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Gig Economy, Female Freelancers, Gender Inclusive Growth

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Documents the lived experiences of female returners with young families juggling online gig work with the messy and fleshy everyday activities of social reproduction, in ways that potentially disrupt (versus reinforce) stubborn gendered labour market inequalities.

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Gig Economy, Female Freelancers, Gender Inclusive Growth

  1. 1. Digital Work-Lives and Gender Inclusive Growth in the ‘Sharing’ Economy (?) Al James al.james@ncl.ac.uk @Re_AlJames University of Southampton - 7 Feb 2018 Work/home boundaries in the Digital Economy
  2. 2. Sustaining Economies: Gendered Work- Life Conflict, Struggling with the Juggling  Shifting temporal and spatial boundaries between home and work  Negative experiences of ‘New Economy’: working longer, harder, to less predictable schedules, more unsocial hrs  Same time, increased female labour participation rates; household life more complex: e.g. more dual earner, lone-parent households  Neoliberal attack on social provisioning – transfer of care down to ‘natural’ level of home (Bakker and Gill 2003) where women assume majority burden of ‘messy and fleshy’ domestic life (Katz 2001)  Complex, multi-variable juggling act for which workers have finite time and energy • Lack of WLB: increased stress, negative effects on psychological and physical well-being, and increased family & marital tensions (many studies)
  3. 3.  Major causes of work-life conflict Highly variable workloads over product devt cycles Need for rapid response to client crises International work teams in multiple time zones Maintaining skill sets in dynamic IT sector  Everyday experiences of work life conflict interrupted sleep patterns stress and exhaustion regular evening and weekend working relationships with partner / children suffer working (at home) when feeling unwell missing out on leisure / hobbies checking email in hospital close to child birth  Particular pressures on women with children: identity of ‘a good mother’ invokes an everyday presence and involvement in childrearing absent from dominant societal expectations ‘a good father’ (see Hardhill and van Loon 2006) Documenting Everyday Work-Life Conflicts, High Tech Sector (Highly Gendered) 150 firms, 300 workers, 10 years of research, UK & Ireland
  4. 4. Policy Type Description Examples Flexible Work Arrangements Policies designed to give workers greater ‘flexibility’ in the scheduling and location of work hours while not decreasing average work hours per week Flextime (flexible beginning or end work time, sometimes with core hours) Flexplace / Telecommuting (all or part of the week occurs at home) Job sharing (one job undertaken by 2 or more persons) Annualised hours Reduced Work Hours Policies designed to reduce workers’ hours Part-time work Compressed work weeks (employees compact total working hours into 4 days rather than 5) Term-time working Practical Help with Child Care Policies designed to provide ‘workplace social support’ for parents Employer-subsidised childcare – in-site Employer-subsidised childcare – off-site Information service for childcare Workplace parent support group Breast-feeding facilities Personal Leave Policies and benefits that give leave to provide time for personal commitments & family caregiving Extra-statutory maternity leave Extra-statutory paternity leave Adoption leave Unpaid leave during school holidays Guaranteed Christmas leave Use of own sick leave to care for sick children Leave for caring for elder relatives Emergency leave Study leave Sports achievement leave So what can employers do to help?
  5. 5. Policy Type Description Examples Flexible Work Arrangements Policies designed to give workers greater ‘flexibility’ in the scheduling and location of work hours while not decreasing average work hours per week Flextime (flexible beginning or end work time, sometimes with core hours) Flexplace / Telecommuting (all or part of the week occurs at home) Job sharing (one job undertaken by 2 or more persons) Annualised hours Reduced Work Hours Policies designed to reduce workers’ hours Part-time work Compressed work weeks (employees compact total working hours into 4 days rather than 5) Term-time working Practical Help with Child Care Policies designed to provide ‘workplace social support’ for parents Employer-subsidised childcare – in-site Employer-subsidised childcare – off-site Information service for childcare Workplace parent support group Breast-feeding facilities Personal Leave Policies and benefits that give leave to provide time for personal commitments & family caregiving Extra-statutory maternity leave Extra-statutory paternity leave Adoption leave Unpaid leave during school holidays Guaranteed Christmas leave Use of own sick leave to care for sick children Leave for caring for elder relatives Emergency leave Study leave Sports achievement leave So what can employers do to help? BUT: Many employers remain unconvinced – highly sceptical of WLB ‘business case’ (administrative burden, unfair privileging select group, lack of supporting evidence) Limits to managerial ratification (formal vs informal WLB provision) Recessionary roll-back of WLB provision Workers voting with their feet: move to other firms (better WLB provision); quit the sector altogether; other women going freelance, use of online work platforms – in search of greater work autonomy, improved WLB, less stress, advancement
