For the last few years Uber has been riddled with rumors of sexism at the company, with whistleblower Susan Fowler lifting the lid on sexual harassment at the ride-sharing firm last year. The incidents, which were said to have taken place during Fowler’s time at the company in 2015 and 2016 resulted in 20 employees being fired and the company claiming it was hell bent on changing the culture at the firm.
Recent research from Stanford University suggests there is still an awfully long way to go. The study reveals that female drivers on the ride-sharing platform earn 7% less per hour than their male counterparts.
The findings are damning not just for the company but for the whole gig economy. One of the supposed selling points of the model is that the flexibility afforded by platforms such as Uber favor women, but this doesn’t appear to be the case at Uber. This is despite the algorithm for matching drivers with passengers supposedly being gender-blind. The study found that the wage gap resulted due to three core factors:
- Different experience levels using the Uber platform
- Preferences over where and when they wanted to work
- The propensity (and willingness) for male drivers to drive faster, thus completing more trips
“When starting the research we could see it going either way: Women might earn a bit less because they would want to work at specific, and potentially less lucrative, times that fit their other obligations better. Alternatively, women tend to work fewer hours so they might have a chance to cherry pick and focus their hours during the most lucrative times,” the authors say. “The value of learning on the job and the importance of driving speed, and how such forces affect the genders differently, was surprising.”
Under the hood
The researchers examined the driving records of around 1.8 million drivers operating across 196 different American cities. Of this group, some 500,000 or so were female. The analysis revealed that men earned $21.28 per hour on average, with their female peers earning just $20.04 an hour.
Whilst there isn’t anything overt about the platform that contributes to this discrepancy, there are nonetheless factors that support the pay disparity on the site.
For instance, men were found to drive for 17.98 hours per week, versus just 12.82 hours per week for women. Whilst this in itself is not a problem, the authors believe this perhaps gives the male drivers a greater understanding of the platform and how to utilize it to find work. The authors found that this understanding of the platform typically took around 2,500 trips, with drivers past that experience level earning up to $3 more than those who have made just 500 trips.
There were also differences in the parts of town male and female drivers would operate in. It’s a sad reality that female drivers are often put off from operating in certain locations and at certain times of the day due to fears for their safety.
The last factor behind the disparity in pay was that male drivers were found to drive 2.2% faster than female drivers, which has the obvious implication that they can squeeze more trips into their working day.
Suffice to say, many of these factors are simply a result of experience rather than any overt discrimination, but nonetheless Uber hope to use the findings from the study to make the platform a better experience for both driver and consumer.
“Supposing they can do so safely, both riders and drivers would prefer to arrive at the destination sooner,” the authors explain. “It is an important but complicated issue to determine what is the ‘right’ gap, in terms of fairness and overall happiness of the various stakeholders.”
How effective they prove to be remains to be seen, but hopefully the findings can go some way to improve matters. Whether this is in supporting new drivers in building up experience, or doing more to support the safety of drivers at risky times. For instance, it’s believed that female drivers quit driving for Uber within the first six months at much higher rates than male drivers. It suggests that the on-boarding process is not working for women at the moment, so that would be an obvious place to start.
As with many gig economy platforms however, much of this training is beholden on the gig worker themselves to source. It’s a pretty sink or swim environment, and the data suggests that 76% of female drivers were leaving the platform within those first six months. A recent court case in Britain said that Uber drivers should be classified as employees rather than contractors, and perhaps that in itself would be a good first step in encouraging the company to invest more in driver training and support.