"Am I to infer from your article that only women are contractors? A little sexist isn't it?" the email read. "Surely it is not beyond the wit of a journalist to write an article without resorting to the clumsy she/he pc rubbish."
That email came from a reader who read my first Gig Economy column earlier this month: "5 Traits Your Next Freelancer Must Have." In the post, the proverbial "freelancer" was referred to as "she" or "her," rather than "he" or "him."
In fact, I hadn't designated the generic independent contractor a female. As I informed my angry reader, my editor had done that. But the exchange got me thinking.
Are women better independent contractors than men? A few reasons why we might be:
1. We're more empathetic.
Well, actually, it's a little more complicated than that. Dr. William Ickes has been studying empathy for over two decades, and his findings are interesting. In "Where Is Women's Intuition?" he recounts research studies in which he and his colleagues attempted to figure out which gender was more empathic. They stumbled upon an interesting twist: Men and women scored similarly when they were not aware they were being tested on empathy; however, when they knew they were being measured for empathy, the women scored higher. When the researchers tried different ways of motivating the men to be more empathetic, they finally hit on the right incentive: money.
Culturally, women are programmed to believe they excel at empathy. It's a gender stereotype, yes, but many women try to live up to it nonetheless. As an independent contractor, it pays to be empathetic. It's not about what you want. It's about what the client wants. So women who are independent contractors know they have to think empathetically to win and keep clients. If they don't, they're out of a job.
Sure, men will rise to the occasion when it comes to your project—if you pay them enough. But women will do it because they think they're supposed to—not because you overpaid them to do it.
2. We're more creative.
According to a 2008 Pew Research Center survey—"Men or Women: Who's the Better Leader?"—we certainly believe women are more creative than men. Sixty-four percent of Americans declared women more creative, and 11 percent declared men more creative.
My experience is that while both genders may have equal capacity to think creatively, it's more culturally acceptable for women to employ their creativity than men. In my dealings with men in the last decade-plus I've worked as an independent contractor, I've found men are more likely to be direct, but women are more likely to offer multiple creative solutions to problems. Where men will fight—often effectively—for their vision, women are more likely to move into what I call "shape-shifter" mode, exploring various possible solutions to a challenge, rather than trying to drive one square peg through a round hole.
3. We're more comfortable with the gig lifestyle.
Meet Freelance Fred, if you haven't already. The meme pokes fun at the freelancer lifestyle and the impossibilities of managing people who don't even put on pants before they go to work. Freelance Fred never gets off the couch, his desk is his laptop balanced on his knees, and he spends all his time cruising Reddit instead of getting anything done.
In short, Freelance Fred is a joke—and, you'll notice, he's a guy. The butt of these jokes is usually an emasculated man. (Nobody has created a meme—at least not that I'm aware of—called Freelance Frannie, focusing on the hilarious hijinks of, get this, a woman who works at home!) Why? Men aren't as comfortable with what the ad hoc lifestyle of the independent contractor might communicate—that they're maybe less professional or perhaps unable to join the workforce because of an embarrassing social problem. And that makes for good joke material.
Women, on the other hand, don't have this issue—and that's why it's not nearly as funny to think of them working at home, not having a "real job," and being empathetic for money.
And because we're more comfortable with this set-up, we're better at it than men—or at least we'd like to think so.