What do women want? The F-word. Flexibility. Flexibility expands the work choices for women and increases the control they have over their time, labor, and lives.

We often think of flexibility as critical to working mothers, but women at all stages of life depend on flexibility to stay attached to the labor force. Therefore, federal and state policies should protect and encourage the creation of flexible arrangements that meet women’s unique circumstances rather than forcing all women into traditional nine-to-five jobs.

Washington, pay attention. A counterproductive new Department of Labor rule may rob women of the flexible opportunities on which they depend. The rule goes into effect on Monday, but legislators in Congress have introduced a resolution to overturn it. For the sake of equality and progress, lawmakers cannot let the Labor rule stand.

Flexibility is valued by all workers, but more so for women. Women are more likely than men to prioritize hours and job location. A clear gender gap exists between men and women over compensation preferences: Women are flexibility maximizers, and men are pay maximizers. 

For millions of women, a W-2 job, even if hybrid or fully remote, cannot provide the level of flexibility they need to balance priorities such as raising children, managing a disability or illness, or caring for an aging parent. Consequently, over half of the nation’s 70 million-plus freelancers are women.

This time four years ago, Patrice Onwuka and her spouse decided to pull their 1-year-old son out of day care just as they were preparing to welcome their second child together three months later. Both were full-time working parents, and her job was 100% remote, while his was 100% in-person. Then, the pandemic hit. Given the health concerns and challenges in finding in-home child care, they opted to coordinate their schedules around taking care of their little ones. That arrangement is still ongoing four years later. Over time, she also took on writing and public speaking work as an independent contractor. 

Meanwhile, in California, independent contracting was central to Karen Anderson’s freedom and flexibility as the sole caregiver to her now-98-year-old mother. She was always able to earn an income as a thriving independent professional with a 25-year career.

Then, the passage of California Assembly Bill 5 in 2019 ripped financial security out from under her. This anti-independent contractor law, which reclassified many independent contractors in the state as employees, went into effect in January 2020. The law disrupted and destroyed livelihoods overnight. According to a recent economic analysis by the Mercatus Center, self-employment in California decreased by 10.5%, and overall employment decreased by 4.4% on average for affected occupations following AB 5.

Karen’s career opportunities would be tenuous at best, and her ability to care for her mother was in jeopardy. For those like her who are obliged to care for a parent, a sick loved one, a disabled spouse, or a chronically ill family member, being able to work from home and control their own schedules is essential. Many of them cannot work a traditional job that would take them away from 24/7 responsibilities to their loved ones. 

As founder of the Facebook group Freelancers Against AB5, Karen has had a front-row seat for the last four years to thousands of shocking California stories from across the vast spectrum of professions: writers, musicians, photographers, nurse anesthetists, performing artists, IT consultants, wedding planners, yoga instructors, dog walkers, etc. AB 5 took away their chances to work for themselves; many are still struggling today as a result.  

For Californians such as Karen, the Biden administration’s new anti-independent contracting rule feels like deja vu all over again. The Labor rule imposes a multifactor test to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The complex new standard will inject into the workforce uncertainty and confusion over the employment status of millions of workers. As small businesses and corporations evaluate their contracting arrangements in light of the Labor rule, companies are likely to err on the side of caution rather than attempt to comply with the rule’s minefield of confusing “interpretative” language.

As with AB 5, repeat clients are unlikely to convert independent contractors into W-2 employees due to the significant costs. Data confirm that traditional employment did not grow in California after AB 5 was implemented. Independent contractors are likely to be terminated. Small businesses, which survive because of seasonal or project-based help from freelancers, may be forced out of business as well.  

Not all women or workers want full-time, traditional employment. The government should respect those preferences and the diversity of needs of workers. It’s time for Congress to protect entrepreneurs and side hustlers like us.

We know what women want. Let’s give it to them.