Will the Gig Economy help Moms to have it All?

on May 16, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day in the US and across many countries in Europe including my home country of Italy. As I was waking up in a hotel room miles away from my family I felt a whole bunch of emotions: sad I was not home, blessed that I have a husband that supports me in my career and extremely lucky to be in a job I love.

Thanks to the jet-lag I had plenty of time to think about my fellow moms and how much things have changed since I was growing up and my mom was a working mom. At the same time, some of the stigmas of a working mom are still there. Whether you are working, like my mom did, to contribute to the family income, or because you want a career, some people still see you as not putting your children first. And if you are taking a break to be with your kids in their foundation years, you are dealing with the judgment of not putting yourself first. I thought of my circle of fellow moms and made a mental list of how many successful business women I know, how many are the primary bread-winner in the family and how many, now that the kids are grown up would like to get back to work. It is a good healthy mix of women who, no matter where they sit in the group, support one another.

The “Motherhood Penalty”

Whether you are a working mom, or you are a mom who took time off to be with her kids as they grow up, I am sure you have stories about management taking for granted you would not be giving one hundred percent after you gave birth and that if you were leaving your career you had never been committed to it in the first place. If you have been lucky to have a supportive work environment, it might come as a surprise to hear about the “motherhood penalty.”

Data is showing that being a woman is only part of the pay gap we currently see across so many segments. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that before having a child the average female worker earns 10% to 15% less per hour than a male worker; after childbirth that increases steadily to 33% after around 12 years. This has financial and economic implications but also emotional ones. The “motherhood penalty,” helps to explain why women overall make 81 cents on every dollar a man earns. Conversely, research has shown that having children raises wages for men, even when correcting for the number of hours they work.

What is the Gig Economy?

The best way to describe the gig economy is the new economy that is developing outside the traditional
Simply put, the modern economy is the one evolving beyond the constraints of conventional work models. Services enabled by the app economy have opened up opportunities for people to earn a living in a much more flexible work environment. While in Silicon Valley many participating in the gig economy do so out of necessity to be able to afford the high cost of living, leading to high criticism and calls of exploitation, the concept is indeed one that opens opportunity.

According to a recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute, up to 162 million people in the United States and Europe are involved in some form of independent work. Members of the gig economy, from ride shares to food deliveries to dog walking and child care services are not employees of the company that pays them but rather they are independent contractors. Instead of working 9-to-5 for a single employer, they are leveraging their advantages to maximize their earning opportunity while balancing it around their personal needs.

While of course, many jobs in the gig economy do not include traditional benefits they might be the best fit for moms returning to work.

Be Your Own Boss

Mothers returning to work are chronically underpaid and undervalued for their experience and ability. PwC’s November 2016 report into women returning to work found that nearly 65% of returning professional women work below their potential salary level or level of seniority.

According to new research, that gap hasn’t narrowed at all since the 1980s. And for some women, it’s even increased. The study found that when correcting for education, occupation and work experience, the pay gap for mothers with one child rose from 9% in the period between 1986 and 1995 to 15% between 2006 and 2014. For mothers with two kids, the gap remained steady at 13% and stayed at 20% for mothers with three or more kids. The researchers point to a lack of progress on family-friendly policies in the United States, such as paid parental leave and subsidized childcare. Other countries, including Sweden, have narrowed their gender pay gaps after instituting such laws.

Considering how little regulations and companies’ attitude to child care and parental leave have progressed and accounting for the changes that the workplace is undergoing to appeal to the younger millennials, getting back in the game must be daunting for those moms who took a break from their career. The gig economy might offer the best opportunity to them and not just in regards to flexibility but also regarding rediscovering what they want to do and earning the best money.

From marketing to payment methods, to service delivery, technology advancements can make being your own boss much easier than it ever was. This option, of course, does not mean those big companies are off the hook when it comes to improving the level of support moms get at work and when it comes to the pay gap. All it means is that women returning to work after having kids do not have to settle anymore in a job that is not adequately paid or does not help them fulfill their full potential.