Have you only ridden in Ubers with male drivers? You’re not alone, but believe me — women drive for Uber, too.
With the rise of the gig economy, driving for Uber is an easy form of side hustle, but it definitely still has problems. Founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick’s scandals have been well-documented, and there is a pervasive problem of women being attacked, followed and harmed by their Uber drivers. The recent swath of sexual harassment accusations is a reminder that the workplace isn't always a safe space for women — so, what’s it’s like to be a female rideshare driver?
“Most of the time, it was a blast,” said Hillary Hafke, a freelance publicist at Live.Work.Lead. She initially signed up as a rideshare driver for extra cash, but found that her tenure was short-lived.
“I stopped driving for two reasons,” Hafke said. “First, my babysitting work picked up. Second, with my babysitting work now providing that extra income, I figured it wasn’t worth risking my safety to keep driving. I did have a few pretty bad experiences.”
Unfortunately, Hafke’s experiences were not unique. Teajai Kimsey, who works as a marketing director for a national manufacturing firm by day, also experienced harassment from riders.
“I think some passengers have the impression that since you’re a woman you will take more shit, but it’s not true,” Kimsey said. “I’ve had an occasion where a passenger would not leave the car. I got out, took my keys and leaned back in the window. I said, ‘Here’s how this is going to work, any minute now a cop is coming by. If you aren’t out of my car, I’ll flag him down and he will remove you.’”
In Kimsey’s experience, the positive interactions with customers outweighed the negative ones. In one instance, a rider had traveled halfway around the world to partake in a funeral for his godson and made it to the ceremony just in time, thanks to Kimsey’s driving. In another, Kimsey helped a rider surprise her fiancé on Valentine’s Day.
“For the most part, everything is fine,” Kimsey said. “Sometimes, I am in a position to be a crucial part of someone’s life.”
“People — especially drunk people — almost seem to worship you,” Hafke said. “I swear riders would just go on and on about how cool it was that I was a woman driving for Lyft. And honestly, I definitely had been that rider before I started driving.”
That said, both Hafke and Kimsey acknowledge that there’s work to be done to make the rideshare industry safer for women. “I like the driving,” Kimsey said. “I dislike the company, but things are improving under Dara (Khosrowshahi, the new CEO).”
For Hafke's part, she pointed out that the ridesharing industry could stand to be improved for more than just women.
“(Driving) was definitely my best option at the time,” Hafke said. “There is obviously harassment involved, but the men get that as well.”
Hafke doesn’t believe that rideshare companies can do much more to change passenger behavior. Instead, Hafke sees a need to address the systemic issues that lead to those negative experiences — but in the meantime, she’d still recommend ridesharing to other women.
“Assuming they are emotionally in a place where they can deal with harassment,” Hafke clarified. “I am able to stomach more harassment than most. I also think that being tall — I’m 5’8” — is important. I felt much safer on account of my size.”
“I know a lot of women who drive for Uber,” Kimsey said. “For the most part everything is fine, but this isn’t for everyone.”