When Caroline Morgan took on her first contract with an international airline in the late 1990s, it would have been impossible to anticipate the transformation of the self-employed movement she would one day come to represent.
Back then, the UK’s self-employed population hovered around 3.4 million, the vast majority in male-dominated professions. Personal computing, too, was in its clunky infancy, and modern business models – think platform based apps such as Uber and Deliveroo – didn’t exist yet.
Now, this month, as she assumes the chair of the UK’s largest trade association for the self-employed, Caroline is the very essence of modern freelancing. She takes the helm at a time when IPSE’s own research has shown that women are now twice as likely as men to embark on a self-employed career.
More mothers – Caroline has three children, including twins – than ever before are now also working for themselves.
It’s not just the gender demographics of freelancing that have changed either. Caroline also represents a major growth in one particular area of freelancing: highly skilled professionals. Caroline is a business analyst, project manager and business change specialist, and the highly skilled category of freelancing that this falls under is actually growing faster than any other sector of self-employment. So, a mother-ofthree who also has 20 years’ experience in the fastest-growing sector of freelancing, Caroline is truly a chair for our times.
Working in this burgeoning, highly- skilled sector, she is also a repudiation of one of the most widespread but misconceived media narratives about self-employment: that it is all low-paid, insecure gig workers. All too often, newspapers and other media outlets – on the hunt for the juiciest, simplest stories – focus only on the least secure end of the self-employed spectrum. It can therefore seem to some like that’s all self-employment is.
As a hard-working self-employed mother at the top of her industry, Caroline is a repudiation of this narrative. Although the gig economy is certainly a key part of the sector – and there is definitely a minority of insecure gig workers who need more support – Caroline is a strong example of the highly skilled freelancers and contractors who make up an ever-growing majority of the sector.
So, how did Caroline get to where she is today? “Well, actually I fell into contracting and then never saw a reason to get out of it,” she tells me. “After working as an employee for some blue-chip companies I decided I wanted to work overseas and spent a couple of years working in Australia and New Zealand.
“When I returned to the UK, a former colleague told me that British Airways (BA) needed someone with my skills on a contract basis for a few months, so that seemed like a good option while I sorted out what I wanted to do next. And that turned out to be a freelance career!”
Before her BA contract, Caroline admits that she hadn’t considered contracting. Like an ever-growing proportion of the freelance workforce, it was only when she had her children that she realised how the flexibility of self-employment could help her.
“When I had children, I realised that I could ask for flexibility in the hours I worked and my clients always said yes,” she said.
“The flipside of this, of course, was that it was all down to me to make sure I delivered – even if that meant working late into the evening after the children had gone to bed or before they got up. But I always delivered, and I’ve always had happy clients. That’s why I’ve had back-toback contracts and very little time when I’ve actively had to look for work.
“Above all though, because of the flexibility that comes with freelancing, I was able to take and pick up the children from school and be there for all those all-important school plays and sports days.”
Caroline, who worked with her first client for seven years, explains that being self-employed is not without its challenges, adding that it can be “difficult negotiating the flexibility and part-time hours” she wanted so she could spend time with her family. But overall, she says it has “worked out quite well”.
She adds: “It sometimes feels like a difficult decision to move out of the comfort of being an employee but with careful planning and support, working for yourself can give you a rewarding career doing something you love with the flexibility you need.”
And what about now – what about her appointment as chair of IPSE? She says that first of all she hopes to “make sure IPSE continues to grow its influence and membership by highlighting the positive aspects of self-employment and the benefits it brings to both the economy and self-employed people themselves.
“Self-employment creates opportunities for flexible, rewarding work for hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who might not otherwise even be in the labour market at all: from new mothers to students to people embarking on new careers later in life.
“Over the coming months and years, I will make sure IPSE is there standing up for the rights and freedoms of these people and all the UK’s self-employed.”