Same Problems, Same Inequalities: Women in the Digital Gig Economy

Is the gig economy good enough for the women?

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Gig working provides the flexibility I need but not the money I deserve.

The world is increasingly going digital and technology that could only be imagined a decade ago is now reality. The impact of innovation has been seen across all sectors of the economy including health, education, financial services, hospitality and transport, among others. Innovation has had significant impact in encouraging women’s participation delivery of services enabled by technology platforms.

The gig economy is described as an ecosystem facilitating workers who are either employed or unemployed to earn income through part-time jobs often referred to as ‘gigs’ or side hustles if you choose to be colloquial. The digital gig economy in Africa is quickly gaining prominence and increasing opportunities for the youth and women. Research ICT Africa, a regional think tank, estimates by the end of 2018, there were 227 unique digital platforms in Africa alone serving almost 5 million gig workers. Some digital platforms operate internationally such as Airbnb, Uber and Jumia serving multiple markets, while others are more localised and targeted towards their own markets such as Sendy and Lynk in Kenya, Dropping in Ghana and Gokada in Nigeria.

Gender dynamics in the gig economy

MicroSaving Consulting’s recent research in Kenya shows the increasing participation of women especially in the blue-collar digital gig economy. Emerging platforms are enabling women to take up gig work and use their time more effectively. The flexibility of gig work allows women to offer services they are skilled at, and to schedule their work based on their availability . However, the research also observed women were more likely to be involved in traditionally female oriented jobs such aa hairdressing, beauty and housekeeping. Taking on these roles because of their familiarity with them, their risk-averse nature and social mores. Men were more involved in jobs such as delivery, construction, driving and home repairs.

Key factors motivating women to take up gig work include:

  • The need for additional income.
  • Freedom to take their own decisions and be independent.
  • Building a bright future for family and household.
  • Creating self-identity and carving their social status.
  • The need to work part time around other family obligations.
  • Encouragement from the success stories of their peers.

Singularly female 

Behavioral analysis of gig workers reveals that there are significant differences between the motivations for women becoming gig workers as opposed to men. In the case of men, the key factors enabling them to succeed in gig work include earning subsistent income, building self-wealth, championing innovation and conquering risk. This nature arguably – and inequitably – predisposes men to navigating gig work on digital platforms in a more lucrative manner. Having examined some of the reasons for the gender gap means measures can be proposed to overcome the discrepancy.

Women face unique challenges using digital gig platforms to source for work and market their products and services. In emerging economies, ownership of digital devices such as smartphones enabling access to gig platforms is historically uneven between men and women. Gig platforms in Kenya such as Little, a ride-hailing service or Sendy, an errands company, demand 24-hour availability. However, this is restrictive for women as it requires their physical presence due to family and domestic demands. Ratings on these platforms are partially informed by the number of hours worked. This, in turn, negatively impacts their presumed level of capability. Consequently, if platforms rely on user ratings, women often lose out.

Make it less risky 

Female gig workers, as well as customers, also face increased security risks performing work that requires their physical presence. For example, female customers express higher security concerns when hailing taxis over digital platforms. Female workers also report of instances of sexual harassment and thus are less willing to serve male customers especially at odd hours of the day. In an interview with a female worker involved in offering beauty and wellness services, she indicated that ‘unwarranted demands’ from men had driven her to no longer accept work requests from male customers. In very few cases, the reverse is also true for male workers who provide services traditionally expected to be performed by women.

As in the workplace, women on these platforms struggle to earn equitably. They are observed as more flexible in pricing and more susceptible to being underpaid on gig platforms (including white-collar gig-work). As a consequence, women gig workers who charge prices commensurate with men often get less business on digital platforms. A system where women charge less than their male counterparts leads to devaluation of the services they offer. To deal with these challenges, female platform workers end up not getting sufficient work or drop out from participation on digital gig platforms.

How to offer encouragement 

So how do we encourage female participation in the gig economy? There are different measures that can be explored. A few platform owners have been proactive putting in them in place. For example, Little, a taxi hailing app allows female customers to choose female drivers and vice versa. An Nisa is a local exclusively female taxi hailing platform, run by women, for women only. Even then, they operate between the hours of 8am to 6pm. Others have implemented standard pricing for specific services ensuring adequate pay. They could also put in place algorithms encouraging uniform pricing and let users simply choose a gig worker based on their respective ratings. Higher ratings should justify higher pricing, rather than ascribe to standard platform pricing.

Stronger than yesterday

Participation of women in the digital gig economy not only amplifies employment opportunities and provide a source of income, it also helps create a digital footprint of their work, creating financial records. This in turn provides the necessary data that could be used by financial institutions to design the right products and services that align their financial management and risk mitigation. When women are financially independent, their collective decision-making power boosts the entire economy. So far, we have a way to go before harnessing the gig economy for the good of womankind.

Nancy Kiarie,

Manager and Gender Expert at MicroSaving Consulting, Digital Finance Services

 

 

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