Survey finds SA women professionals boost income by going freelance by up to 61 percent

SA financial freelancers break their own glass ceilings to build their careers. File Image: IOL

SA financial freelancers break their own glass ceilings to build their careers. File Image: IOL

Published Aug 30, 2022


As a leading global talent-on-demand platform, Outsized marked this Women’s Month by running a survey of female independent consultants in South Africa, to gauge their experience of working as on-demand talent.

What we found was both eye-opening and encouraging: most of them said they had grown their earnings and improved their career prospects by leaving the bounds of corporate employment. The poll results tell a story of women taking control of their destiny and empowering themselves, with most of them increasing their earnings and career experience.

The survey revealed that over 61% had increased their earnings by making the transition to independent consulting, while over 15% said their earnings stayed the same and 23% said theirs had decreased.

75% believed consulting had accelerated the variety of their career experiences, 25% said the variety of experiences was unaffected, and none said they had been stunted.

We see this outcome as hugely positive – professional women who go the independent consulting route stepped out and their earnings have increased: they may have felt they had a glass ceiling, so they broke through it and built their own careers.

Breaking glass ceilings

We found that becoming an independent consultant was a proactive choice for self-actualisation for most of them: they wanted more autonomy and professional growth than traditional employment offered them, so they made the leap and successfully built their personal brands as independents. . In our survey, 77% said they became consultants as a proactive choice, and only 23% made the move based on necessity.

Their reasons for becoming an independent consultant were mainly for better work-life balance (64.7%), followed by an equal number seeking career growth and variety of experience (17.64% each).

This taking charge of their own career growth is particularly encouraging since women in some sectors still tend to earn less than men and many women shoulders much of the burden of raising children. There are also glass ceilings and work enjoyment to consider: many professionals in corporate environments find that the only way to increase their earnings is to climb the corporate ladder into management, where they may find themselves tasked with managerial duties and administration – and not the work they love.

By reinventing their own working conditions as independent consultant, women professionals have been able to craft working conditions that suit their needs and still offer them the opportunity to grow professionally and increase their earnings.

My view is that women in general are often better at juggling many tasks and are really good at delivery, all of which lends itself to independent consulting. In the world of on-demand talent, it’s not about who you network with or who is the biggest talker in the room – it’s about delivery and expertise.

We found that our survey respondents were enjoying more opportunities, development and growth, and getting the flexibility they wanted. Those who had not felt they were not getting what they wanted in corporate environments said the move out had left them feeling both empowered and valued.

Independent consultants explain their motivation

To dive deeper into these findings, we spoke with several women freelancers from our own on-demand talent pool. These enriching discussions helped us get further details on the experience that freelancers across South Africa have had after leaving their corporate employment. To showcase variety, we chose two interviews to feature as part of this article. For more freelancer interviews, click here.

Karen Louw of Actuarial & Business Consulting, who has been freelancing for over three years, says she opted to become an independent contractor for more freedom in the kind of work she was doing and in how she structured time. For her, one of the key benefits was gaining time to focus on delivery with much less non-productive time spent in meetings or traffic. She enjoys the freedom to structure her day as it suits her, with more relaxed mornings thanks to no commuting, her afternoons free, and work in the evening when she is more productive. Karen says she earns significantly more than she did in the corporate space, and also works a great deal harder. While her income is variable, she prefers the freedom to spend and invest as she sees fit, instead of having to align to the corporate benefits provided.

Another experienced independent contractor of over three years’ standing is Tlangelani Dolly Makole, Executive Director at Denzama Consulting, who says her move was informed by wanting to be paid what she felt she was worth. Dolly says her path was chosen around self-identity in terms of the capabilities and impact she could bring to different organisations, and developing her own strong, personal brand. She says the biggest benefits of becoming an independent contractor are being able to define one’s own terms and conditions, and knowing your own worth and getting what you deserve based on what you bring to the table. For Dolly, her move has also given her the opportunity to set an example for young women, showing that it is possible for young ladies and for women like her, who are in their 40s, to stand their ground and be themselves.

While Karen says she has not experienced gender discrimination, Dolly believes it still exists in the sector. However, she opts to use any discrimination as motivation to prove her capabilities.

Making the leap

It should be noted that being a freelancer is like being an entrepreneur – it requires planning and discipline, expertise and networks. And there are risks to consider, such as poorly negotiated contracts and slow payment from clients.

By working through a platform such as Outsized, professionals making the move to become independent contractors benefit from networks, the right work, support in negotiating contracts, and on-time payment, which makes the transition easier and less risky.

As our survey results show; with the right networks and support, women have little to lose and a lot to gain from breaking glass ceilings and taking control of their own professional growth by becoming independent consultants.

Johann van Niekerk is the CEO and MD of Africa at Outsized