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are more women working in the gig economy? and why should we care?

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The gig economy has been widely heralded as the future of work. Proponents celebrate it as a means for workers to escape the tyranny of the traditional workplace and to cultivate a career on their own terms. They cite it as the conduit to freedom and choice for today’s workers.

For many, however, the reality of the gig economy falls far short of the fantasy. Indeed, for far too many “giggers,” the work involves lower pay and higher levels of uncertainty than traditional, full-time employment. And the negative effects of the gig economy are hitting women particularly hard.

Why Women “Gig”

Though men still make up a significantly higher proportion of the gig economy than women, studies suggest that women are currently entering the field at substantially higher rates than men. This phenomenon has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been largely attributed to longer-standing issues relating to women’s participation in the workforce.

For example, in the face of continuing lockdowns, including widespread school closures, women are leaving their full-time jobs to care for children who may now be learning from home. This decision for women to be the ones to leave their job, moreover, is driven in large part by the reality that a wage gap persists for women, reinforcing long-standing stereotypes that women’s jobs are less important and less essential than men’s.

Financial Hardship

The lockdowns are not the only reasons that more women are entering the gig economy. More women are turning to freelancing in the effort to find financial security for themselves and their families. The pandemic has taken not only a profound toll on health and education, for instance, but has also been devastating to the economy, contributing to significant fears of layoffs, furloughs, or pay decreases.

Even workers who have not lost their jobs may be experiencing cuts in hours or an increasing sense of job insecurity. In such circumstances, women are turning to contract work to cultivate multiple revenue streams to offset the threat of job loss or income reduction.

And it’s not difficult to understand why women are turning to gigging for a bit of additional financial security. Freelance writing, for instance, is a popular choice because, if you have the tech, you can do it from pretty much anywhere, from the kitchen table with your laptop to the front seat of your car writing with your tablet while you wait for the kids to get out of school.

And once you have a stable client portfolio, freelance writing can be a great source of income, offering flexibility in your working hours and autonomy in the projects you choose to take on. But it takes a while to get there.

The Reality of Gigging

To be sure, there is much to be said about the gig economy. But the challenges of freelancing are as great, if not greater – especially in the beginning. For example, there are no guarantees of work when you are freelancing.

Unlike a steady monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly paycheck from a traditional employer, when you freelance, you are paid when you have a gig and only then. And that means that when you don’t get projects, you don’t get paid.

At the same time, you’re also generally working without other benefits, such as health insurance or retirement savings. This only increases the costs associated with gigging, meaning that you will have to secure more work to make up for the perks for which a traditional employer would have footed the bill.

But building a steady revenue stream as a freelancer doesn’t happen at once. In fact, it can take a significant amount of time for a gigger to build up a stable portfolio of well-paying clients. So, freelancers have to spend a lot of time hustling for the next project and that coveted new client. For women, this responsibility often accompanies other significant obligations, including the burden of caregiving and maintaining the home – tasks which still fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women.

The Takeaway

The gig economy may offer opportunities for flexibility and independence in the workforce. For women, however, the gig economy all too often contributes to the exploitation and inequities that women frequently experience in the labour market, from low pay and high levels of income insecurity to the reinforcement of stereotypes that women’s work is fundamentally inessential, tangential, and expendable.

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer passionate about workplace equity, and whose published works cover sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more. You can see more of her work by visiting her portfolio.

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