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Gendered ‘Post-Wage’ Work
Futures: Women in the Online
Gig Economy
Al James
al.james@ncl.ac.uk @Re_AlJames
Queen Mary Univ...
Sustaining Economies: Gendered Work-
Life Conflict, Struggling with the Juggling
TRIPLE WHAMMY:
1. Working longer, harder,...
Policy Type Description Examples
Flexible Work
Arrangements
Policies designed to
give workers greater
‘flexibility’ in the...
Platform Work-Life Possibilities? ‘The
dawn of a new humane era’ (Rifkin, 2014)
Third Industrial Revolution – Internet re...
On-Demand Gig Work Platforms Explained:
Challenging Employer-Employee Wage Relations
Online labour markets: image of 24/7...
 FORBES (2015) interview with founder and CEO of
Moonlighting (Jeff Tennery):
 “Mobile Optimized Mothers, or as we call
...
RESEARCH FOCUS: (Invisible) Female
Returners Using On-Demand Work Platforms
1.Empowering, WLB liberating effect? c.f. dema...
1. Women in the Online On-Demand Platform
Economy: Multiple Drivers / Motivations
Seeking greater ‘flexibility’ of work
...
2. New Female Work-Life Flexibilities? /
Emancipatory Post-Wage Work Futures?
Greater ‘flexibility’ of work (cf. previous...
24/7 Availability of Atomised ‘Digital Labour’?
‘My work is always set for the times when she’s already in the bed,
but … ...
3. Female Health and Safety in the ‘Gig
Economy’: New Forms of Precarity
LOWER / NO maternity pay for female
freelancers
...
3. Female Health and Safety in the ‘Gig
Economy’: Inappropriate (Male) Buyer Behaviour
‘I actually had a customer last yea...
 Autonomy? C.f. managed by algorithms
rooted in customer feedback scores
 Upwork Work Tracker tool (key strokes,
mouse m...
Female Returners in the Online Gig Economy:
Platforms as a ‘Godsend’?
 From ‘Digital Labour’ to workers’ experiences of
b...
Effecting Positive Change? Suggestions from
Female Platform Workers
Bring back the support desk and make it much more acce...
Women in the Online Gig Economy
Women in the Online Gig Economy
Women in the Online Gig Economy
Women in the Online Gig Economy
Women in the Online Gig Economy
Women in the Online Gig Economy
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Women in the Online Gig Economy

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This paper engages with important debates around social reproduction, gender inequality and the future of waged work in the ‘online gig economy’. It presents key findings from a British Academy funded research project, based on new in-depth interviews (Jan – March 2018) with 30 women using popular online jobs platforms in the UK (PeoplePerHour, UpWork, Fiverr, Elance, TaskRabbit, Copify, Freelancer) to access paid gigs in white-collar desk work (communications, marketing, business devt, HR, office support, web, design, graphics). The project explores the contradictions and hardships experienced by these women in relation to wage precarity, ‘management’ by algorithms, work-life conflict, and health and safety, as they seek to negotiate better work-lives via digital work platforms. Responding to conversations around the ‘post-wage economy’, this paper examines: (i) the multiple drivers (industry, welfare state, households and families) that have motivated these women to engage in online gig work; (ii) how far online work platforms digitally disrupt the historical wage labour relationship between ‘employer’ and ‘employee’ (all of these women either previously held formal employment contracts with employers, or continue to do so alongside online gig work as a means to retain some benefits as employees, especially maternity leave provision) [wage relationship between employee and employer also included series of employer supports for workers, these eschewed by platform providers who do not identify as employers but nevertheless continue to take hefty fees for their service (with no welfare return to taskers); and (iii) the consequences of these reconfigured ‘post-wage’ relationships for ‘employer’ and state support for female returners (limited maternity leave provision, sick pay, holiday pay), in ways that reinforce work-life conflict and stubborn gendered labour market inequalities [gendered constraints on women’s abilities to compete for work on platforms]. The paper opens up new ground, not least because the expansive work-life balance research literature remains strangely limited in its engagement with platform workers in the ‘Gig Economy’. A number of practical suggestions are made for improvements to online work platform models, based on suggestions from women gig workers.

