The face of ‘gig’ work is increasingly female: survey
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Got a side gig? You’re not alone. And among those in the ranks of the on-demand, or “gig,” economy are more and more women.
Hyperwallet, a company that manages payments for a number of gig-economy companies, released data on women’s roles in the sharing economy.
Among the findings
- Professional freelance work, like computer programming via Upwork, was the most popular type of gig work. Direct selling – Mary Kay, Rodan + Fields, Stella & Dot – was the second most popular.
- Women cited flexible hours and control over earning totals as the top benefits of gig work; however, they also cited inconsistent income and a lack of benefits among major drawbacks.
- 86 percent of female gig workers in the U.S. think gig work opens the door to equal pay to their male counterparts. The same group of women said that just 45 percent of traditional jobs offer the same opportunity.
However, while many women have turned to gig work to supplement income, few have embraced it as a full-time job. Most are augmenting their money with either another part-time job, full-time employment or a spouse’s income, the report says.
So who exactly is a “gig” worker? Someone who doesn’t have a contract for long-term employment, according to one definition from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes independent contractors (also called freelancers or independent consultants), on-call workers, and those who work for a temp agency or contract firm.
Of the women surveyed by Hyperwallet, 43 percent found professional freelance work through platforms like Upwork or 99designs. Driving for ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft accounted for 22 percent of gig work, while home-sharing services like Airbnb comprised 8 percent.
Hyperwallet compiled the findings based on a survey of 2,000 female gig workers in the U.S.
Jessica Milli, who has studied the gig economy for the non-profit Institute for Women’s Policy Research, says it’s often the flexibility aspect that draws women to these jobs.
They are “frustrated with the formal labor market because they don’t have the flexibility they need to take care of their families,” she said.
Of the quarter of respondents who left their full-time jobs for gig work, 32 percent did so for more flexibility and less stress, while 28 percent needed more time to care for a child, parent or relative, the report said. Seventy percent of female gig workers are the primary caregivers in their homes, according to the report.
Overall, women generally have a positive view of gig work, the report found. An overwhelming 90 percent of those surveyed said they would recommend gig work to a female friend. That’s not to say there are no concerns. More than half said said they would not wish their children to choose a career in gig work.
And despite the technological advances that are making digital gig work platforms widely accessible, other worries such as discrimination remain. The report found that 33 percent of gig workers have done gig work under a username that doesn’t reveal their gender.
Amanda Schneider was a contract worker who left the corporate world in 2011 because she needed more flexibility. She now runs her own company — Contract Consulting Group — and hires many freelancers.
“I’m able to do work I love and is fulfilling to me … and to do it I’m able to balance life with kids,” she said. “Whether it’s kids, or a hobby or a loved one who has an illness that you need to take care of, whatever your reason is, I think that more and more people are looking for an economy that has that balance.”
There are some skeptics who say gig work promotes employment without protections such as benefits and minimum wage laws. Then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged caution when she laid out her economic agenda in 2015.
“This on-demand or so called ‘gig’ economy is creating exciting opportunities and unleashing innovation,” she said, “but it’s also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has praised the technological innovation of the gig economy but also has called for a closer look at the laws and regulations to ensure they are worker-friendly.
“It’s exciting — and very hip — to talk about Uber and Lyft and Taskrabbit, but the promise and risks of these companies isn’t new. For centuries, technological advances have helped create new wealth and have increased GDP,” she said in a May 2016 speech at the New America Annual Conference, according to a transcript of her remarks. “But it is policy — rules and regulations — that will determine whether workers have a meaningful opportunity to share in that new wealth.”
But for many gig workers, both male and female, the flexibility and opportunities can outweigh the downsides.
Diane Mulcahy teaches a class on the gig economy at Babson College in Massachusetts. She points out that there are workers in the traditional workforce who are low-paid and don’t have benefits. While the gig economy doesn’t solve that problem, it does not create a new one, she said.
“It provides an incredible opportunity to create a portfolio of work that is interesting and challenging and that can pay well,” she said. “It provides opportunities for people to have personal life and to accomplish their personal goals.”