  6. 6. Enter the ‘Sharing Economy’ (chaotic conception) ‘What is innovative about today’s sharing is that it is a market form in which strangers—rather than kin and communities—exchange goods and services. This contemporary sharing economy creates new ways of provisioning goods and services … re-allocating wealth across the “value chain,” specifically away from “middlemen” and towards small producers and consumers. In 2011, Time magazine identified collaborative consumption as one of its 10 ideas that will change the world’. Schor and Fitzmaurice (2015: 4).  New disruptive economic model using internet platforms: access over ownership  ‘Sharing Economy’ / ‘Collaborative Commons’ / ‘Peer to Peer Economy’ / ‘Digital On Demand Economy’ / ‘Platform economy’ / ‘Gig Economy’ / ‘Connected Consumption’  Multiple circuits: semi-profit, pure profit, redistribution, sharing
  7. 7. Platform Work-Life Possibilities? ‘The dawn of a new humane era’ (Rifkin, 2014) ‘The optimally efficient state for promoting the general welfare and represents the ultimate triumph of capitalism’ (p. 10-11) Third Industrial Revolution – Internet reduces marginal cost of production almost to zero (eliminates virtually all middlemen mark up) From economy of scarcity to abundance Unbundling of production from employment Reduced social inequality Platforms: ‘Old paradigm of owners and workers, of sellers and consumers, is beginning to break down.’ (p. 160-1). New class of ‘prosumers’ Result: ‘a more humane and efficient capitalist market’ (p. 27). (other commentators more critical, e.g. Robert Reich ‘sharing the scraps’ economy)
  8. 8.  FORBES (2015) interview with founder and CEO of Moonlighting (Jeff Tennery):  “Mobile Optimized Mothers, or as we call them M.O.M’s, are fueling the new 1099 shared economy. Women are empowering themselves, choosing to work from home and earn a living on their terms. We’re very honored to help them on their mission to achieve that balance between career and life.”  ‘For professional women, the on-demand economy is already a godsend… to advance in their careers or at least stay in the game while being the kind of parents they want to be’ (Andreasson 2015:2). [!!!]  See also, Wosskow 2014, ILO 2016 Sickly-Sweet Celebrations of Female Work-Life Emancipation in the ‘Sharing Economy’
  9. 9. FOCUS: Making Visible Female Freelancer Work-Lives: On-Demand Work Platforms 1.Empowering, liberating effect on WLB c.f. demands of more formal office work environments? 2.Digital on-demand work disrupts / reinforces gendered distribution of productive and reproductive work? 3.‘Employer-provided WLB’ arrangements for platform workers? 4.Work-life experiences of being managed by algorithms rather than manager in the flesh? 19 interviews so far (Jan/Feb 2018, 18 women, majority mothers, 1 single father – PPH, Upwork, Copify, Fiverr, Taskrabbit, WorkEtc) – mix of full-time freelancers and platform top-ups (from highly paid, to low paid) – desk based communications, marketing, business devt, HR, office support, web, design, graphics Lack of analysis – despite women well represented in UK on- demand workforce (see Huws et al. 2016 survey, 52% UK platform workers)
  10. 10. 1. Better Juggling Platform Work, Home and Family? Absence of Employer Support? Greater ‘flexibility’ of work widely acknowledged – strong illness motivation Benefits of loss of commute Enabling discrete pockets of work fitted around care task rhythms (quilts) But: lack of line manager (none), employer WLB support (none), ‘it’s all on me’ – no paid sick leave / holiday leave / pension (‘1 hr child time = 1 hr lost income’) Major sources of work-life conflict: Excessive customer demands post acceptance (but need to tread carefully) Regular evening and weekend working Jackpot jobs demand instant proposals School holidays as major crunch point
  11. 11. 1. Crazy Quilts: Juggling Platform Work, Home and Family ‘My work is always set for the times when she’s already in the bed, so, … it happened to me twice, actually, that I was supposed to start have a Skype call set up with [client] for eight o’clock, and my daughter was just playing up. She didn’t want to go to sleep. My computer is downstairs. Her bedroom is upstairs. And I was stuck, like, what do I do? Do I go to the computer with the baby in my arms, and just say, “Okay, [client], I can do 15 minutes later”? So, that kind of situation, it does happen, it’s frustrating. But there is nothing you can do.’ (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018) ‘In the mornings I try not to work. I try and wait to maybe 9am just to set that precedent as well that I'm not available 24/7. So I do the nursery run, the school run and then on the days where I work from home… that allows me to do meetings, phone calls, catch ups. That's what a lot of my freelance work is. Then it's normally pick up, spend a couple of hours with my daughter and then it's normally a pocket of two or three hours in the evening, so from 7pm until 9pm, 7pm until 10pm where I really catch up and get things done that I couldn't do during normal working hours’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  12. 12. Substantial service fees taken by platforms plus need to set competitive (lower!) international rates mean longer hours Variability of workflow (weekly, annual) promotes overwork (‘make hay while the sun shines’) – also need for extended family care networks Dec / Jan low coincides with expensive period – but top month becomes target Autonomy? Work-life challenges of algorithms and rankings: taking work offline vs. keeping work credits to be seen in algorithm search results; emails if underperform Aggressive bidding, then passing work on to other freelancers as coping mechanism 2. Work Autonomy vs Pressures of Overwork on Platforms ‘This is my income. This isn't a joke. This is me paying for my rent. This is me paying for food, paying for uniforms, things like that." I was like, "You cannot drop my ranking." How ridiculous is that, that I'm begging them not to drop my ranking. But I'm like, "You can't drop me out of the algorithm because people won't find me and I won't be able to get any work”’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  13. 