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Why are more women choosing portfolio careers?


Growing up, I watched my parents work tirelessly in several different jobs, so that they could give me and my siblings the best start in life. Their incredible work ethic was not only a huge inspiration to me, but it was infectious and has been something that has constantly motivated me throughout my career and personal life. 

Something that has also stayed with me is seeing my parents work hard to build businesses from nothing. That entrepreneurial spirit was instilled in me from a young age, and has no doubt got me to where I am today. But as I got older, I began to question what being a ‘real entrepreneur’ meant. I’ve always been passionate about learning new skills and trying different things, and never wanted to put myself in one ‘box’. 

It got me thinking why couldn’t I be a Coach, Mentor, Artist, Brand Strategist and business owner all at once? And what I realised is that I can. And so can you.

Did you know 37% more people now have a portfolio career than before the pandemic? And at The Portfolio Collective (TPC), we’ve seen slightly more women (52%) than men (48%) joining our community.

What do portfolio careers offer women?

Much of my coaching work focuses on supporting inspiring female leaders and entrepreneurs who are returning to work after a career break. While some started a family, others stepped back because of mental or physical ill health.

As I talk to my clients, a common thread that keeps coming up among them all is that they now feel restricted in their former roles, with many of them believing they no longer belong in a company they spent years establishing themselves in. 

If you consider this on top of other prevalent issues like the gender pay gap, it’s no wonder that many women are looking for alternative career paths, better suited to their values and needs. In fact, new research from TUC found women in paid employment on average work almost two months for free a year compared to their male co-workers. 

Many women are now making the jump into self-employment, with the number of solo self-employed women in the UK increasing by 59%, almost half of the freelance workers in the UK (46%) are women and 15% of freelancers are working mums.

Afonso Pereira © The Portfolio Collective 2023

Freedom and flexibility are something most of my female clients are seeking, and a portfolio career provides exactly that. Part of the reason why I wanted to build TPC, was because I know that going out on your own can be an incredibly lonely journey. My hope with TPC, is that it will continue to be a space where people can explore their interests, find inspiration and network with like-minded individuals. 

This International Women’s Day, I wanted to take a minute to shine a light on some of the truly amazing women that have portfolio careers and make up The Portfolio Collective community. I spoke to seven inspiring female professionals about how they’ve found work they love, and why they believe other women should consider a portfolio career.

Portfolio career allows Illaria to “never stop learning”

Ilaria Vilkelis, a Coach, Mentor and Facilitator, believes having a portfolio path allows people to put themselves first rather than an employer.

“As an employee, I perceived it as a risk to entrust all my professional ambitions and time to a single organisation, I had more to say, more to offer. But I stifled myself into a job description that became progressively more restrictive. With a portfolio career, I can pursue different interests and never stop learning."

“More women should consider fulfilling their career aspirations by working with various organisations to maintain greater flexibility and have more say in where their time is spent.

“There are stages in life, especially with young families, that are too important to miss. There could be another full-time job around the corner later in life, but if you miss your child’s first steps that’s an event that will not repeat.”

Her advice for other women considering becoming a solopreneur? “Start with your non-negotiable goals and build your career around them.”

Job move proved “life-changing” for Joan

After years of living abroad, Joan Langley moved back to the UK but struggled to find her feet. “I felt this huge pressure to pick one thing and stick to it and that just didn’t quite sit with me or fit with the lifestyle I wanted for myself,” she tells us. “What started as something to just bridge the gap has become a life-changing mindset shift for me.”

Joan believes being a multi-hyphenated professional adds an extra level of protection, due to the varied nature of portfolio work.

"We are in an era where a good degree and CV are not enough to guarantee job security and financial stability going forward. I am building a portfolio career to create that safety net for myself, and I would encourage other women to do that same too regardless of what stage of their career they are in."

Joan Langley

“However, a portfolio career is not something you build overnight. It is deciding to invest and nurture your interests and the opportunities that come your way. It does take time, but it is an extremely rewarding journey to be on.”

Dr Silvia’s career path aligns with her “core values”

While you can combine different trades or specialisms, Dr Silvia Janská has stayed solely within the animal health industry with her portfolio. In addition to working as a Veterinary Surgeon, she runs a company implementing flexible working for veterinary staff and consults with animal health start-ups. She is also the Vice President of the Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons.

“This portfolio aligns with my core values and allows me to use more of my skill set to improve the veterinary profession,” Dr Silvia says.

