For women seeking flexibility in their careers, the gig economy—in which 24% of Americans participate—seems like a good solution. After all, freelancers get to set their own schedule, choose their own clients, supervise themselves, and free themselves from unproductive or unfair corporate cultures—including those that are sexist or biased against women. Unfortunately, though, new research shows sexism also runs rampant in the gig economy, and it affects both the employer and the employee.
As you might imagine, the gig economy is hard for women seeking work. “In the hypercompetitive, fast-paced world of online labor, hiring and wages are determined on the basis of little verifiable information about each individual worker,” Hernán Galperin, Research Associate Professor of Communication at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, writes for The Conversation. “These conditions favor the activation of stereotypes about ‘appropriate’ jobs for women, their productivity and their willingness to bargain.”
But the gig economy is also hard for women seeking workers, as Galperin and his colleagues discovered when they conducted a study of 2,800 freelancers on Nubelo, a Spanish short-term job board that’s now part of Freelancer.com. They invited the freelancers to apply for a transcribing job, but half the freelancers got emails from “Maria” and the other half got emails from “José.” Additionally, half were offered a flat pay, and half were asked to name their own price.
The results showed clear gender bias. The freelancers who were asked to name their own price, both men and women alike, asked Jose for €124 on average and Maria for €158.
But the news wasn’t all bad: The researchers also found that women were just as likely as men to bargain, no matter if they were dealing with men or women. Galperin notes these contrasting results. “On the one hand, they indicate that women may gain from workplace environments in which the rules of bargaining are unambiguous,” he writes. “On the other, our results suggest that the gig economy could potentially exacerbate gender discrimination.”
With these shortcomings of the gig economy, Werk chooses instead to focus on building flexibility into full-time employment opportunities, especially for women and caregivers who might need the steady revenue and the social capital of a full-time position.
Or, as Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... and Why, writes for Elle, “Mothers who work don't need ‘gigs,’ or a ‘flexibility’ that amounts to being on the clock for 24 hours a day. They need steady, well-compensated jobs with adequate parental leave, flex time, remote-work policies, and a culture that understands why some women may need to be out of the door in time for dinner, so that raising a child or caring for a sick relative is not fundamentally incompatible with meeting the demands of one’s job.”
In other words, the gig economy is one answer for women seeking flexibility—but it’s not always the best answer for everyone.