Uber hopes to up number of female drivers
Last spring, Uber pledged to hire one million women around the world by 2020. So far, the number isn't growing at a fast rate.
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
Alexandra Burke was relieved to see a woman’s face pop up on her iPhone screen after hailing an Uber.
Uber or taxi rides don’t usually make her nervous, but driving with a male stranger on a quiet, early morning, when the streets are nearly empty, can make the 26-year-old Ryerson commerce major a little uneasy, she says.
After two sexual assaults involving male Uber drivers and their female passengers were reported by Toronto police in the last two weeks, “it definitely makes me more wary,” Burke said.
Burke wasn’t just reassured to see a woman at the wheel, she was excited. This would be her first time riding with a female driver in an Uber or taxi.
“It’s probably a male-dominated industry, so it was kind of crazy to get a woman for the first time,” said Burke, who’s been using Uber for a year.
Frances Rawlings, another Uber user, says she’s sometimes more comfortable riding with a female driver, too. She compared riding in another woman’s Uber to being at “a feminist rock concert.”
“You can just dance and lose your mind, and no one’s going to try and grab you,” she said.
“I feel safe with a male Uber driver,” she noted, but “there’s just something about knowing that if I’m in an inebriated state, I don’t have to worry about someone taking advantage of me” even if that hasn’t happened to her.
Burke added that she’d like to see more women on the road with Uber.
And Uber seems to want that too.
Last spring, the company, estimated to be worth about $50 billion, pledged to hire one million women around the world by 2020. A tall order for any company, they planned to partner with the United Nations Women, but the UN soon backed out after Uber was accused of doing little to protect women in the driver or passenger seats.
In Chicago, Uber joined with the YWCA to bring more women into the fold. Jennifer Mullin, a spokeswoman for Uber, said the company’s looking for similar groups in Toronto to help them recruit more women.
So far, the share of women driving with Uber isn’t much higher than the share of female taxi drivers. In the U.S., 12.7 per cent of taxi drivers and 14 per cent of Uber “driver partners” are women, according to Forbes.
In Toronto, the gap is wider. Of the 16,000 Uber drivers in the GTA, 7.5 per cent, or 1,200, are women, the company says. In comparison, there were about 100 female cab drivers in Toronto in 2012, representing one per cent of the total, according to city statistics.
Why aren’t there more women driving for Uber?
“I think the main obstacle, for sure, is really just the perception or reality (of Uber) as not a particularly safe occupation,” said Sunil Johal, policy director of U of T’s Mowat Centre think tank. “It’s going to take some time.”
Even if the Uber app tracks passengers and drivers, providing some accountability, people associate sharing a car with strangers with unpredictability, he explained.
“Gender gaps in many industries are tough to reduce, especially when they are historically associated with ‘male jobs,’” noted Kathleen Lahey, a law professor at Queen’s University, in an email.
“Women are easily targeted by co-workers, managers and customers when they are few in number. However, the reality is that women cab drivers are highly competent and deserve equal access to these jobs.”