13. 3. Female Health and Safety in the ‘Gig Economy’: Maternity Leave, and Female Returners Lack of paid maternity leave support (weak: UK statutory only) Hiding pregnancy from clients Working close to due date (and much more so c.f. previous children when had formal employee status) Cutting maternity leave very short – multiple women Loss of clients from pre-leave Truncated and regressed career ladders (amplified in gig economy?) Wider pattern: 2017 study by GPDQ platform – mental health issues for freelance women and newborns – mothers working within crucial first 6 weeks (n=104) ‘So I started freelancing in 2006 which was when [son] was born, and I had [daughter] December of 2007. She was supposed to be a Christmas day baby, so I worked until probably the 24th of December, had [daughter], and then due to commitments, because at the time I was doing some freelance work for an organisation that had a yearly exhibition… and the exhibition was in March so technically I didn’t have any maternity leave [laughs]! I worked, basically, almost as soon as I had [daughter]. Because I’d made commitments to the organisation. It wasn’t so horrendous because she slept a lot, but it was very tiring’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  14. 14. 3. Female Health and Safety in the ‘Gig Economy’: Inappropriate (Male) Buyer Behaviour ‘I actually had a customer last year, I was put off freelancing for a little while because of this. Often people don't want to communicate via PeoplePerHour. Often people want to do Skype meetings and phone calls and things like that. That does mean obviously an exchange of personal information. I had a customer that knew I got home from work at 5pm, would ring me at 5pm, I'd be on the phone to him for an hour, an hour and a half every evening. He knew I had a child. He'd always be calling and I wouldn't answer. Then I'd get emails straightaway, "Are you not interested? Shall we not pay you this month?" I found that very uncomfortable. Also, he was a man, he had my address because my invoices were there and I didn't feel safe. He also had my mobile number so I ended up having to block him on my mobile, block him on my landline. I had to block his texts on my phone as well. Then for some reason for a few days I was living in paranoia that he was going to send me a letter or he was going to turn up here. That's awful. No one should have to feel like that, whether they're male or female’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  15. 15. Making visible female work-lives in the ‘Sharing Economy’? (Familiar?) Discussion  Highly varied female worker experiences (and blurring with freelancer / contractor / PT emp categories) –very few 100% platform  Some novelty, but strong consistencies with previous work  Compromise WLB and female freelancers: juggling work, home and family  Obfuscatory limits to the ‘Sharing Economy’ label – positive discourse distracts from negative worker experiences (also a term workers not using) (c.f. digital on-demand)  Methodological challenges of researching female freelancers through platforms (posting interview tasks, being moderated, deposit payments, limits of university financing!)  Gendered online labour market inequalities? – experiences of ‘male returners’?  Subcontracted capitalism & virtual challenges to collective organizing
  16. 16. Mumpreneur ‘constructed as a high-achieving, flexible, creative, multi-tasking “supermom” who makes use of digital information and communication technologies to run a business from home while maximizing quality time with her (biological) children’ (Krueger 2015: 2). Geographical distribution and ‘spacing’ of jobs, housing and services within a particular urban area determine the working time arrangements and childcare options actually available to workers managing one or more careers from a fixed residential location (Jarvis and Pratt 2006: 333) Emancipatory Work-Life Possibilities in the ‘Sharing Economy’? Digital Mumpreneurs
  17. 17. TIME Magazine 2015
  18. 18. Precarity & Poor Pay in the ‘Gig Economy’ ‘Lyft, for months, has been the only job I have been able to hang onto, having been laid off from my other (part time) position late last year. Night after night I have been behind the wheel trying to break even. So, it's been just Lyft for months and months and months, and all of what I make goes right back into bills, with a little bit going in my gas tank. I’m working my ass off’. (Lyft Driver, Colorado Springs, Sat 16 August 2015) Been driving around the Twin Cities, MN for the last few days getting a feel of this Uber thing. I was originally attracted to it by their little ad claiming a person is guaranteed to make 4k a month driving if you put in 40 hours. I figured that figure is probably somewhat exaggerated, but if I was to get 3/4ths of that or sometimes the 4k.. it would be worth it right? How the (#*$ can they possible lie THAT badly and get away with it. I mean, in three days of about 6 hours each.. I've managed to make about $14-16 an hour before any expenses. Meaning, Mcdonalds is a better option. Any grown person with a brain knows that any person working Independent would have to make $20 an hour for it to be worth it.. and probably $25 an hour in order to abuse a personal asset like a car in the process. Then the nerve the company has.. when I’m taking a person on a 40 minute 26 mile journey to the airport. My pay was about 29 I think.. They take 9 dollars!! That’s literally nuts. And a trip like that is the best case scenario that you'll get all day. I said to myself that’s A TON of money this company is making for running an App. qpcomma1, Wednesday at 6:29 PM. http://uberpeople.net/threads/new-driver-shocked.120159/

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