus on subsistence contexts in Africa|
|Prof Maura McAdam
Dublin City University
|Chair and Discussant|
To join webinar virtually on Wednesday, November 8th at 14:00-15:30 GMT, use the link:
Tweet us at @ISBEGEN and share your experience using the hashtag #isbegen
For technical support please email Rob Edwards at email@example.com
Gender, Work and Organisation
9th Biennial International Interdisciplinary conference
29th June-1st July, 2016
Keele University, UK
Entrepreneurship and feminist-theoretical perspectives
- Helene Ahl, Education & Communication, Jönköping University, SWEDEN
- Karin Berglund, Business School, Stockholm University, SWEDEN
- Susan Marlow, Business School, Nottingham University, ENGLAND
- Katarina Pettersson, Social & Ec. Geography, University of Agricultural Sciences, SWEDEN
- Malin Tillmar, Management and Engineering, Linköping University, SWEDEN
This stream calls for papers that respond to calls for research on entrepreneurship incorporating critical and feminist-theoretical perspectives affording attention to how entrepreneurship is shaped by a variety contexts. Research on women’s entrepreneurship now constitutes a mature field of study. A recent systematic literature review has identified over 600 academic articles on gender and women’s entrepreneurship (Jennings and Brush 2013). Critical analysts have found the field to be characterized by an Anglo-Saxon dominance, with a concentration on issues of ‘performance’ and ‘growth’ (Al Dajani and Marlow, 2010; Marlow, 2014). There is also a tendency to consider ‘gender’ as a variable (i.e. equivalent to sex) with explanatory power (Ahl 2006; Neergaard et al. 2011), instead of considering ‘gender’ as the relational and socially-constructed concept as originally defined (Ahl 2007). Most studies of women’s entrepreneurship are set in a male–female comparative frame, and explanations are sought for women’s “underperformance” (Marlow and McAdam 2012). However, this under-performance disappears when one controls for sector; men and women in businesses that are comparable in terms of business sector perform equally well (Robb and Watson 2012; Watson 2002). This particular area of research has been criticized for (i) inadvertently subordinating women through a normative assumption of entrepreneurship as being ‘male’, (ii) its individualist focus, (iii) its lack of attention to context and structure (Ahl 2006; Mirchandani 1999; Al Dajani and Marlow, 2010), and, not least, (iv) its neglect of how entrepreneurship is embedded in family (Jennings et al. 2013). Consequently, calls have been made for the study of women’s entrepreneurship in context (de Bruin et al. 2007; Brush et al. 2009; Welter 2011), as well as for the incorporation of critical, feminist-theoretical perspectives (Ahl and Marlow 2012; Bruni et al. 2004; Calás et al. 2009).
Entrepreneurship research often assumes gender equality to be merely an increase in economic participation or economic parity with men through business ownership (Gatewood et al. 2014). Feminist critiques suggest that entrepreneurship risks shaping women into exemplary neoliberal citizens who may no longer recognize, or even appreciate, structural remedies put in place by earlier, collective and political feminist activism (such as quotas, individual taxation or mandatory paternal leave). But it has also been suggested that entrepreneurship may be used as a vehicle for feminist action, where feminist resistance is put into practice through business. This is, in our view, a phenomenon in search of a name. We have coined the term FemInc.ism to denote this phenomenon (Ahl et al., 2014). It can be seen as a special case of the reformulation of entrepreneurship as social change, thereby capturing the many entrepreneurial endeavors that are not businesses, or not just businesses (Steyaert and Hjorth 2006; Calás et al. 2009). A related concept is entrepreneurship as politicizing (Al-Dajani and Marlow 2014). We define FemInc.ism as ‘feminist activism through enterprise’. Through this term we acknowledge the changing conditions for feminist action, in tandem with neoliberal expectations to mobilize oneself through enterprise, but also how this transformation may enable institutional change in private, public, or non-profit sectors through enterprise that is individually or collectively made. So, FemInc.ism gives a name to how institutional change can be created through business. It points to the potential for women and men to use entrepreneurship to achieve feminist change, but the term also points to the risks of being trapped in a situation of feminist backlash that may arise because of structural dissolution. We formulate a number of challenges that researching FemInc.ism is faced with. We claim that research must acknowledge (i) the importance of addressing context, including the time dimension; (ii) the importance of avoiding an a priori position regarding entrepreneurship; (iii) the importance of being open to ambiguities in the interpretation of research results; and finally, (iv) the need to develop feminist theory as well as entrepreneurship theory to adequately describe and understand this phenomenon. Suggested themes that may be addressed are:
• Studies of gendered contextual opportunities or limitations for entrepreneurship
• Developments of feminist theory and entrepreneurship theory
• Studies of entrepreneurship used as a vehicle for feminist action (FemInc.ism)
• Studies of institutional change created through business (FemInc.ism)
• Studies of how feminist action through business (Feminc.ism) affects/transforms femininities and masculinities (and vice versa)
• Discussions of what kind of enterprising selves are shaped through feminist action through business (Feminc.ism)
Abstracts of approximately 500 words (ONE page, Word document NOT PDF, single spaced, excluding references, no header, footers or track changes) are invited by 1st November 2015 with decisions on acceptance to be made by stream leaders within one month. All abstracts will be peer reviewed. New and young scholars with ‘work in progress’ papers are welcomed. In the case of co-authored papers, ONE person should be identified as the corresponding author. Note that due to restrictions of space, multiple submissions by the same author will not be timetabled. In the first instance, abstracts should be emailed to: Karin Berglund. Abstracts should include FULL contact details, including your name, department, institutional affiliation, mailing address, and e-mail address. State the title of the stream to which you are submitting your abstract. *Note that no funding, fee waiver, travel or other bursaries are offered for attendance at GWO2016*.