Digital Labour Platforms have Potential to Reinforce Sexism in the Workplace
New evidence from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) shows that artificial intelligence and platform work (also called gig work), have the potential to improve gender equality in the economy. However, there is also a danger they reinforce sexism and discrimination, while entrenching insecure work and a lack of social protection.
Today, over 28 million people in the EU work through digital labour platforms. In 2025, their number is expected to reach 43 million people. Between 2016 and 2020, the revenues in the platform economy grew almost fivefold from an estimated €3 billion to around €14 billion.
EIGE interviewed almost 5,000 platform workers to understand who they are, why they do platform work, and what challenges they face.
A higher share of women than men told EIGE they do platform work as they can combine it with household chores and family commitments (women: 36 %, men: 28 %). Yet this flexibility is limited practice, with many working at night, at the weekend, and at hours they cannot choose. Platform workers can also be observed using time-tracking software, which deducts ‘low productivity time’ from pay. Such software can pose a particular threat to those caring for small children.
In platform work, there is a higher share of men doing jobs usually done by women than there is in the traditional labour market. This includes housework (women: 54 %, men: 46 %), childcare (women: 61 %, men: 39 %) and data entry (women: 47 %, men: 53 %). While this can help challenge stereotypes about the type of work done by women and men, EIGE’s survey shows that highly educated women are more likely to do jobs that do not match their level of education, which puts them at greater risk of losing their skills.
New proposed EU legislation to improve the working conditions of platform workers should help bring more of them into formal employment, which will bring rights such as a minimum wage, limits to working time and paid leave.
According to the EIGE, in the meantime, EU Member States need to protect the many platform workers whose lack of status as formal employees has made them ineligible for government support during COVID-19. This is despite the fact that many have faced serious financial difficulties.
EIGE’s Director Carlien Scheele, who today addressed the French EU Presidency’s ministers’ roundtable on women’s economic empowerment in Paris, said, “Artificial intelligence (AI) and gig work are parts of the economy of the future, and we need to make sure they’re designed and regulated in a way that protects people. Some 10 % of the EU population has already done gig work such as food delivery or ride hailing. AI is also increasingly becoming part of our day-to-day lives, so it is good the EU is drawing up legislation on both. This is our opportunity to edit out the age-old stereotypes, sexism and discrimination of the labour market, and to create a modern reality that serves the needs of both women and men.”