Earlier this week, I was giving an interview about Work Market and how mobile is changing the freelance economy. During the interview, I was asked a question which has now been posed to me several times -- what is the gender breakdown of work done through the freelance economy? The first person to ask me this question was Sallie Krawcheck. Given Sallie's strong advocacy of women, her question was not surprising. What is surprising is how often others have asked the same question. My answer to Sallie, and everyone subsequently, has been the same: The freelance economy doesn't track gender-based data.
In thinking further about this issue, it seems clear that while the conversation continues about gender differences in the workplace, the freelance economy is becoming a great equalizer of work. The freelance economy is a true meritocracy where decisions are based mostly on data.
We are in the midst of a transformational moment in labor, as companies big and small embrace the freelance economy. Between a variable cost structure and access to an increasingly large pool of top talent, companies are realizing that utilizing freelancers makes economic sense. There are currently 17 million independent workers -- a number that is projected to grow to 24 million by 2020; at which point 50 percent of the labor force will have done freelance work at some point in their career.
When it comes to freelancers, one of the most notable (and yet often overlooked) differences has to do with how hiring decisions are made. When a full-time hire is made, recruiters and HR professionals look at a variety of factors. Some are objective such as skills, background and experience. Others are more subjective such as organizational and cultural fit. It's with the latter where there's room for a host of hidden biases to emerge, though we'd like to think otherwise. Comparatively, a freelance assignment is focused on the assignment itself, with the objective factors mentioned above being the most paramount in the engagement process.
With online staffing platforms (like Work Market), human biases begin to be removed from the equation. Nowhere on online staffing platforms will you find information pertaining to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, faith or other personal data. Not only is it illegal to ask those questions in most hiring situations (there are some exceptions such as with models), but also they are not relevant in determining whether a person can perform the assignments at hand.
Online staffing platforms capture a massive amount of data on user profiles as well as from their previous interactions with companies -- things like insurance, licenses, certifications, background checks, drug tests, test results, number of assignments, on-time percentage, satisfaction ratings, assignments cancelled or abandoned, how often a resource is used again by the same company, how often a company doesn't work with a resource again and nearly a hundred other parameters. Truly, big data!
When you are engaging freelancers at this scale (for example, companies on Work Market engage thousands of workers a day), data becomes the primary driver of the decision process, and data is blind. Data doesn't discriminate; data doesn't have biases; and data doesn't hire someone that looks like them. When operating at scale, data allows people to make the best decisions possible.
So while we don't know how women or different ethnic or racial groups are doing in the freelance economy, we do know, based on data, that the best person for the job is getting work. As the freelance economy continues its explosive growth, we will continue to see how this new labor landscape is beneficial to the rest of society. Companies benefit by variablizing their cost structure. Freelancers benefit as they can make a lifestyle decision but still earn enough to have a lifestyle. Society will benefit because data will drive work to those most qualified.
The freelance economy, especially as it relates to online staffing platforms, is the ultimate meritocracy where little matters except your skills, your professionalism and your desire to work hard. Its an example of a labor force and a society we can all aspire to -- a true meritocracy.