Why midlife women are turning their backs on permanent employment

Why midlife women are turning their backs on permanent employment

The growth of self-employment

I’ve been self-employed for five years. Before 2014 I hadn’t noticed all the midlifers working for themselves, tapping away at laptops in cafes or working from home. Now that I am one, I see them everywhere.

At the beginning of 2016, the self-employed accounted for 15% of the UK population, that’s 4.6 million people. Research out this month, shows that number has risen to nearly 5 million. During the last three months, self-employment figures have far outstripped the growth in employment overall.

I have had so many conversations with women at a crossroads in their careers, thinking about making the leap into independence. Many of my friends are on their second (or third) careers like me and it’s a growing phenomenon. Our fifth decade seems to be a tipping point in our professional lives.

Why is that? What is it that happens to women that makes them run from the security of employment to the potential insecurity of going it alone?

The need for more control and flexibility

The change often comes after women have children, but anecdotal evidence would suggest childcare isn’t the main motivation for women leaving their jobs. Many return to work straight after their maternity leave, like me, determined to slot right back into corporate life, just as ambitious to succeed as before. After a couple of years, the desire to fit in, or to reach the boardroom starts to dwindle.

I didn’t leave my job until my eldest son was eight.

It wasn’t just about work/life balance, although that did play a part. It was more a need for control. I wanted to decide who I worked with, when I worked, and to be rewarded fairly for my efforts.

I resented the control someone else had over my diary.

There are also wider social issues at work.

The gender opportunity gap

Two executives – one male, one female – started their jobs with the same company at around the same time. They were given the same opportunities and responsibilities for several years and both thrived. Until the woman announced she was pregnant. At that point, the woman was taken off the leadership development programme because, as the CEO said, she was ‘leaving the business for a while’.

That happened to me. The CEO was a woman. Some bosses beat the ambition out of us.

The gender pay gap

Despite the best efforts by Government and the brighter media spotlight on the difference in pay between men and women, the gender pay gap has slightly widened in the last year. According to the Financial Times, the median pay gap this year was 11.9 per cent, compared to 11.8 per cent last year. 

There are still no sectors in the UK economy where women are paid the same as men.

The gender chore gap

Women carry out an average of 60 per cent more cooking, housework and childcare than men. That’s not 60 per cent OF the chores: it’s 60 per cent MORE.

That’s a lot of women arriving home after a long day in the office to a pile of washing and hungry mouths to feed. I wonder how many men have woken up in the middle of the night panicking that the kids’ swimming kit needed for tomorrow is still wet from last week? (Or is that just me?)

I know several women who work for international companies and are expected to dial into conference calls with their counterparts in Melbourne and New York at 11pm, and turn up to work bright and breezy at 8am the next day. That timetable isn’t sustainable when one child is teething and the other is waking with night terrors.

Never did my family commitments interfere with my corporate job. I worked four days a week and was the top biller in the company. But there was this constant nagging feeling that I wasn’t giving 100% to either work or family. The move towards equality (because we’re not there yet) means that we have a lot on our plates and not enough time.

Self-employment hasn’t given me more time, but it has given me more control over it. I can put a wash on while I’m talking to a client. I can go to sports day or take The Teen to his tennis lesson and get back to work after dinner.

The Free Range Human

The internet has brought so many new opportunities for all sorts of one-woman businesses. A whole category of enterprises only exists because of the internet – such as web designers, bloggers, virtual assistants; while others are able to expand their businesses or shops through web-based marketing and sales. Have a read of Be A Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell for some inspiration.

Start-ups don’t need a huge investment to get going. In the case of our recruitment business, we already owned laptops, had a well-established network to tap into and just needed to buy a software package and mobile phones.

Self-employment allows women to take back some time and freedom and create a life that includes work, rather than trying to fit a life around it.

My fifth decade has brought with it the confidence to make scary decisions. I wish I had made the move away from employment in my 30s but I wasn’t mentally ready for it then. The self-employed women I know are confident. They are leaders. They just don’t want to lead in the confines of a corporate hierarchy.


I recognise that self-employment doesn’t suit everyone. It’s unpredictable, sometimes insecure and a bit wild. 

It’s difficult, if not impossible to leave a permanent job if you don’t have savings, are in debt, or have other financial issues keeping you in your current situation. I was able to put money away before I resigned and my husband is in a secure job which gave me the security to go for it.

I would love to hear from you if you’ve moved from permanent employment to self-employment and what your experiences have been. Or if you’re thinking of making the move, what’s stopping you? Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes

PS: Please sign up for my newsletter for features about personal and professional development, career advice, CV tips, and interview techniques.


  1. Jo Long July 19, 2016 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    Great article and totally echoed by my own experience. Having said that, I did go through a time in my corporate career where I’d made quite a considerable jump in promotion in to the true limelight & an all male team. I thought I needed to be ‘one of the boys’ & act how I thought they acted – turns out after some externally coordinated ‘assessments’ they hated that & just wanted me to be the intelligent, driven woman I was but with all my femininity! Interesting I thought.

    • User Avatar
      Vicki July 19, 2016 at 10:14 pm - Reply

      Hi Jo. Thanks. I think we can be our own worst enemy by trying to be something we’re not. Thanks for reading. Vx

  2. Esther Zimmer July 19, 2016 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Really great article, thanks Vicki. It’s so interesting to read your perspective because I actually don’t know a lot of women my age who are self-employed, I seem to be more in touch with those 10+ years younger than me!

    However, I’m working with a lot of women who are in our age group and who do want to make the leap. Fear is a major factor holding them back otherwise I imagine the self-employed would account for more than 15% of the UK population. But their reasons for wanting to chart their own course are for reasons very similar to the ones you’ve outlined.

