20/10/2016 11:44 BST | Updated 21/10/2017 06:12 BST

Millennial Mums Are Redefining Work

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We're seeing an entrepreneurial shift in the UK workforce - and women with young children are at the forefront.

The 'millennial' generation is usually defined as those born between about 1980 and 2000. Much has been made of how their career aspirations and work habits differ from previous generations. By 2020, millennials will make up over a third of the global workforce.


A study by ManpowerGroup, of 19,000 millennials across 25 countries, found that 34% were considering self-employment in the future. And a new Nominet study shows the trend is even stronger among millennial women with children under four. Eight percent of women surveyed had already set up their own business, instead of returning to their former employer after a period of maternity leave. Another 10% said they expected to set up their own business within the next six months, another 7% within the year, and a further 21% within five years. In all, less than a third (29%) said they didn't think they'd ever set up their own business.

The trend of women setting up their own businesses in order to work from home while taking care of children has been gaining attention over the past few years, and given rise to the term 'mumpreneur'. Celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Alba are often cited as examples. Alba, a Hollywood actress, founded The Honest Company, a four-year-old consumer-products start-up that was valued at $1.7 billion last year.

In the UK, according to a report commissioned by eBay in 2015, the 'mum economy' - businesses run by mothers with children aged 18 or under - is worth £7.2 billion to the economy and supports 204,000 jobs a year. This is projected to rise to £9.5 billion and 217,600 jobs by 2025. Successful examples span a wide variety of industries, and products - from handcrafted chocolates (harryschocs.co.uk) to chair covers (simplybowsandchaircovers.co.uk) to cleaning products (mrsgleam.co.uk). One mother, Shauna McCarney Blair, set up a baby food brand in her kitchen after struggling to find products for her children, who had severe allergies. The range is now sold in 14 countries and this year, McCarney Blair signed a £2 million deal to sell it in Tesco, Waitrose and Morrisons.

So what's encouraging mums to be their own boss? Flexibility is the key draw, cited by 78% of those in the Nominet study. Eighty-one percent said balancing home and work life was a major thing to consider when returning to work. Again, this mirrors wider trends. Having children, perhaps unsurprisingly, appears to bring a pre-existing millennial desire for more flexibility and improved work-life balance more sharply to the fore. Another study found that 92% of millennials want to be able to work remotely and 87% want to work to their own timetable. They "value work-life integration, not separation like older generations". Millennials are abandoning the 9-to-5 because they're "more focused on living, not just working". Another report found that 45% of would choose workplace flexibility over pay.

Unfortunately, for millennial mums there are push factors as well as pull factors at play. An overwhelming 89% said cost of childcare was an issue, and 71% felt guilty about leaving a child with someone else. Fifty-four percent of mums surveyed said they found the transition back to work after having a baby hard. Only 31% said they were given all the support they needed at work after returning. Over a quarter (26%) said that discrimination in the workplace was a factor mums had to consider when they returned after having a child. It's difficult to look at these statistics and not conclude that organisations need to be more proactive in improving how they meet the needs of working mothers.

Speaking of proactivity, millennial mums are again setting the example. Forty-six percent of those surveyed have a business idea, 36% have already gathered feedback on it, and one in five have undertaken some market research. New technology means it's never been easier to set up a business online, and quickly develop a space where ideas can be put into action. For anyone thinking of starting a business, a wealth of information is only a click away.

According to PwC, "One of the defining characteristics of the millennial generation is their affinity with the digital world... This is the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of a key business tool than more senior workers." Combine this with the entrepreneurial skills women report motherhood has enhanced, from multi-tasking (74%) to time-management (70%) to budgeting (58%) and keeping calm under pressure (57%), it's no wonder millennial mums are leading the way.