Becoming your own boss – the challenges facing self-employed women.

A new report finds that a more gender aware approach is needed to help increase the number of women entrepreneurs in Wales.

By Delyth Phillipps, Chwarae Teg Research Partner. Follow on Twitter.

Since the 1950s there has been a significant rise in the number of women entering the workplace to the extent that we now make up just under half the UK workforce.

So why are there still significant gaps between men and women when it comes to the levels of women’s self-employment or business ownership?


Co-working is about working collaboratively, learning from peers, supporting one another, sharing ideas and showing encouragement – all of the principles we support at Chwarae Teg.


Chwarae Teg and the University of South Wales recently carried out a study into this issue as part of the Strategic Insight Programme ( SIP ).

Download the report, PDF document.

The rationale behind the research was to get a better understanding of the challenges that women face when starting up in business and a sense of what more could be done to support them.

The use of co-working spaces has been suggested as a way to further help self-employed women in Wales to achieve and prosper.

Many entrepreneurs, start-ups, freelancers and growth businesses have already embraced this collaborative way of working and the trend appears to be growing.

Co-working spaces are designed to go beyond being just a physical space, to being places that provide the targeted resources that businesses need to grow and thrive.

The availability of a network and social interaction are seen as the main advantages of co-working and the possibility of regular interaction with fellow co-workers is often cited as the most important criteria for women when choosing a co-working space to join.

Sounds good so far?

Until learning more about this topic, I assumed like many others that co-working spaces were confined to formal business incubators, high tech industries or office-type spaces but this could not be further from the truth.

Co-working can also include common interest group collectives such as “craft cafes” and “Pop up” shops.

We know that women, by their nature, build relationships and interact with others differently to men and we celebrate this difference.

Where support mechanisms are lacking, businesses have had to learn to be creative with resources and come up with their own solutions – the ‘bricolage’ method.

Evidence suggests that this method is often used by women and tends to have a more positive effect on the business at start up stage but less so once the business has been established.

Women business owners are not a homogenous group therefore setting up single gender co-working spaces is too simplistic a solution to what is a more complex issue.

One size fits all approach.

There is a risk that even with a targeted clientele, a one size fits all approach may still be too general and fall short of meeting the specific needs of individual businesses at start up.

An understanding of the region, industry and demographics (age, gender and educational level) is key in order to offer the most relevant support.

The report findings show the contributory factors that are lacking: financial support, high speed internet access, access to equipment/supplies, networking opportunities and childcare/adult respite care.

Until a more gender aware approach is adopted to support female entrepreneurs, we will never be able to unlock our full potential and exploit all the opportunities that Wales has to offer!