Uber is not perfect. We get it. Over the last year, headline after headline has dragged Uber’s name through the mud after a series of controversies, legal disputes, and just plain bad decision making by former CEO Travis Kalanick. One of the worst scandals involved over two hundred sexual harassment claims filed by Uber staff – not drivers – who described a corporate environment which was hostile to women. Those allegations resulted in dozens of employees being fired and a series of leadership changes, but apparently Uber’s overall attitude towards women hasn’t changed entirely for the better as a new study conducted by economists at Uber, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago has found a significant pay gap between male and female Uber drivers.
The study has not yet been published, but is available in its entirety online through Stanford’s website. The authors gathered an immense amount of data for their research, combing through fare reports for over 25 million driver-weeks across 196 cities in the U.S. They found that even though the Uber pay system is completely gender blind, there still exists a pay gap which sees female Uber drivers making up to 7% less than male drivers. While it could be far too easy to accuse the company of sexism, the economists behind this study claim there are certain behaviors and characteristics among the sexes which could account for the pay gap:
We are able to completely explain the pay gap with three main factors related to driver preferences and learning: returns to experience, a pay premium for faster driving, and preferences for where to drive. […] Overall, our results suggest that, even in the gender-blind, transactional, flexible environment of the gig economy, gender-based preferences (especially the value of time not spent at paid work and, for drivers, preferences for driving speed) can open gender earnings gaps.
The authors suggest that these gender-based preferences are why such a pay gap is “pervasive across the skill distribution and whether in the traditional or gig workplace.” Is this a chance to open up a dialogue about equality, or yet another attempt to rationalize why women still make less than men for the same work?