Addressing Bias and Diversity for Gig Economy Workers

Faced with increased demand from employees, investors and consumers to practice and not just talk about DEI in the workplace, businesses have started to make strides in the right direction. However, these changes almost exclusively relate to full-time employees. What about gig workers?

It’s a question worth asking because of the massive growth in the number of gig workers in recent years. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates at least 55 million U.S. adults make money through gig work. While the category includes highly specialized independent contractors, most gig work is for low-skilled labor. For example, Uber alone has created 3.5 million jobs.

As employers turn more frequently to hiring gig and contingent workers, they also need to consider how diversity, equity and inclusion affect them.

Negative Experiences for Gig Platform Workers

As with traditional employees, negative experiences related to bias in the workplace are numerous among gig workers. Recent research from the Pew Research Center provides context around this trend.

Pew Research Center says many people with racial and ethnic differences take on gig work and many have had negative experiences with some of the gig platforms they work for.

Hispanic adults are the most likely to have worked as gig workers, with 30% saying they earned money through an online gig platform. That compares to 20% of Black adults, 19% of Asian adults and 12% of white adults.

However, while they make up more of the contingent workforce, non-white workers were more likely to report troubling encounters. For example:

  • 41% report rude treatment, compared to 33% of white workers.
  • 41% said they experienced situations where they felt unsafe, compared to 28% of white workers.
  • 24% reported unwanted sexual advances on the job, compared to 13% of white workers.

Tips For Focusing on DEI During the Hiring Process

Employers must change their stance on viewing gig workers as a short-term fix and see them as an immediate need. Doing so leads to making the mistake of not applying the same approach to gig workers as they do to hourly and salaried employees.

When recruiting gig workers, companies should maintain the same focus on diversity and inclusion as they otherwise would. Gig employees contribute to the overall company culture, just as traditional employees do. Cultivating a DEI approach in recruiting them can provide a company the chance to take a big step forward in promoting a better culture.

Executive buy-in is also key to making the extension of DEI to gig workers successful. A business case for DEI isn’t always persuasive for some business owners, But, as pointed out by Harvard Business Review, there’s a strong business case to be made for DEI when business leaders “embrace a broader vision of success that encompasses learning, innovation, creativity, flexibility, equity, and human dignity.”

The publication also notes that there needs to be a willingness to reshape power structures to ensure inclusiveness and a sense of belonging for gig workers doing necessary and important work for the organization.

Ensuring Gig Employees Are Treated Fairly

Bias impacts the entire workforce. And while companies may not have the same legal obligations to gig workers as they do full-time employees, the laws that address discrimination, harassment and bias still apply, Los Angeles-based employment attorney Angela Reddock-Wright told TechTarget.

That’s yet another reason to take a DEI approach to gig workers as well as traditional workers. Companies that aspire to that goal should keep the following ideas in mind:

1. Tech Doesn’t Automatically Solve the Problem: Using tech tools to sign up gig employees does not eliminate the possibility of bias. Some HR tech tools may unintentionally have bias built into algorithms used to source or select candidates. Employers should remain alert to such issues when using diversity and inclusion tech tools.

2. Follow State Laws: With the rise in the number of gig workers, lawmakers in some states have started to consider making changes to laws around gig workers. California took the step of requiring some employers to reclassify gig workers as employees. Even in states that have not yet acted, getting ahead of the curve by applying the same DEI approach to gig workers as full-time employees ensure companies remain protected against legal action and prepared for future regulatory changes.

3. Proactive HR: HR leaders are perfectly positioned to present these issues to business executives and drive conversation around a DEI approach to gig workers because HR is the one department that focuses on people. HR managers also oversee training and typically have a more in-depth knowledge than other managers on the details of DEI.

4. Track Metrics: Companies should extend the metrics they use to measure DEI in the full-time workforce to include gig workers. This will provide a clearer picture of what needs to be changed and also account for steps a company has taken in the right direction. Success is only achievable if everyone has a clear understanding of what success looks like and how it is measured.

Changes in employment discrimination laws and regulations are almost certain to happen as the number of gig workers continues to multiply. It’s a smart business move to begin extending DEI policy to contingent workers. It’s also making better use of the ability of businesses to become powerful forces for societal change.