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85% Women Feel Flexibility And Autonomy Are The Most Attractive Features In Gig Economy

The study offers valuable insights and offers key recommendations on the working structure and measures towards ensuring access to decent work and social protection for these workers in a sector that is growing rapidly.

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Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE), an initiative of LEAD at Krea University, today announced the release of a report titled ‘India’s Emerging Gig Economy: The Future of Work for Women Workers’. The study looks into women’s experiences of the ‘on-demand’ gig and platform economy in India. The study is funded by The Asia Foundation, a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across 18 countries in Asia.                                   

This report identifies the various forms of employer-employee relations that have surfaced through this emerging model of work; mediated through aggregator companies, such as Urban Company which this study explored in-depth. Such companies primarily provide services through internet-enabled mobile applications and bring together similar service providers (who are not identified as ‘workers’, but as partners/independent contractors) on a single platform to perform specific ‘gigs’. It explores the gender dynamics in the gig economy, especially in the context of emerging opportunities in pink-collar work. This pilot study explored the biggest such service platform in India: Urban Company. Researchers surveyed 88 women service providers in Delhi and Mumbai and carried out Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs) with academics, experts, as well as the company representatives.

Some of the key findings from this report include:

Flexibility is the most attractive feature

85% of the Urban Company’s service partners said they wanted a level of flexibility and this platform allows them to work in ways that would otherwise be impossible. Almost 80 percent of the women were found to be married, and around half of them have young children. Women with young children find the platform economy particularly attractive, as this offers the flexibility to manage the work-family balance. 

Increased autonomy and enhanced status of women

60% of surveyed women indicated that they are the main earning member in the family. This has altered their status in their families. They reported that they received more respect from members of their families and now participate in the decision-making process. This analysis yielded a crucial insight that a women’s increased economic capabilities substantially improve their agency, and overall empowerment. 

Average income was higher than other forms of employment available to them

Survey findings suggest that women’s average daily earnings are Rs. 1,552, which depends on the number of tasks performed. These women earn significantly higher as compared to a salon job (where average monthly income ranges between Rs. 8,000 – Rs. 10,000, and a relatively long average working day of 10 hours or so). 57% women reported that they service less than three calls per day and 42% of respondents’ service between three to five calls each day (with multiple tasks in each call). This is reflective of the fact that most women are bound by their unpaid work responsibilities and can only dedicate a part of their day to paid employment. 

Lack of adequate social protection

In the platform economy model, while the aggregator companies operate in the formal sector, they enrol the service providers or professionals onto their platform as ‘self-employed’ and not as ‘employees’, and thereby exclude them from several forms of social protections and non-wage benefits, and also makes it difficult to bring them under adequate labour protections. 81% workers were dissatisfied due to the lack of maternity benefits and 63% were dissatisfied with no incentive or increment system. 

New dimension to informal economy

The gig economy is not just an extension of previous forms of labour market precarity; it is a reshaping of the spatialities (economic geographies) and temporalities of work through enablers. This makes it challenging for workers to build effective and lasting structural power and secures the power of platforms as key intermediaries between supply and demand of labour. All these factors are ushering in a new dimension to ‘informalisation’. 

Access to smartphones and digital literacy are key to participation

Owning a smartphone is an essential requirement for securing access to digital platforms; especially on-demand platforms. However, as per ‘The Mobile Gender Gap’ report of 2019, 59 per cent women own mobiles, as compared to 80 per cent% men in India. The percentage of women internet users is a meagre 16 per cent, as compared to 36 per cent men internet users (GSMA report, 2019). Additionally, women who are digitally illiterate are automatically barred from participation. This underlines the importance of addressing the gender gap in digital access and literacy.

The study offers valuable insights and offers key recommendations on the working structure and measures towards ensuring access to decent work and social protection for these workers in a sector that is growing rapidly.

Commenting on the report, Soumya Kapoor Mehta, Head, IWWAGE said “As more and more women are joining and engaging in the gig/platform economy, it becomes imperative to understand the extent and magnitude of this sector in terms of women’s employment, and study the working conditions in these jobs.  We hope that the findings of this report can inform policymakers and gig economy platforms to design policies and incentives that can enable more women to benefit from this form of employment.”

Sharing her thoughts on the report, Nandita Baruah, India Country Representative, The Asia Foundation stated “The gig platforms have created space for women to explore employment options, that are unencumbered by employer-employee power dynamics, have the flexibility of time, and offer greater financial returns compared to tied employment contracts in the same sector.  The gig ecosystem is going to be a major driver for employment, and it is important to ensure that it is adequately responsive to women’s workforce participation. This report injects the necessary critical lens required to have a more holistic understanding on the future of gig-work with a definitive gender and equity lens.” 

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gig economy