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Aditi Surie is a sociologist at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), a national education institution committed to the equitable, sustainable and eﬃcient transformation of Indian settlements. Her current research investigates the nature and conditions of work in the life of urban residents bereft of state-sponsored work and social security. She is particularly focused on understanding how Silicon Valley tech companies, at the forefront of creating the ‘gig economy’ (like platforms of Uber and Ola cabs), impact Indian urban workers whose experiences do not rest easily with the Northern discourses associated with the gig economy.
"We wanted to look at whether the platform economy can oﬀer diﬀerent working conditions or something diﬀerent that can encourage an increase of female labor force participation".
You have participated in the ‘Global Perspectives on Women, Work and Digital Labour Platforms’ collection of articles by Digital Future Society, as coauthor of the article ‘Gender out of focus: methodological reﬂections on work in India's platform economy’, which reﬂects on the gender gap in data held by platforms about their workforces. What led your research to focus on this, what was the main purpose?
Our starting point for this research was that India has a huge demographic dividend. We have lots of young people who are entering education and the labor market, but we do not see this translating into more women working in our economy, either as workers or as enterprise owners. This has been a historic trend, but it has gotten even worse with the pandemic. Are women too busy being educated right now to be part of the labor market?Are there social and cultural morals that they aren't being able to traverse to become workers, or is it that they are getting educated in ﬁelds where jobs do not exist? We wanted to look at whether the platform economy can oﬀer diﬀerent working conditions or something diﬀerent that can encourage an increase of female labor force participation.
To what extent data on gender informed the decision-making taking place at the companies included in this article?
There was a really strong, powerful moral universe around gender neutrality that got created around some of these service sectors, which prevented people from actually capturing gender disaggregated data or using that in their business to make certain kinds of business cases, to encourage more women or to see women in the particularities of their lives.
Platform operators were asked whether they observed any diﬀerences in the experiences of male and female workers aﬃliated to their platform during the diﬀerent stages of a worker’s experience with the company. What were you told?
For well established gig economy companies especially in mobility, we found that they were only willing to look at women as kind of social causes and not as business cases. There is a lot of work that companies are willing to do, but only as part of their corporate social responsibility or from their foundation wings, not as part of the central business. But there were companies such as in the social commerce sector, which is quite particular, I think, to the Global South, where companies actually stated that women were better, more stable economic participants, and they returned as both users and customers. That way, companies were actually able to create more predictability of their businesses after ﬁnding there were more female economic participants in their companies.
How do platforms’ attempts at having gender-neutral policies end up being gender-blind?
Platform companies observed that women are not always able to ﬁt to the time requirements within a particular day, but they are unwilling to really reﬂect on why that is, while at the same time being very embedded in our society and culture and knowing quite well that women have a triple burden on them. But from the business case, from the business point of view, they are unwilling to really bring just that basic factor into creating an incentive package for the worker. This often means that then they become gender-blind in their bid to create a neutral labor market, where the potential for everyone to do well is kind of universal; they are unwilling to see what diﬀerentiates men and women's lives.
What should platforms do to include a transversal gender perspective?
Companies will continue to look at female economic participants in a very narrow kind of point of view, and that will kind of lead them to lose an opportunity for being able to use their technology and their ability to design economic universes to suit not only their own bottom line, but also the requirements of women, which tend to be more ﬂexible forms of work. This has been observed across Europe and Asia. In the Global North and the Global South, women always need particular kinds of ﬂexibility in their work, not away from full employment, but in their usage of time and in their ability to show up at particular times of the day when they are of their child care and household responsibilities. It would be a huge missed opportunity for just very basic gender disaggregated data to not be made available in economies of the Global South, like in India, where our public data systems have not been able to capture women's economic participation very well.