Are women better suited to the gig economy?


No economic change is good for everyone. When many rural dwellers moved from their farms to the cities, some folks who were really good potato or pig farmers probably lost the opportunity to do the job that suited them best. And when the industrial age hit and assembly lines rolled into action, it makes sense that men may have gotten a boost – after all, on average, they’re more likely to be suited to tough, physical work. Now, one columnist is claiming that the next economic upheaval many experts foresee, the rise of the gig economy, is more suited to the skills of women.

There are certainly limitations to this sort of broad brushstrokes description of who wins and who loses when the economy changes – subsets of populations may gain or lose more, other political or cultural forces complicate the chain of causation and obviously many individuals don’t fit the group average – but that doesn’t make these sorts of speculations 100 percent invalid either. So adding that hefty pinch of salt, what exactly does Susannah Breslin argue in her recent column “Do Women Make Better Independent Contractors?”

Her case is that there are three main reasons that the ladies may be more suited to work as freelancers or independent contractors: their empathy, their creativity and their ability to handle the lifestyle. Before you start howling that a characteristic like empathy isn’t a pre-programmed characteristic of either gender, but instead is a cultural expectation women are taught, take note that’s exactly what Breslin is saying.

“Culturally, women are programmed to believe they excel at empathy,” she writes, concluding that whether it’s nature or nurture really doesn’t matter. It’s still a leg up: “As an independent contractor, it pays to be empathetic. It’s not about what you want. It’s about what the client wants.” The same goes for creativity:

According to a 2008 Pew Research Center survey… sixty-four percent of Americans declared women more creative, and 11 percent declared men more creative. My experience is that while both genders may have equal capacity to think creatively, it’s more culturally acceptable for women to employ their creativity than men…. Where men will fight—often effectively—for their vision, women are more likely to move into what I call “shape-shifter” mode, exploring various possible solutions to a challenge, rather than trying to drive one square peg through a round hole.

Finally, Breslin notes that being a freelancer isn’t exactly a secure gig, or one that conjures high status images in others – in fact it’s more likely to make folks picture you in your pajamas. And that, writes Breslin, bugs men more than women. “Men aren’t as comfortable with what the ad hoc lifestyle of the independent contractor might communicate — that they’re maybe less professional or perhaps unable to join the workforce because of an embarrassing social problem,” she writes.

Breslin isn’t the only commentator to have made this argument. Lindsey Donner, writing for the Young Entrepreneur Council last year, argued that the future of work is more female friendly, citing, like Breslin, women’s creativity, but also their relative ease with the kind of relationship building on which being a successful freelancer depends. “My sociability, my willingness to assign importance to emotional cheerleading, and my capacity to build personal relationships –virtually — have helped me cultivate a loyal client base,” she wrote, using her own experience as an example.

But there are also plenty of potential counter-arguments. Professional men have been in the independent contractor game for a long time, and many excel at it. In fact, the constant negotiation and advocating for yourself being a freelancer demands could be said to be better suited to men, who study after study shows are more likely to ask for what they want and stick up for themselves at work. And then there are the demands of raising kids, which while they should fall equally on both genders in current reality often don’t. Women might benefit more then from the defined hours, the pregnancy- and birth-covering health insurance and the relatively steady protective cocoon of a corporate job.

What do you think – is one of the genders better suited to the rise of the freelancer?

Image courtesy of Flickr user CarbonNYC.

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