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Women in the Online Gig Economy

  1. 1. Gendered ‘Post-Wage’ Work Futures: Women in the Online Gig Economy Al James al.james@ncl.ac.uk @Re_AlJames Queen Mary University of London, Post-Wage Work Workshop, 29 June 2018
  2. 2. Sustaining Economies: Gendered Work- Life Conflict, Struggling with the Juggling TRIPLE WHAMMY: 1. Working longer, harder, less predictable schedules 2. Increased female labourforce; more dual earner & lone-parent households; complex household lives 3. Neoliberal attack on social provisioning – transfer care down to ‘natural’ level of home (Bakker and Gill 2003) - women assume majority burden  Complex, gendered, multi-variable juggling act: 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) 150 firms, 300 IT workers, 10 years of research, UK & Ireland
  3. 3. 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 – (administrative burden, lack of evidence, unfairly privileging subset of workforce) Limits to managerial buy-in Recessionary roll-back of WLB provision Female workers voting with their feet: move to other firms (better WLB provision); quit the sector; other women turn to online work platforms – in search of greater work autonomy, improved WLB, less stress
  4. 4. Platform Work-Life Possibilities? ‘The dawn of a new humane era’ (Rifkin, 2014) Third Industrial Revolution – Internet reduces marginal cost of production almost to zero (eliminates middlemen mark up) ‘The optimally efficient state for promoting the general welfare and represents the ultimate triumph of capitalism’ (p. 10-11) Unbundling of production from employment Result: ‘a more humane and efficient capitalist market’ (p. 27).
  5. 5. On-Demand Gig Work Platforms Explained: Challenging Employer-Employee Wage Relations Online labour markets: image of 24/7 on–demand digital labour, instant availability through our mobile phone screens Requesters post discrete job tasks / gigs / HITs on platform Taskers choose which work want to do, bid for jobs Platform app matches services buyers with worker offers (mediated by algorithms and customer feedback scores); buyer chooses bid to accept Platforms eschew any responsibility as ‘employers’ – are ‘tech companies’ Taskers identified as ‘self-employed’ ‘independent contractors’ (hence, lack of employer-provided work-life support, e.g. sick pay, holiday pay, maternity pay, pension pay) cf. recent lawsuits (‘dependent contractors’, major power asymmetries) Pay deposited in taskers’ platform account; requests made for release (often with withdrawal fee, and currency conversion fee). No minimum wage
  6. 6.  FORBES (2015) interview with founder and CEO of Moonlighting (Jeff Tennery):  “Mobile Optimized Mothers, or as we call them M.O.M’s… 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). [!!!]  Also, Wosskow 2014, ILO 2016 – but few studies Sickly-Sweet Celebrations of Female Work-Life Emancipation in the ‘Platform Economy’
  7. 7. RESEARCH FOCUS: (Invisible) Female Returners Using On-Demand Work Platforms 1.Empowering, WLB liberating effect? c.f. demands formal office work environments? 2.‘Employer-provided’ WLB arrangements on platforms which eschew employer label? 3. Experiences of / strategies for reducing precarity as ‘dependent contractors’? 4.Work-life experiences of being managed by algorithms cf. manager in the flesh? 35 interviews (Jan-June 2018, majority mothers – PPH, Upwork, Copify, Fiverr, Taskrabbit, TimeEtc) – mix of full- time freelancers and platform top-ups (from highly paid, to low paid) – white collar desk based work from home: communications, marketing, business devt, HR, office support, web, design, graphics – majority mothers Lack of analysis – despite women well represented in UK on- demand workforce (see Huws et al. 2016 survey, 52% UK platform workers)
  8. 8. 1. Women in the Online On-Demand Platform Economy: Multiple Drivers / Motivations Seeking greater ‘flexibility’ of work Bad managers and lack of WLB support Denied request for flexible working Demoted in previous role after childbirth Illness (personal and child) Search for reduced commute Better fit work with husband’s schedule Lack of local employment opportunities Platform entry / shifts in platform portfolio commonly tied to key events in child’s lifecourse (childbirth, nursery start, school start) ‘Platforms are not looking to provide inclusive support for women with children, they are just exploiting a commercial opportunity, and a lack of support for mothers.’
