After over 18 months of lockdowns and stay at home orders, the ways in which we have all had to adapt our lifestyles in the wake of the pandemic have left indelible marks on us all.
While we are being asked to “go back to normal,” many are experiencing a newfound desire to use their time more efficiently, take care of their mental and physical health, and dedicate energy to pursuing their passions, as they have been given an opportunity to do for the past two years.
These shifts have resulted in a rapidly growing scepticism around the concept of work as we know it, sometimes going as far as rejecting the idea of the ‘9 to 5’ entirely. Instead, new ways of “doing work” are gaining traction: platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are booming, and “there’s never been more interest in digital nomadism,” says the BBC.
While putting mental health and personal interests at the heart of professional decisions can be highly valuable, it is important to remember that, for many, having an office job represents a level of security and acceptance that can’t be easily turned away. Until not that long ago, the 9-to-5 job career model was only open to a certain kind of people: mostly those who were White, male, middle-class, and university educated.
But for many minority ethnic, marginalised, and working-class communities, gaining access to certain jobs still requires extreme hard work—more than for those who were born knowing that this world would always be accessible to them. And, succeeding in integrating such a world comes with more than just a job and a pay check: the potential payoff goes as far as gaining acceptance, safety, security, legitimacy, and breaking intergenerational patterns.
In a country still saturated with racism, discrimination and hate crime, having a stable office job can also be the difference between your mortgage being accepted, your family being picked for renting a house, or your children getting into a particular school.
As well as focusing solely on the White experience of corporate Britain, the recent boom around “working for yourself” and “making your own hours” tends to gloss over the barriers to entry of the freelance world for many groups of people—minority ethnic women and people with caring responsibilities in particular.
It also assumes that anyone who wants to be “fulfilled by”, and thrive at, work will have the necessary set of skills, educational background, support, and resources necessary to set them up for success.
Not everyone has access to the industry knowledge that will allow them to build a successful business; many were not born into families that are able to guide and support them through a career change. A valuable part of our modern workforce is made up of people who were the first of their families to go to university; for them, this process can be incredibly lonely and isolating.
Difficulties in rejecting the 9-to-5 model abound: many marginalised people may not have the confidence and training to advocate for themselves or negotiate their working models with employers; the money to invest in any upfront costs; an accessible, distraction-free environment; and the support necessary to create and maintain their own schedule when faced with the lack of direction and guidance that comes with working for yourself.
Women and mothers have it even harder—experts showed that, when working from home, women’s “double shift turned into the double double” as they had to balance higher levels of emotional labour and childcare responsibilities, while seeing their professional input diminished and their voices marginalised in the workplace. These realities are only made worse by merging the personal and professional space.
It would also be naïve to assume that the discrimination and inequality still present in the workplace would disappear entirely once one becomes a freelancer; there is a gaping hole for discriminatory practices, a rising pay gap, a lack of protection from abuse and micro-aggressions, as well as the rising risk of emotional isolation.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t seem like “the freelancer boom” is slowing down anytime soon. So, what can we do? As an individual, we can make sure to support and uplift small businesses and small enterprises that we want to see flourish—supporting their social media and recommending them to industry professionals, for example.
It is also up to employers to listen to their workers’ needs and offer everyone personalised and adaptable hybrid working models, giving everyone an equal chance to balance a working life with their passions, aspirations, mental and physical health.
Women’s and minority ethnic individuals’ access to a fulfilling professional life is very important to us at JAN Trust. This is why we offer award-winning workshops and mentoring to help women and minority ethnic individuals navigate the workplace, build their confidence, and gain valuable skills to market themselves and reach their professional aspirations. We can never forget the experiences of those for whom respect and equality seems like a pipe dream.