    I know I’m so happy that I made the decision to slide off the greasy corporate pole!

    Esther xx

    • User Avatar
      Vicki July 19, 2016 at 10:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks Esther. I felt a certain safety being employed – but it didn’t make me happy. Feel the fear, right?! Vx

  3. Dee July 20, 2016 at 12:31 am - Reply

    Can totally relate that’s for sure. As a shift worker for over 25 years resentment to my working hours has definitely increased. I still have my ‘shift work’ but blogging is now my passion.

    • User Avatar
      Vicki July 20, 2016 at 7:10 am - Reply

      Hi Dee, sounds like you’re moving in the right direction and following your passion. Thanks for commenting. Vx

  4. Caroline July 20, 2016 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Oh God, you could have been writing about me! Except I am only just realising this is how I feel and only now starting to think of how I might get out of the corporate world I’m stuck in. Any advice on how to do it when I am the the bread winner and going it alone would put everything my family rely on me for would be at risk?
    I feel trapped.

    • User Avatar
      Vicki July 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm - Reply

      Hi Caroline. It’s horrible to feel trapped, and cutting the cord from your employer is really difficult, especially when you’re the main breadwinner. Do you have the kind of job you could do on your own, could you start up a similar business or service? I might have some advice for you if you’d like to email me, happy to chat over there. me@lifestylemaven.co.uk. Vx

  5. Tessa August 19, 2016 at 6:53 am - Reply

    Hi Vicki – interesting article. And it’s not just women with children who feel this way, One in four women over 40 don’t have kids and yet many I know still feel corporate life limits their potential.

    • User Avatar
      Vicki August 19, 2016 at 6:58 am - Reply

      Hi Tessa. Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right, it applies to all women. Vx

  6. Karen Dempster October 25, 2016 at 8:30 am - Reply

    I also became self- employed when my son was 8, last year. This story absolutely echoes the reasons why I made the move. Thank you.

    • User Avatar
      Vicki October 25, 2016 at 8:49 am - Reply

      Hi Karen, great to hear from you, thank you for your comment and I’m really pleased to hear this article resonates with you. I hope your business endeavours are going well. Vx

  7. Debs de Vries July 21, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    This is a really great article and highlights the internal shifts women experience particularly at mid-life. WE can be anxious about these inner promptings and resist them yet I believe that the change in hormonal levels offers us a natural opportunity to reappraise our lives. Menopause is often seen as the herald of the ‘beginning of the end’ or even an even the enemy, but I see it as a gateway.

  8. Emily March 18, 2018 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Hello! This is very inspiring. I’ll be 41 this year and am in the boat to leave my corporate job of 11-12 years but not sure to what. I like what I do but am tired of being the work horse of the team. I’ open to relocate but can’t seem to find a job I’d be happy with or something similar to my current job. Frustrating!

    But that you for being inspirational!!

    • User Avatar
      Vicki March 18, 2018 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Emily thank you for your comment that’s really made my day. I’m so pleased you found the article useful. Good luck with whatever you choose to do. Vx

      • Ruth Mugeni May 25, 2020 at 5:41 pm - Reply

        Hey Vicki, this article resonates very much with me. For long I had wanted to leave the corporate world and become a motivational speaker but I couldn’t just as yet because I am a single mom, having to see my daughter through school.
        This year has been very hard for me as each morning I wake up hating to go to work. I hate my job to the core, but 4 months ago, I tendered in my resignation and I am ready to start on my own and never look back, I am sure I will make it.

        • User Avatar
          Vicki May 26, 2020 at 9:31 am - Reply

          Hi Ruth
          Thank you so much for your comment, and well done for making the decision to move on. You will not regret it. Even if things don’t work out as you had planned, you will have given it your best shot. And there’s no point staying somewhere that makes you miserable. Good luck. Please keep me posted! Vx

  9. Krysia Jones February 12, 2019 at 4:15 pm - Reply

    Your article really resonated with me. I am 46 and stuck working as a buyer and I really dislike it! I dislike being in an office for 9 hrs and travelling for 2hrs a day, trying to squeeze in the gym for at least an hour after a long day at work then only get to spend 3hrs with my man before falling into bed for another restless nights sleep before doing it all again.

    • User Avatar
      Vicki February 12, 2019 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Hi Krystal, I’m sorry to hear you feel like this. I’ve written other articles on the blog about self employment. Perhaps they can give you some inspiration to try something different? Good luck. Vx

  10. Supriya November 21, 2019 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Great Article. I completely agree with you. Biggest thing I am struggling with is with my own expectation from myself. I wanted to do great job in office as well as at home and when I see I am not able to do best in anyone of these. I get into depression. we dont need to be best always, sometime just keep going should also be enough. i wanted to start my own start up but will do once I havebackup

    • User Avatar
      Vicki November 21, 2019 at 8:10 am - Reply

      Hi Supriya. Thanks for reading. We have to accept that to try to give 100% at work and another 100% at home is physically (and mathematically) impossible. We can only do so much. Good luck. Vx

  11. azitikk@gmail.com August 17, 2020 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I was kind of moved away as your article mathced my recent story… I turned back to my well paying job (took the gunding shortage lay off )as an excuse. I have been staying home.. llast few months of course the COVID 19 come across. I looked in to my freedom and control.. evenyhough not yet sure how to go with working form. Home which may not be eaay here In Africa.. Hope to here on your tips to survive?

    • User Avatar
      Vicki August 17, 2020 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      Hi, thanks so much for your comment. I have lots of tips for surviving self-employment and working from home. Click on the ‘work’ section on the home page and you’ll see my articles. Vx

Leave A Comment