The gig economy employs over 5 million people in the UK, and has been heralded by some commentators as a 'godsend' for women (especially those with young families, whose ongoing majority burden of childcare make it difficult for them to meet the spatial and temporal demands of 'typical' office work environments).
Yet despite these claims, women remain marginalised in much gig economy research - part of a larger, ongoing masculinist bias in economic theory. At the same time, the expansive work-life balance research literature offers very limited engagement with the new digital worlds of gig work.
Through new research engagement with women using online work platforms in the UK (over 20 different platforms identified amongst the participant sample), this project has generated important new insights into the gendered labour market dynamics of the gig economy.
Rarely positive, major motivations underpinning women's turn to online work platforms include: redundancy, denial of previous requests for flexible working, bad former managers, lengthy commutes, personal illness, birth of a child, need to top up statutory maternity pay, and to accommodate male partner's job.
The diversity of gig tasks in which women are involved includes: online marketing, PR, HR, social media management, content writing, legal advice, web development, voice over work, translation. Strong overlap with previous job roles.
New work-family flexibilities achieved through online work platforms centre on: greater temporal and spatial autonomy of work, snatched pockets of gig work juggled around pockets of childcare.
Work-family collisions and ongoing struggles to juggle gig work and childcare include: pervasive evening and weekend working, blurring of work and home space, pregnancy and breastfeeding through gig work.
Common problems amongst women gig workers of income precarity and wage theft (variable workflows, multiple platform fees, competition with overseas workers, scams, limited platform support).
Common problems of worker isolation, working close to due date, cutting maternity leave short, abusive male clients, sexual harassment.
customer expectations of 24/7 instant response, invasive monitoring of worker performance, negative customer reviews shape workflow, threats of deactivation.
Gendered constraints on women's abilities to compete on gig work platforms, majority burden of care ('second shift'), time demands of family life, platforms reinscribing long standing gendered labour market inequalities online.
Innovative strategies used by women to survive / advance in the gig economy (e.g. female gig worker support networks, reintermediation of work, living wage price setting, informed client selection)
Family and friendship networks play a major role in enabling women to engage in online gig work - in ways not remunerated by the platforms themselves.
Standard minimum living wages by task, simplified fee structures, policing bad buyers, effective help desk, enable profile name change in wake of divorce (without loss of accrued ratings).
Challenges the celebratory claims surrounding online work platforms as a means for empowering women and female returners in relation to work-life balance, ‘flexible’ working and economic opportunity.
Makes visible an invisible, home-based female workforce and gives them a voice through a polyvocal research write-up that includes direct quotes from research participants.
Exposes the challenges these gig workers face as women seeking to make a living through online gig work.
Exposes a series of gendered constraints on women’s abilities to compete on online work platforms. Identifies a number of improvements that women would like to see platform developers make in order to reduce the hardships they face.
Shows how women's experiences of the platform economy vary spatially between places with different industrial histories and urban infrastructures of care.