The gig economy is empowerment. This new business paradigm empowers individuals to better shape their own destiny and leverage their existing assets to their benefit,” said John McAfee. Only that he missed being specific about women empowerment. The gig economy offers flexibility and satisfactory income, and has opened up a plethora of opportunity for women workers. The growing gig economy in India provides women the emancipation they so much require by way of work-life balance, choice of work and financial independence.
The UN Labor Report says that India has one of the highest unemployed population in the world, and the rate has increased from 17.8 million in 2017 to 18 million in 2018. According to the World Bank Report ‘Jobless Growth?’, published in 2018, more than 8 million jobs are required every year for India to keep its employment rate constant, as its unemployed number is increasing by 1.3 million every month. Moreover, in the rapidly changing business scenario with new technologies making foray into the way companies function across all sectors, organisations have to re-strategise their working model constantly to survive in the dynamic business environment. Keeping this grave scenario in mind, the gig economy has come as a boon. We have to accept that the charm of permanent jobs is gradually fading away as professionals, led by the millennial and women, look out for flexibility, challenging work with new learning. It also provides employment opportunities to unemployed students, experienced professionals, less-educated workforce, and those women who quit jobs for family responsibilities.
The gig economy may have become a buzzword now, but it actually existed in the form of part-time jobs, side-business/hustle, whatever we may call it, and women have been known to be doing these. The most popular roles the gig economy offers in India are direct selling, part-time teachers, trainers, artists, content writers, translators, graphic designers, freelance recruiters, software development, legal work, medical transcription, health workers, counsellors, social work, etc, and a large section of domestic workers. Most popular gig works for women are professional freelance, direct selling, digital marketing, graphic designing, content management, legal works, recruitment, data analytics, among others. Many tour and travel companies also hire temporary workforce, mostly women, who work out of their homes during the peak travel months.
With a 26% workforce participation rate, Indian women drop out of the workforce at various stages, primarily during their mid-management phase when their work schedule becomes more challenging since most of them are primary caregivers for their families. After leaving the corporate world, they pick up short-term, part-time or freelance projects as independent professionals or turn into small-time entrepreneurs with limited capital investment, which is the only choice, as the corporate world will not provide them with the flexibility to balance the demands of both a career and family. While a lot of progressive organisations have put in place policies and practices that address some of these aspects, only a small percentile of working women benefit from it. Currently, the gig economy employs 15 million people in India and is set to grow 25-30 % per annum. Gig workers are mostly in demand in metro cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. There are approximately 5.2 million women in the gig economy. Women continue their careers as gig workers for various reasons, like: 48% say that gig assignments give them equal treatment, flexibility of work, good remuneration on the basis of assignment; 28% needed time to care of their family; 23% wanted a career change; 14% were being laid off from their permanent job; and 32% wanted to leave more stressful jobs. Most of the women gig workers are educated with 88% of them mentioning that they had completed at least graduation.
The Union government, too, has promoted the gig economy by extending the facility of hiring workers on fixed-term employment to all sectors for improving the ease of doing business for players intending to hire people for completing specified projects, tasks and orders. Earlier, it was allowed only for apparel manufacturing sector as per the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946. Under fixed-term employment, working conditions in terms of working hours, wages, allowances and statutory dues of a fixed-term employee are at par with with permanent workmen. Traditional workplace gender clichés continue to stay intransigent even in the gig age as well. For women, etching out a career in the gig economy, work can be challenging in the absence of access to networks and financial capital. Low and uncertain income widespread in many gig sectors, compounded by a lack of employment rights, benefits and social security—such as paid maternity leave—mean many women are left in the lurch, worsening their travails further. Female employees can bring many strengths to a company. Just as in the conventional labour market, where women employees hesitate in asking for hike or promotion, in the gig economy too women benchmark themselves lower than their male counterparts.
In order to move towards a more equitable society, it is essential that the newer gig economy ecosystem be made less gender-biased. At present, the numbers seem to be encouraging. Statistics reveal that 82% of female gig workers see their jobs as providing an opportunity for equal pay in the current gig economy. It has simultaneously given a scope to employers to cut costs by hiring independent and short-term workforce. The gig era is here to stay, and women will continue to be the beneficiary of this system. How the organisations make use of this new category of workforce is for them to ponder upon.