Tamika Smith resigned as director of a prominent youth charity in 2019 after realizing that being her own boss was more important to her than the security of being an employee.
Now founder and director of Trimenco CIC, a not-for-profit training, mentoring and coaching company, Smith has never been happier. “The wake-up moment was when the voice in my head that said, ‘It’s time to go,’ was suddenly louder than the one that said, ‘You’ve got bills to pay,'” she said.
Smith realized he needed autonomy to reach his potential.
Starting her own business was the best decision she ever made, Smith says. “I am now the conductor of my own orchestra, fully in charge of my own career and life.”
A record number of women are following the same path: more than 150,000 new businesses were started by women in 2022, an all-time high. Companies led by ‘all women’ now account for more than 20.5% of all businesses in the UK, up from 16.7% in 2018.
Many say they turned to entrepreneurship because of the freedoms they felt weren’t available in traditional jobs. The Fawcett Society’s report on equal pay this year found that women in the UK aged 40 and over will not see the gender pay gap closed until they reach state pension age. Another found that women hold just one in five trading positions on the boards of Britain’s 350 largest listed companies.
“These statistics exemplify the outdated attitudes and glass ceilings that exist in mainstream workplaces,” says Amina Hamid, who started her own production company when she felt out of control and not taken seriously in the theater industry.
“Many women do not want to wait for their workplace to catch up with modern attitudes, so they go it alone: as entrepreneurs, they can achieve success without waiting for permission.”
Jean Kader founded a clothing line, Estéra Swim, and the podcast, Fashion Tweak, because she was tired of working for a fashion industry that reduced her “big ideas and opportunities” to “just bringing boxes to older colleagues.”
Kader says, “My drive for entrepreneurship emerged from a mix of personal values and frustrations with the traditional workplace. My time in the fashion industry, marked by ethical dilemmas and a lack of inclusion, contrasted sharply with my autistic-driven ethical compass.
“I was entry-level for many years, regularly laid off, and it wasn’t until I aspired to be more of my own boss and become a design consultant that I realized I was extremely competent and able to grow.”
Rebecca Lloyd, a women’s health consultant and founder of This Independent Life, became an entrepreneur after feeling unsupported by her employer while suffering from a serious health problem. “The experience lit a fire in my gut that I was no longer going to let the workplace influence my life,” she said. “I wanted autonomy, freedom and flexibility in my time, the ability to create and build something from scratch that I was genuinely passionate about.
“I didn’t want to follow the rules for its own sake, fit into a box and do what I’m told – not to challenge the way things are done and not rock the boat,” she added.
“I didn’t want my creativity and ideas to be shut down and constantly told ‘no’ or where it felt like they had to jump through 100 hoops to even be heard or taken seriously.”
But progress is slow: the Treasury estimates 1.1 million new businesses and up to £250bn of new value could be added to the UK economy if women in the UK started and scaled new ventures at the same rate as men.
Given that women are just as successful as men in sustaining a business once established, with 73% of entrepreneurs of both genders running a business older than 3.5 years, according to a government review of Alison Rose’s Women’s Entrepreneurship, the question is: what is stopping even more women from becoming entrepreneurs?
Rebecca Capon, managing director of social entrepreneurship charity Hatch Enterprise, says: “If you’re a woman, there’s a whole host of systemic barriers that make it much easier for you to fail than to succeed in entrepreneurship, with added layers of difficulties for women facing additional marginalization due to race, disability, sexuality, etc.
Starting a business venture as a woman is extremely difficult work and Capon says that only 1% of venture capital in the UK ends up in women-led businesses. “You’re also much less likely to have access to profitable professional networks.”
Coupled with unrealistic portrayals of entrepreneurship that glorify the “culture of hustling,” women can be put off starting their own businesses, says Capon, even though “the reality is that entrepreneurship can offer a great deal of flexibility and self-determination that is often not is allowed to women in the traditional workplace.’