Are Millennial and Generation Z Women Benefitting From the Gig Economy?

by Kristin Hodnett & Lucinda Koza for Got It Done Gal

Photographer: Andrew Neel | Source: Unsplash

The Monday through Friday nine to five work week is gone. People don’t stay with one company for fifty years to retire with a gold watch. The workforce is instead finding themselves participating in what we’ve dubbed the ‘gig economy,’ due to the rise of project-specific contracts and freelancers rather than company loyalty and career ladders to climb. For women, the gendered wage gap and the #metoo movement don’t necessarily set an inviting scene. The American Dream seems to have shifted away from Corporate America and more toward self-containment. Rather than trust in being a good employee, we trust in our own ideas and grab work where we can. A thrill for some, is this new way of working a potential benefit for young women?

The Newest Generations in the Workforce

This newly developed gig economy has played a big role in the career expectations and working life of the latest generations, beginning with Xennials (1977–1983), then Millennials (1981–1996) and now Generation Z (1996–2010). This setup appeals to many because it grants the variety, flexibility and freedom that these generations crave and suits the ambitiousness they typically exhibit.

The Differences in a Gig Economy

Just how does a gig economy differ from the conventional one in place for decades? Most employees are no longer full-time employees. Instead, many are opting to work for multiple organizations as independent contractors or freelancers. Positions are not long term with annual salaries, but are temporary, as needed and paid as such. Instead of one employer for life, you have one or many at once. Stable annual salaries are gone, replaced with pay per gig or maybe hourly per contract.

Logically, it seems this would eliminate the gender wage gap that women face. Common sense tells us that rates set per task would mean customers don’t know in advance if they’re hiring a male or female, so the gap should be erased. Unfortunately, statistics show this not to be true.

The Gender Wage Gap

I had a conversation with a fellow Xennial who told me the gender wage gap did not exist, that it was a myth. These and other statistics prove that very wrong. Calculations based on data from the Census Bureau in 2016 showed a gender wage gap in 97% of occupations. Examinations of multiple companies show that women in the same positions as their male counterparts are indeed paid less.

Take the example of the study conducted on Uber drivers. Results reported to CNN showed that men drivers made 7% more than women drivers. Where this has been driven by discrimination in the past, it now seems to be logistical. Women avoid unsafe areas and times, while men don’t care about those things as much and are proven to drive faster (a good quality for a paid driver). This isn’t a promising difference. Another major difference, one that can be overcome, is that men stuck with it longer than women, allowing them to become efficient and develop more skills. This is at least one area where women could make strides.

Statistics from the BUREAU OF LABOR show that 46.9% of the workforce in 2018 was female. That means that almost half of the US workforce is making $0.82 to the $1.00 of the other (male) half of the population according to the US Census.

In S&P 500 companies, women are 44.7% of management; this seems like a good balance. However, only 5% are CEOs and 11% top earners. The higher a woman climbs, the more distance there is between her salary and a male’s. THIS IS WHERE THE DISCREPANCY BECOMES CLEAR. Seems like that glass ceiling has been cracked maybe, but not shattered.

How the Gig Economy Differs for Women and Men

While having multiple income streams is highly praised and smart in today’s society when a business could suddenly downsize or be bought out, the lack of loyalty works both ways. This leads to a lack of job security, income stability and decreased employee benefits. This can be especially harmful to women.

Women are traditionally thought of as caretakers more than men. With no employer or benefits, women are not likely to get paid maternity leave or maternity leave at all. Xennials, Millennials and Gen Z find themselves part of the Sandwich Generations; those taking care of both children and aging parents. Family leave is almost non-existent for freelancers and contractors too. More women than men are the ones impacted by this, and the time off now only sets their career back, but is considered a blemish on their resume and takes a chunk of income out of their wallets. Although household roles are becoming more equal, this still seems to unfairly burden women. Even with the flexibility and control workers have in a gig economy, women continue to struggle to balance a family and a home more than men in most cases.

Lack of benefits can also mean lack of insurance. You can imagine a major way this hurts women — pregnancy and childbirth. Imagine not only the financial cost, but the opportunity for women to receive substandard medical care.

The freedom and flexibility of a gig economy also contributes to one of its biggest flaws. There is much less regulation and enforcement of protective hiring laws in this system. Companies seem more open to ask uncomfortable, irrelevant, and potentially illegal questions about children or marital status. Others have admitted they’d prefer not to hire mothers and caregivers, though men in these positions often get what they call the “fatherhood bonus.”

Women’s Work

Older generations linger and contribute to antiquated ideas that divide workers. Ideas of “women’s work” and “men’s work” still exist today. Making this situation worse, things considered women’s work are generally assigned less value and paid less salary. With the good news that men and women pursuing education in similar numbers, this idea should easily be thrown out the window. What’s not good, is that women are being started at lower salaries than men, giving them less to pay their student loans. They’re behind from the beginning! This holds true not just for young women but for any diverse candidate.

It’s hard to believe that these issues haven’t been addressed by this point. That’s part of the problem. They have in traditional labor, but there is not enough regulation or enforcement for these companies that operate without full-time employees. In a gig economy, it’s easier to disguise or hide gender bias. The hiring process for a non-employee just doesn’t have the built in blocks to prohibit gender discrimination. It may appear less significant, so we overlook or dismiss it more than in traditional jobs and hiring.

The world is evolving in the way businesses operate, the employment people seek and the way we earn a living. Upwork CEO Stephanie Kasriel talked about the changes the younger generation is bringing to the workforce to CNBC. Millennials and Generation Z already make up 38% of the workforce and they expect this to grow to 58% in just the next 10 years. This certainly gives younger workers the chance to shape a more equitable vision of a gig economy for everyone, especially women and diverse candidates.

We all agree the flexibility and ability to set your own standards are huge benefits of a gig economy, but there is room for improvement. The gig economy, done well, could be something to address many of the areas Millennials and Generation Z workers dislike about the system. As it looks now, it is not the final answer, but expect the new workforce entrants to create a better model, especially as the younger generations take over and outdated beliefs fade away.

Founder & CEO of I-Ally, a community-driven app for millennial family caregivers.

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