The state of women’s entrepreneurship in the UK

The state of women’s entrepreneurship in the UK

The business loans team gives an overview of the number of women entrepreneurs breaking barriers in the UK.

The UK is known for its vibrant entrepreneurial culture and robust economy, and women have played a massive role in this. There has been a remarkable rise in women entrepreneurs over the past few decades, and women-led businesses are an essential part of the UK economy. Women-led businesses account for a substantial proportion of businesses and contribute significantly to job creation and economic development.

How has the number of self-employed women in the UK changed? 

There are currently around 1.6 million self-employed women in the UK, which accounts for about 1 in 10 women and reveals an apparent increase over the last few decades. 

In the first quarter of 1995, there were approximately 0.92 million self-employed women, representing 8.1% of the total women in the workforce. However, the following years from 1996 to 2000 saw a gradual decline in the self-employed ratio, with slight fluctuations, dipping to as low as 6.9% from October to December 2000, equivalent to 0.87 million women. This then gradually rose in the 21st century and at an even more pronounced rate from 2005 onward, exceeding 1 million for the first time in the first quarter of 2006. 

The growth in self-employment continued through the first decade of the 21st century and well into its second, peaking at 11.0% in the last quarter of 2019 with 1.72 million women in self-employment. However, this percentage slightly decreased in 2020 and 2021, possibly due to the global pandemic’s effects on businesses and the job market. 

Despite the slight downturn, the overall trend from 1995 to 2023 has been a steady increase in the number of women choosing self-employment. As of the first quarter of 2023, there were approximately 1.6 million self-employed women, representing 10.3% of all women in work. This indicates a growing tendency towards self-employment among women in the workforce over this period. 

Which regions have the most self-employed women? 

There is a general trend that the percentage of self-employed women tends to decrease as we move from southern to northern regions. 

Rank Region Total women in work Women in work who are self-employed Women in work who are self-employed (%) 
1 South West 1,333,300 168,100 12.6% 
2 London 2,236,100 277,700 12.4% 
3 South East 2,197,400 249,100 11.3% 
4 East 1,498,000 150,500 10.0% 
5 West Midlands 1,325,300 129,500 9.8% 
6 North East 578,300 48,100 8.3% 
6 Scotland 1,315,300 109,000 8.3% 
8 Wales 696,700 57,300 8.2% 
8 North West 1,640,200 133,700 8.2% 
10 East Midlands 1,101,300 81,800 7.4% 
10 Yorkshire and The Humber 1,242,000 92,000 7.4% 
12 Northern Ireland 417,800 29,400 7.0% 

Which jobs have the most self-employed women? 

  1. Metal plate workers, smiths, moulders and related occupations – 100.0%

While their numbers are relatively low, 100% of women working as metal plate workers, smiths, moulders and related occupations are self-employed. Although this may seem like a very male-dominated occupation at first glance, it also includes fields such as jewellery makers and independent artisans that use metal.

  1. Upholsterers – 95.7%

The occupation with the second highest self-employment rate for women is upholsterers, with 95.7%. Upholsterers work with furniture, often repairing or replacing upholstery to give new life to worn-out items. This occupation often lends itself well to self-employment due to the ability to establish a local customer base and operate out of a home workshop.

  1. Painters & decorators – 94.9%

Just under 95% of women painters and decorators are self-employed, putting them in third place. This category includes professionals who provide a wide array of services, such as painting houses, wallpapering, and other types of decorative work. These services are often performed on a contract basis, which may explain the high percentage of self-employment.  

Which industries have the most self-employed women? 

  1. Building Finishing Trades – 97.6%

The industry with the highest percentage of self-employed women is building finishing trades, with 97.6%. This specialised sector within the construction industry involves tasks that add the final touches to a structure after completing the main construction work. This includes roles such as plasterers, painters and decorators, tilers, carpet layers, and glaziers. 

Lucinda O’Brien, business expert at, offers her advice for women looking to start a business: 

“Women have played a significant and growing role in shaping the entrepreneurial landscape of the UK. The steady increase in self-employed women over the past few decades underscores their resilience and determination to break barriers and pursue their own ventures.  

“And despite being underrepresented in the top levels of corporate leadership, women-led businesses demonstrate impressive economic performance, with higher average revenues and assets.

“Also, the fact that 64% of women surveyed have considered starting their own businesses speaks volumes about the entrepreneurial spirit thriving among them. As we continue to support and empower women entrepreneurs, their contributions will undoubtedly continue to shape the future of the UK economy.” 

  • Research and Planning: Before diving into your business venture, thoroughly research your industry, target audience, and competition. A well-thought-out business plan can help you outline your vision and strategies for success. 
  • Networking: Connect with other women entrepreneurs and business leaders. Their experiences and insights can be invaluable. Join online and offline women entrepreneur groups to foster a supportive community. 
  • Educate Yourself: Continuous learning is crucial. Attend workshops, seminars, and classes related to entrepreneurship, finance, and your business niche. 
  • Trust Your Instincts: While gathering information and seeking advice is essential, always trust your instincts and make decisions that resonate with your values and goals. 
  • Budget Wisely: Create a detailed budget for all startup and recurring expenses. Ensure that you have a cushion for unexpected costs. 
  • Seek Funding: There are numerous business loans, grants, and investment opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Research and identify those that fit your business model and needs. 
  • Assess Your Insurance Needs: Different companies have different business insurance requirements. Consider the risks associated with your business type and location. 
  • Standard Policies: Most businesses should consider general liability insurance, property insurance, and workers’ compensation if they have employees. However, depending on your industry, you may need specialised insurance, such as product liability insurance, professional liability insurance, or commercial auto insurance. 

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