Diversity in the Gig Economy?

Patrick Llewellyn of 99designs writes at Entrepreneur about “How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity” [1].  In particular, he is referring to online platforms which, he says, “create a truly level playing field irrespective of location, gender, age or background”.

He touts the many benefits to businesses (thinking mainly of web design businesses like his own 99designs), which can find (low cost) talent from all over the globe.  He’s particularly excited by the availability of talent from every geographic location. Online platforms certainly make it way easier to hire contractors far away from your home office.

Llewellyn seems to believe that this is good for workers.  In general, online gigging is “a unique space where the world’s best talent can connect both with each other to exchange ideas and share feedback,” he says.  He views gig workers as “Valuing flexibility over more traditional benefits”, which is a “valid choice.”

Finally, the level playing field is especially important for workers who live far from the centers of commerce and media.  (This, I suppose, is another “valid choice”.)

“No skilled worker should be disadvantaged because of where they were born or where they live.”


This best of all possible worlds bears little resemblance to the actual gig economy.

First of all, much if not most of the “gig economy” is not high skilled labor, but trivial piecework for pennies.  And much, if not most, is not online work, even if the labor market is digitized.  Llewellyn is thinking about and talking about a tiny, unrepresentative fraction of the overall gig economy.

Second, he’s rather hazy on what “diversity” means.  He’s primarily thinking of geographical location, which seems to stand in for cultural diversity.  But there are lots of other kinds of diversity to think about, especially gender racial, and ethnic backgrounds—and age. The online contracting workforce is certainly international, but it’s not clear that it is much different in any other way. And there certainly is no evidences that it operates as a level playing field.

Third, he offers not one shred of evidence that such geographic diversity is actually beneficial even to the business.  I’m assuming that he’s thinking of digital collaborations (in English).  Working across time zones with people who never meet in person can be challenging.  I believe it can work well, at least in some cases. But that doesn’t mean its good for all jobs, and there is good reason to think twice about this kind of outsourcing.

Finally, I’ll note that the article is entirely from the point of view of the business. (This is fair, as it appears in Entrepreneur.)  Hiring gig workers via an online platform is basically outsourcing to temp workers from overseas. This may be good for the business, and maybe even for some workers, but is hardly a great thing for most workers.

Let’s put the best spin on Llewellyn’s point:  he’s encouraging employers and freelancers to embrace the opportunity to work with “people who aren’t necessarily like you.”  That’s a good idea, but you scarcely need to outsource through digital share cropping to accomplish that goal.  There are plenty of people “not necessarily like you” right where you live.


  1. Patrick Llewellyn, How the Gig Economy Helps Boost Diversity, in Entrepreneur. 2018. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/323253