Have you factored the gig economy into your gender equality strategy?

Have you factored the gig economy into your gender equality strategy?

Leading organisations push the bar when it comes to improving gender equality, looking beyond their organisational boundaries and traditional definitions of employees to all of their stakeholders, including independent contractors, consultants and suppliers.

While tapping into the benefits of the ‘gig economy’ of flexible workers, it is important to consider whether or not your gender equality strategy factors in the unique gender issues related to the gig economy.

Australian organisations are at different stages of the gender equality journey, the most recent data from the WGEA shows that over 70 per cent of organisations have a gender equality strategy or policy in some form. While the extent to which those strategies cover the full suite of gender equality issues is unknown, many of the core issues of targets, workforce composition, pay equity, flexibility and sex-based harassment are considered.

Achieving gender equality in the workplace is challenging, and there is so much work that still needs to be done to ensure that the lived experience for employees is actually consistent with what the policies and strategies aim to achieve. However, while we focus on getting our houses in order within the organisational boundaries, the workplace itself is changing. For organisations to remain as the leaders in gender equality their diversity and inclusion strategies and gender equality strategies could be broadened to ensure they take into account the unique gender issues associated with the gig economy.

The gig economy is the move away from 9–5 full-time work to a system of engaging with organisations on a project-by-project or ‘gig’ basis. Independent consultants or contingent workers may be engaged on a short-term basis individually, to supplement a team, or as part of a larger team of gig workers.

From a diversity point of view, the gig economy allows organisations to bring in talent that may otherwise be inaccessible to them. For example, male-dominated industries may find it harder to attract women for long-term roles, but gig work enables women to contribute on multiple short-term projects to bring fresh and different perspectives into the organisation, which in turn helps to shift its culture.

For organisations it is important to be aware of the specific gender issues related to freelance consultants or contingent workers such as potential exposure to sex-based harassment or discrimination in the organisation, gender bias in consultant selection and rate decisions, and potential inequities with full-time employers resenting freelancers’ flexibility.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you evaluate your diversity and inclusion strategy:

  • Does your diversity and inclusion strategy specifically reference freelancers, contingent workers, independent consultants and contractors?

  • Have you done an analysis to identify the unique gender-related issues for your freelancers?

  • Are you maximising the benefits of diverse talent available in the gig economy?

  • Do you have processes in place to ensure the removal of gender bias from the process of recruitment and selection of freelance consultants?

  • Do you have gender targets for the engagement of independent consultants?

  • Do you consider the gender composition of small consulting teams that you build from members of the gig economy?

  • Is there a process in place for ensuring freelance consultants are aware of the sex-based harassment policy?

  • Do you include freelancers in your pay equity analysis (particularly for like-for-like roles)?

  • Do you provide your employees with similar flexibility arrangements to your freelance consultants?

  • Do you have the appropriate technology and communication channels in place to enable contact between freelance members of the team?

  • Do your leaders and managers know how to manage flexible teams and freelance consultants?

By working through this list, you may find new and creative ways of expanding your existing gender strategy to incorporate the specific issues for flexible gig economy workers.  

As the gig economy grows, so too will the need for organisations to adapt organisational structures, policies and management styles. Incorporating specific gender issues for freelancers into your diversity and inclusion strategy will ensure that you attract the best freelancer talent, and that you are able to maximise their contribution by creating a high-performance environment for them.

We understand this is a relatively new topic when it comes to gender equality and we need to explore the issues and different ways of addressing them - we'd love to hear from you on any issues you've observed?

Heidi Sundin is the Director of The Agenda Agency — a boutique consulting firm specialising in corporate strategy, SME growth and gender strategy. She works with organisations to drive growth, innovation and gender diversity. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer-centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans strategy development and creating transformational programs across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. Check out theagendaagency.com