“A portfolio career can take many forms and it is important for individuals to figure out what form suits them. This can change with time, as our lifestyle needs change. With the right set-up, it can improve career or job satisfaction, provide any necessary flexibility and increase earnings.”

Dr Silvia Janská

Multiple roles mean Shalaka is more “creative and ambitious”

As a child, Shalaka Laxman had several interests. This is a theme she has carried into her adult life in her work as a Freelance Writer, Artist, Entrepreneur, Sustainability Consultant and Course Assessor.

“These roles may not be traditional or have much to do with each other, but they’re all equally fulfilling and allow me to be a proud generalist instead of a reluctant specialist,” Shalaka says. “For me, the labels matter less than the work itself.

Afonso Pereira © The Portfolio Collective 2023

“I’m glad to be rotating multiple hats weekly. I feel more energised, creative and ambitious than ever. But most importantly – I’ve never felt more like ‘me’.”

Shalaka Laxman

Shalaka is excited by the idea of more women owning how and when they work, as portfolio careers become more conventional.  

She continues, “The world of work has transformed in incredible ways and exploring different professional journeys is no longer taboo. Squiggly careers are celebrated, and the rapidly growing number of hybrid roles is encouraging women to be creative and flexible with their time.

“The transition from a ‘career path’ to a ’career portfolio’ is becoming mainstream. It’s a perfect time to embark on a portfolio career, which often provides more security and gives women control over how they want to structure their working lives.”

Lara’s varied work is a colourful “paint pallet”

“I consider my work like a paint pallet, mixing things up instead of trying to squeeze them into a standard box; a form that I think is outdated and unhelpful in this current working world,” says Lara Hayward. “I can’t imagine going back to a standard working week in one role again. It feels so static.”

Lara’s portfolio as both a self-employed Career Coach and a Wellbeing Programme Lead at the University of Oxford enables her to utilise her different abilities and experiences.

“You’re building your ideal portfolio rather than following one organisation’s ideals and patterns for your role and career. Yet, there is still scope to have the security of one part-time main gig alongside a side hustle."

Lara Hayward

“It allows for change and transition without having to chuck everything out of the window at once. I now feel I have a career that reflects all of my skills, rather than just a handful of them.”

Lara’s portfolio as both a self-employed Career Coach and a Wellbeing Programme Lead at the University of Oxford enables her to utilise her different abilities and experiences.

Portfolio careers are “more fun” believes Roshana

From Lecturing in Sustainable Finance to being a Non-exec Board Member and Co-Treasurer of women’s charity Womankind, Roshana Arasaratnam says her varied roles mean she doesn’t become “pigeon-holed”.

“I chose to have a portfolio career because it feels like me. It allows me to take risks, experiment and create a virtuous circle between my different interests.”

Roshana Arasaratnam

She believes a multi-faceted livelihood can provide women with “more fun”, as well as to diversify risks and provide them with more flexibility.

“Don’t wait” to make the leap says Tina

After missing her daughter’s birthday due to a storm on a work trip and relocating from New York to London, Tina Orlando set off on her new vocation as a Coach. 

“I remember thinking to myself at the time, I’m going to move from being a Corporate Brand, Reputation and Communications Consultant to an Executive and Leadership Coach,” she explains. “In retrospect, it’s funny and strange to me that the choice presented itself as so binary.”

While she was studying to become a Coach, her former life came knocking at the door when she was approached about consulting opportunities.

Tina continues, “It suddenly occurred to me that it didn’t need to be either/or, which was a construct that I had somehow imposed upon myself.

“If there are two takeaways from my experience, don’t wait for the realisation you can simultaneously have more than one profession, nor look for life events to open up the decision for you. If you’re ready, you’re ready."

Tina Orlando

“To end with my favourite Mark Twain quote: ‘Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did’.”

Join a community that supports your portfolio journey

I want to thank all the women who shared their journeys with us in this article. The main thing that shines through from each member’s story is that there is no one way to have a portfolio career, and that is something we celebrate every day here at TPC.

If you’re considering a portfolio career or already have a thriving one, we’re here to support you. We’d love to see you at one of our monthly Community Networking events, where you can meet the inspirational women who are part of the collective. If you have any questions, you can always reach out to me or any of the TPC team.

Members, we’d love to hear how and why you started your portfolio career. Share your story with us in the comments below or on social media by using the hashtag #BeBoldForChange; don’t forget to tag us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Think this sounds like the right path for you? Come along to our monthly Get started event for new members to find out what a portfolio career could look like and how The Portfolio Collective can help you take those first steps towards professional success – and don’t forget to connect with our community!

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