Bridging gender equality and the gig economy

Does your gender equality strategy factor the unique gender issues related to the gig economy?

Australian organisations are at different stages of the gender equality journey and the good news is that most recent data from the WGEA shows that over 70% 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 – but while we focus on getting our house in order – the workplace itself is changing. To remain employers of choice, gender equality strategies could be refreshed 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 ‘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 gender diversity point of view, the gig economy presents a lot of opportunity to bring in talent that otherwise may inaccessible to the organisation. For example, male dominated industries may find it hard to attract women for long-term roles, and gig work enables women to contribute on multiple short-term projects – to bring fresh and different perspectives into the organisation, which in turns helps to shift the culture.

For organisations the specific gender issues related to freelance consultants or contingent workers are: potential exposure to sex based harassment or discrimination in the organisation, gender bias in consultant selection and pay decisions, potential inequities with full-time employers resenting freelancers flexibility.

Here’s a quick checklist to evaluate your gender strategy (or diversity and inclusion strategy) against:

  • Does your gender strategy specifically reference freelancers, contingent workers, independent consultants and contractors?
  • Have you done an analysis to identify the unique gender related issues for your independent consultants and 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 freelance consultants recruitment and selection process?
  • Do you have gender targets for the engagement of independent consultants and freelancers?
  • Do you consider the gender composition of small consulting teams you build from members of the gig economy?
  • Is there a process in place for ensuring independent consultants and freelance consultants are aware of the sex based harassment policy?
  • Do you include independent consultants and freelancers in your pay equity analysis (particularly for like-for-like roles)?
  • Do you provide your employees with similar flexibility arrangements to your independent consultants and 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 manage flexible teams, independent consultants and freelance consultants?

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 gender 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.

Heidi Sundin is the Founder of the Agenda Agency a management consultancy working with organisations to drive growth, innovation and gender diversity. The Agenda Agency collaborates with leaders and teams to develop tailored solutions. Heidi’s experience spans strategy development and creating transformational programs across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. Check out