The gig economy (a component of the liquid workforce) is rapidly becoming an integral part of today’s workforce model. And that’s not surprising. After all, it offers new opportunities to meet both worker and employer needs, in large part by providing greater flexibility.

However, in an era in which achieving gender parity is still a challenge in most, if not all, industries (including financial services), it’s worth examining whether or not the gig economy is meeting women’s needs too. And if it’s not, what are the implications for women and the financial services firms they work for? These are the topics I’m going to explore in this three-part series on women and the gig economy.

What IS the gig economy, and what does it mean to the financial services industry?

As I explained in my blog series on the liquid workforce, in today’s more fluid work environment, firms are increasingly drawing from a variety of resources (both internal and external) to meet specific business needs, then adjusting the talent mix as needs change. Those resources can include regular employees, external contract workers, freelancers and consultants. The term “gig” is derived from the music industry and refers to a short-term and/or temporary assignment. In the gig economy, these assignments are completed by external workers.

The gig economy is enabled by digital capabilities (including the ability to work remotely and collaborate virtually) and driven by two primary motivators:

  • The enterprise need for agility in the workforce, which includes the trend toward project-based work that utilises the expertise of diverse teams that form and reform depending on business needs; and
  • Employee desires for more flexibility, autonomy and control over their work life.

The financial services industry recognises the value of the liquid workforce and many firms are at least considering taking steps to make the gig economy part of their workforce model. For example, according to Accenture research, 74% of bank executives believe that a more fluid workforce would improve their ability to innovate. Gig workers help provide this fluidity.

What the gig economy means for women

As promising as it might look on the surface, the gig economy could prove to be a double-edged sword for women. On the one hand, it offers the flexibility many women want and need. On the other, it has the potential to simply reinforce stereotypes and behaviors that have kept women from achieving gender parity within the traditional workforce. There is also the risk that the most vulnerable women who want and need the greatest security and longevity of roles are forced to work in gig-type roles and take what they can get.  Financial services firms must take these dynamics into account as they incorporate more gig workers into their workplace models.

As I shared in my blog series on achieving gender parity in financial services, in comparison to other industries, financial services is at about the mid-point on the gender parity scale and is moving in the right direction. The approach financial services firms take to the gig economy could either help or hurt this positioning, depending on firms’ awareness of the gender parity pitfalls the gig economy presents and the steps they can take to address them.

One of the most important factors to consider in this respect is whether or not enterprises are embracing the gig economy in order to simply “get people off the books” and save money by not providing all the benefits regular employees enjoy. Because women are often more vulnerable in the workforce when it comes to issues like pay equity and family leave, the gig economy could simply exacerbate these issues. As financial services firms seek to attract top talent, and tap the gig economy to do so, they’ll need to make sure they’re offering attractive packages to all workers.

Is the gig economy making gender parity better? Or worse?

In my next post, I’m going to take a deeper look into the benefits and drawbacks of the gig economy in terms of gender parity to help answer the question, “Does the gig economy improve gender parity or make the problem worse?”

For more information on creating a strategy for the future workforce, please see Shaping the Adaptive Financial Services Workforce of the Future, and Liquid Workforce: Bank on “fluid” teams focused on results. 

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