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The gig workforce is growing but female participation remains low

Yatti Soni Bengaluru | Updated on November 24, 2021

Norms and perceptions around ‘appropriate’ work continue to dictate opportunities for women

When gig economy companies such as Swiggy, Zomato, Urban Company started in India, they were expected to increase female labour participation in the country because of the freelance/flexible nature of work. But the number of women in the gig workforce has stayed low.

Swiggy has just 1,000 women in its fleet of 2,20,000 workers. Only 0.5 per cent of Zomato’s delivery partners are women. On the other hand, Urban Company, which has gigs such as salon and spa, has had more success in terms of women participation; firm says it has 32,000 active service partners, of which a third are women.

According to an Urban Company spokesperson, most of these women partners are active in ‘salon for women’ and ‘spa for women’ categories, while only a few participate in other professions like RO technician, etc.

Kunal Patil, CEO and co-founder of blue and grey collar recruitment platform WorkIndia, told BusinessLine, “For beauty salon gigs we see a significant number of women candidates, in fact, it would be over 50 per cent. But in the case of typical gig economy jobs like food deliveries, grocery deliveries, an overwhelming percentage of applicants are men.”

Companies such as Swiggy, Zomato, ShadowFax, BigBasket hire from WorkIndia.

Ambika Tandon, a researcher at The Centre for Internet and Society, who focusses on women’s work in the digital economy said, “Smartphone ownership and digital literacy (knowing how to use apps to register and find work) is much less among women, excluding them from these opportunities.”

She further points out that norms and perceptions around ‘appropriate’ work also dictate access to opportunities for women. For example, driving and delivery work are not considered appropriate for women.

Policy changes

Of late, gig economy companies have begun to acknowledge the low rate of participation of women in their workforce and have introduced various policy changes. In June this year, for instance, Zomato set a goal to improve its women participation from 0.5 per cent to 10 per cent by the end of 2021 starting with Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Pune. It announced policy changes such as addition of safety-related education and tools, contactless delivery by default, restaurant partners coming forward to ensure access to separate washroom for women partners, SOS button and dedicated support team.

More recently in October, Swiggy announced a two-day monthly paid period time-off policy for female delivery partners. Will these measures make a difference? It remains to be seen.

Published on November 24, 2021

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