The Gig Economy - A Helpful Spur for Female Entrepreneurs?

15/02/2016 21:57

There is a new kid on the block in how we think about work - the so-called 'gig economy'.

Whereas musicians and actors used to be those organising their lives via a series of 'gigs' - the practice is now becoming more of the norm for the rest of us. The very notion of the stable 9-5 job with a fixed salary each month is being torn up. Through platforms like Etsy, with millions of makers selling goods on line, and the hugely popular short-term accommodation platform LoveHomeSwap, we can all become micro-entrepreneurs.

The change in how we want to work has been a long time coming. In terms of the graduates that we employ, this generation of millennials, a good work-life balance is at the heart of the equation. Similarly, for those who have done some 20 or 30 years of full-time drudge, or who want more time with their families and children - organising work through a series of working gigs rather than a stable job can seem both attractive and practical.

The gig-economy term has even entered the upcoming US presidential race with Hillary Clinton referencing it in her economic plan '"This on-demand, or so-called gig economy is creating exciting economies and unleashing innovation. But it is also raising hard questions about workplace protections and what a good job will look like in the future."

It's a fascinating concept, but I also wonder if it might just be the incentive to action to support more women into enterprise. It's well recognised that women can be more worried than men about failure, a recent study by RBS Group that found 42% of women surveyed were reluctant to start their own business because they were worried that it would fail. Women were also less likely to apply for external funding and if they did approach a bank for a loan, they would apply for lower amounts than their male counterparts.

And this is where the gig economy becomes a powerful motivator, by being able to dip our toes into the water and not having to be an expert to join, we all have chance to see what works and build confidence bit by bit without having to take huge risks. As 'gigging freelancers' we can move from project to project picking up skills and knowledge without being tied down.

There are clearly huge positives for the would-be entrepreneur and for females and working mums in particular, but what's perhaps more concerning is that unlike the US, in the UK our politicians and opinion formers don't seem to be preparing us to embrace these changes. In the gig economy, there is no black and white but a whole swathe of grey areas in how we see the lines drawn between the personal and professional.

For employers it's a real headache. How do we face the problem of fragmented and disloyal team who are always on the look-out for the better gig? This way of approaching work poses huge challenges for leadership. And how on earth do we train young people for the jobs of the future? Not only do we not know exactly what these jobs are, we also have no clue what they will look like.

And whilst there is something empowering about being your own boss, there's also something secure about the traditional 9-5. How can you plan for the future if you are unsure what the year ahead looks like? Psychologically that's a huge amount of ambiguity to learn how to tolerate. We will need some new safety nets and to help this new generation of freelancers and micro-entrepreneurs plan for their futures.

So how do we make the changes? Our current systems recognise that you are either an employee or you are not. In the gig economy we need to recognize elements of both. And it's also a key question for the entrepreneurial economy, new legislation could undoubtedly start burdening employers with costs that could ultimately hurt the very best that the on-demand economy is bringing to us. Freelancers working gigs aren't entitled to the minimum wage or to sickness pay. Similarly, planning for retirement becomes a huge headache, you don't benefit from auto-enrolment as a freelancer. Yet on the other hand the gig economy might facilitate a whole swathe of OAP entrepreneurs to earn money doing gigs well past traditional notions of retirement age.

Perhaps we simply need to provide more training and support for our new gigging entrepreneurs. Government, banks and pension providers need to recognise this new type of worker and to provide products and tax breaks that suit the lifestyle. Similarly, our schools and Universities need to provide a better grounding in how to sustain a career as part of this more ambiguous future. Peer to peer support networks become invaluable and of course we need great role models to come forward, those that are making it all work and are happier as a result.

The gig economy should give us choices and freedoms. Change is a coming and sustainability of these choices needs to be top of the agenda.

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