Advancing Opportunities for Women in STEM with the Gig Economy

Just a few years ago, only 26% of computing jobs were held by women, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology

In the years since that report was put together, efforts have been made to provide more access for women to enter STEM professions, and while the creation of these opportunities provides immeasurable benefits to every organization, there is plenty of work left to be done.

One significant new opportunity for women to enter STEM professions involves the gig economy, allowing women all over the world to join STEM industries from anywhere, including their own homes. This is something I’ve had the chance to experience firsthand. I worked for a tech company in a gig economy role doing community-based, digital testing before transitioning to a full-time role.

I joined uTest – the testing arm of the company Applause – in 2011. At the time, I had stagnated in my sales job and was looking for something new. Although I didn’t have a formal technical background, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to work from home while finding bugs in the types of apps I actively used every day.

I started by working in the evenings and developed my skills. I was able to test a variety of apps, including games, news apps, music apps, and apps for major companies like Google. Working on my own schedule remotely gave me the opportunity to devote myself to my newfound passion for application testing, which eventually led to me joining the tech industry full time as a project manager. And I’m not alone in finding a purposeful career in STEM through leveraging a gig economy opportunity. Plenty of other women are doing the same, including another uTest community member, Test Team Lead Divyaprabha Ulaganathan, a Denver-based gig economy worker, whom I spoke with recently about her experiences in STEM roles.

Like myself, intellectual curiosity about STEM led Divyaprabha to where she is today.

“It’s very exciting to work in STEM because the tech sector moves fast and you get to learn so much. Continuous learning is the cornerstone of tech corporate culture and I’ve loved embracing that,” Divyaprabha told me. “The gig economy nature of my job has given me the flexibility I need to work where I want, how I want and when I want. It’s led to me finding a meaningful career that’s blossomed over the course of more than ten years.”

Like Divyaprabha, I enjoyed my own journey into the world of gig economy STEM, learning about a lot of trends along the ways. I’ve observed tech companies actively push to attract more women by offering benefits such as flexible schedules and enhanced family leave in an effort to be more accommodating for workers. In recent months, the flexibility of work-from-home opportunities has become understandably much more critical. Parents are looking for roles that allow them to work from home and remain focused on growing their careers, while also providing the ability to look after their children and remain safe during the ongoing pandemic.

Other companies are adopting additional best practices to actively bring women to the STEM field, including:

– Flexible schedules (full or part time)

– Strong family leave policies

– Training programs, to help build new skills

– Mentorship programs, so that women have someone they can rely on as they start in a new role, as well as empower senior women to expand their management skills.

I’ve been encouraged to see these best practices come to life and more and more women enter the world of STEM, becoming my peers. Divyaprabha summed things up perfectly when it comes to the optimistic outlook we both share on STEM opportunities for women in the gig economy.

“Many women in gig economy STEM roles seem to have a similar experience to my own. It’s fun, rewarding, and satisfying to have a flexible means of diving into my passions and turning them into a career. Being a woman in a male-dominated field comes with challenges. Being a successful woman in the field means going beyond the job title and description. But the gig economy is providing more opportunities for women to enter the field and join a fast-paced environment built on a culture of everyone supporting one another and finding ways to grow as people and as professionals,” said Divyaprabha.

About the Author

Tara Zeigler, Senior Testing Services Manager at Applause. Applause is the worldwide leader in crowdtesting and digital quality. Software is at the heart of how all brands engage users, and digital experiences must work flawlessly everywhere. With our testers available on-demand around the globe, Applause provides brands with a full suite of testing and feedback capabilities.

Featured image: ©Jacob-Lund