Now more than ever, it is easier to lease, share, and exchange skills, labor, and commodities. According to internetsearchinc.com, there are 17 billion-dollar companies (and 10 unicorns) in the sharing economy, which include giants masquerading as startups like Uber, Etsy, eBay and Airbnb.
In fact, Brian Chesky, Airbnb's founder famously said: “There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes... Does everyone really need their own drill? The cheeky answer is no one needs a drill... just the desired hole. Chesky's point, though thought-provoking, is nothing new. After all, people have been bartering for many years, certainly long before the emergence of smart phones, social networks and PayPal.
But technology, partnered with innovation, has resurrected a timeless economic model. The present-day potential represents a lessened carbon footprint and increased opportunities to do social good. Fewer resources are wasted on manufacturing and needless consumption when resources are divvied up among many people in the sharing economy. It's a best-case scenario of discarding inefficiencies and maximizing use, whether it's tangible assets or time, which ultimately means reducing waste and improving resource allocation.
There now exists a myriad of opportunities for the new generation of business leaders to combine social good with business. The sharing economy promotes sustainable consumption while fostering a sense of community.
Uber is arguably the most recognizable sharing economy startup, now valued at an estimated $30 billion, and is the poster child for the sharing economy. Lyft, RelayRides and Sidecar all attempt to maximize the value of idle cars in different ways. The world's leading carrier WiFi provider, Fon, is comprised of people sharing their WiFi. And the concept of sharing is not just limited to millennials.
Richard Branson is a firm believer in the antidote for ownership obsession: “As people's access to the internet grows, we're seeing the sharing economy boom - I think our obsession with ownership is at a tipping point and the sharing economy is part of the antidote for that." Branson invested a collective one million pounds to startups and small businesses who impressed him the most through the 2016 Virgin Media Business “VOOM" competition.
MacRebur Limited won the best startup category, securing a prize package worth 450,000 pounds, due to patenting a method of mixing waste plastics with bitumen, to produce a new asphalt road material, which the company says will revolutionize the world's roads. Besides the companies he's backing through the VOOM competition, Branson explained why he is also putting his weight behind the sharing economy, with investments in companies such as taxi-apps Uber and Hailo – a smartphone app that helps link passengers with empty cabs, saying that it has revitalized London's famous taxi scene.
Branson, who has made a career out of founding startups, started Virgin StartUp almost three years ago, and since then has provided more than 1,100 businesses with startup loans, for approximately 11 million pounds, with nearly 35,000 mentor hours.
Branson, who founded Virgin Group, admits that he has been caught out by emerging technologies in the past, and has learned to adapt, rather than attempt to obstruct progress: “I've been put out of business by new innovations. iTunes destroyed my record business, so we moved into mobile phones, trains, health clubs and into space."
He claimed that taxi lobbying groups (in London) who are fighting to curb Uber's expansion should either accept Uber and embrace it or change what they are doing. He added: “The moment somebody creates something that's better value for the consumer, you just have to accept it."
However, Robert Reich, former U.S. secretary of labor says that the sharing economy is hurtling us backwards. Reich adds that the euphemism is share economy and a more accurate term would be share-the-scraps economy. Newer software technologies permit nearly any job to be divided up into separate tasks, which can be parceled out to workers when needed, with pay determined by demand for that specific job at that specific moment. Matched online, customers and workers are rated on reliability and quality. The lion's share goes to the software-owning corporations with the scraps to on-demand workers.
Reich cites Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which Amazon describes as “a marketplace for work that requires human intelligence," as little more than an Internet job board offering minimal pay for mindlessly-boring bite-sized chores. He goes on to explain that it's an extension of a process that began a little more than 30 years ago when corporations began turning over full-time jobs to temporary workers, freelancers, and consultants.
It's a way to shift risk and uncertainties onto the workers as well as a way to circumvent labor laws that set minimal standards for wages, hours, and working conditions. In short, “on-demand work" is a reversion to commonplace piece work of the 19th century, a time when workers had no legal rights, assumed all risk, had no power and toiled long hours for almost nothing. Uber drivers use their own vehicles, take out their own insurance and pay a hefty fee for the privilege.
According to compensation analysis by ridester.com, the actual earnings, or “what's left" after Uber (and Lyft) gets its cut, fuel costs, car maintenance, insurance and taxes are abysmal. It's amazing people still drive for these companies. Ultimately, these rates fall below minimum wage, and in some cases, drivers are losing money every hour they're on the road. The only exception appears to be Uber's New York City drivers, where there's an actual chance to make a relatively decent income.
At some point the question needs to be asked: Does it really make sense to work for a company that pays less than minimum wage but demands you bring a $20,000 – $30,000 piece of equipment to the job? Wouldn't people be better off working at a fast food chain for minimum wage? At least then people would not be forced to bring a $20,000 dollar, four-wheeled-piece of machinery to work.
Asset-sharing and time (labor-sharing) are the two main categories of sharing economy startups. The former, think Airbnb and Fon, are here for the duration and it's easy to understand why because owners have the opportunity to maximize the value of assets by renting the experience of ownership for a reasonable price - a “win-win" for both parties because the market determines values.
The future for labor-sharing services like Uber and Lyft is less certain. While Uber and their drivers provide a notably better experience than taxis, there remain concerns about the societal impact of said services. While some economists laud on-demand work as a means of utilizing people more efficiently, the greatest challenge isn't using people more efficiently – it's finding ways to better allocate work and the gains from the labor.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.