  9. 9. 2. New Female Work-Life Flexibilities? / Emancipatory Post-Wage Work Futures? Greater ‘flexibility’ of work (cf. previous jobs) Better enabling better fit: pockets of work around care tasks Greater sense of self-esteem for female returners after career break, truncated CV and some failed interviews (lower barriers to entry) But: lack of line manager + employer support: ‘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: Regular evening and weekend working Jackpot jobs demand instant proposals Excessive customer demands Servicing overseas clients in real time  Variable income flows (and non-payment)  Need to get out of ‘monthly wage’ mindset
  10. 10. 24/7 Availability of Atomised ‘Digital Labour’? ‘My work is always set for the times when she’s already in the bed, but … it happened to me twice, actually, that I was supposed to start have a Skype call set up with [client] for 8 o’clock, and my daughter 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”?... there is nothing you can do.’ (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018) ‘In the mornings I try not to work… 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… meetings, phone calls, catch ups. 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’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  11. 11. 3. Female Health and Safety in the ‘Gig Economy’: New Forms of Precarity LOWER / NO maternity pay for female freelancers Hiding pregnancy from clients Working close to due date (c.f. pregnancies with formal employee status) Cutting maternity leave short Loss of clients Platforms as career treadmill rather than escalator  2017 study 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… technically I didn’t have any maternity leave [laughs]! I worked, basically, almost as soon as I had [daughter]… It wasn’t so horrendous because she slept a lot, but it was very tiring’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  12. 12. 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… would ring me at 5pm, 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 … I was living in paranoia that he was going to turn up here. That's awful. No one should have to feel like that’. (female freelancer, PPH, Jan 2018)
  13. 13.  Autonomy? C.f. managed by algorithms rooted in customer feedback scores  Upwork Work Tracker tool (key strokes, mouse movement, webcam screen caps)  Taking work offline vs. dangers of non- payment + not being seen in algorithm  Customer feedback as reputational capital: biting tongue, not requesting payments to disable, constraints on post- divorce surname change  Hefty service fees taken by platforms, need to set competitive (low!) rates  longer work hours  Variable workflow and income precarity promote overwork (‘while the sun shines’) 4. Post-Wage Worker Autonomy? vs Algorithms, Surveillance, Platform Overwork ‘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)
  14. 14. Female Returners in the Online Gig Economy: Platforms as a ‘Godsend’?  From ‘Digital Labour’ to workers’ experiences of being used as labour (beyond public facing Uber, etc)  Inseparability from wider networks of social reproduction which enable platform service provision (platforms not remunerating this despite hefty fees)  Worker search for work-family flexibility, but lack of ‘employer’ support (individualised ‘solutions’), new forms of precarity  Combining gig work with PT emp (few 100% platform) – income portfolios to reduce precarity (especially around maternity leave)  Compromise WLB - most female freelancers still doing majority childcare (no major cultural shift)  Gendered drivers of female participation in online platforms – care deficit, female labour market exclusions around childcare  Gendered constraints on women’s abilities to compete for work on on-demand work platforms
  15. 15. Effecting Positive Change? Suggestions from Female Platform Workers Bring back the support desk and make it much more accessible Fairer / capped pricing structures List 3 most recent / top reviews rather than all (to lessen effect of bad reviews) Stricter monitoring (and exclusion) of bad buyers Female managed platforms

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