Companies who have adopted more flexible working practices have provided opportunities for highly skilled employees to ‘lean in’ and ‘out’ as and when their personal circumstances allow. The upside is that employers are able to retain experienced and highly skilled employees without having to recruit new talent. It is no surprise that 70% of workers and 68% of employers believe that the majority of the workforce will be employed in an agile capacity by 2025.
Other benefits of ‘gig’ work mean that there is often an added advantage that a premium is paid for the uncertainty of the work. However, as in the recent Pimlico Plumbers case, ‘gig’ work can also erode employee rights. Being classed as a self-employed gig worker you are not entitled to sick or holiday pay and for women you are only entitled to a maternity allowance rather than statutory maternity pay (meaning there is a six week period when you do not receive 90% of your earnings).
There has also been some evidence that the gig economy has compounded gender stereotypes in the types of work that women are employed in. There are a disproportionate number of women in the gig economy in the administrative, care and domestic help sectors and although only making up 16% of the gig economy, 95% of Uber drivers and 94% of Deliveroo are men, whereas in the transport and storage industries this figure is around 80%.
IT platforms which are the backbone of the gig economy are cited as compounding discriminatory preferences. Clients purchasing gig work often access personal profile pages which contain pictures and demographic data and reviews. Clients purchasing ‘gigs’ and their reviews are often subjective and can be biased / discriminatory. Whilst this can be true for both men and women, the “Martin and Nicole” story highlighted the impact that gender can have in the workplace. Initially inadvertently then purposefully swapping email signatures, Martin noticed the different attitudes and tone of client contact when he swapped his email to come from Nicole. (Martin and Nicole were both employed at a small employment services agency and initially due to an error and then purposely for two weeks swapped their email addresses – as a result Martin noticed there was a marked change in tone and attitude towards his emails as ‘Nicole’ – Martin was in “hell” as clients were condescending and questioned everything he suggested, whilst Nicole – as ‘Martin’ – had the most productive time of her career).
The nature of gig work is that it is short-term and project based. The incentive for women to work in the gig-economy and step off the career ladder can adversely affect the number of leadership roles filled by women. Currently only 14% of top executives are women. Women are unable to reach senior positions on short-term roles and this erodes the ability for women to influence day to day working practices as part of a leadership team.
The arguments both for and against the gig economy are on the whole, gender-neutral. The points that can be considered to negatively affect women are also prevalent and mirrored in the current work economy. With around 350 000 female “giggers” in the UK today and evidence pointing to the fact that the gig economy is likely to grow further, it seems as though there are significant challenges for both men and women gig workers in the future. The status of gig workers needs to be defined – are they “workers” and thus entitled to employee benefits or “self-employed”? – we eagerly await the outcome from the Pimlico Plumbers case. Also, IT platforms can be reviewed so that they do not compound gender and racial inequalities.
The positives of the gig-economy should help narrow the gender gap. Working flexibly on days/times and terms to suit the individual enabling the workforce to “lean in” and “out “ significantly disrupts the current working paradigm. This ‘agile’ challenge has been a major step in the right direction to deconstruct the ‘career ladder’ model which has been cited as holding back the progress of women in the workplace. The increasing influence of the gig-economy and adoption of new flexible working patterns will force the ‘career ladder’ model to change. The new model will undoubtedly be more flexible and embrace what to date has been considered ‘time out’ caring responsibilities.
Whilst the ‘driver/ rider’ gig economy in particular needs governments to effectively regulate it, the trend of gig working and benefits it brings to women, plus the continual removal of traditional gender barriers, hopefully means that gender parity is much closer than 200 years away.