When Maryland-based bus driver LaShonda Thompson started driving with Lyft nearly ten years ago, she did it for the supplemental income — money to get her nails done or to pick up crabs for dinner, the D.C. native’s favorite food. But in 2020, everything changed.
She had long been a caregiver for her mother-in-law, who had moved in with Thompson and her husband after going blind. Then, in early 2020, her mother had back surgery that rendered her unable to cook and clean on her own; then she needed a knee and hip replacement. Her father, who lived on the opposite side of town from her mother, fell ill soon after. Suddenly, Thompson found herself as a caregiver to not one but three elderly family members. “It was definitely tough,” she says. “All three of them were housebound.”
In between caring for her family, Thompson would spend her time driving with Lyft. “I’d go to the grocery store, drop some stuff off, and then turn on the app,” she recalls. “One day I’d take care of my dad, the next I’d take care of my mom, and on the next day I’d drive with Lyft so that I could have money to pay for bills and gas.” When Thompson’s caregiver duties required her to take time off work, Lyft became her primary source of income.
"One day I’d take care of my dad, the next I’d take care of my mom, and on the next day I’d drive with Lyft so that I could have money to pay for bills and gas."
Thompson isn’t alone. Flexible work is preferred by many people but can be of outsize importance to women, especially now.
In 2020, more than 1 million American women left the workforce, largely so they could pick up caregiving needs at home. The pandemic laid bare a dynamic that has been true in this country for centuries: Women disproportionately take on the (almost always unpaid) responsibility of caregiving in their families.
Among working parents, women are upwards of four times more likely than men to miss work due to childcare duties, which can leave them more vulnerable to losing their jobs. The impacts for women aren’t just emotional, but financial. A 2011 study from MetLife found that women lose approximately $142,693 in wages when they leave the labor force early because of caregiving responsibilities.
Arun Sundararajan is a professor at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and an expert on the sharing economy. In the past, he told Rev, the only choices caregivers had were “to not work, to rely on someone else, or to work at a level that was significantly below what they aspired to.”
For women who can’t afford to stop working — but whose other responsibilities preclude a traditional 9-to-5 job — the flexibility of rideshare has become a lifeline. “There are very few roles in the past that have afforded this kind of absolute flexibility,” Sundararajan says.
Among women who drive on the Lyft platform and don’t have and aren’t looking for other work, 41% say they engage in app-based work because they cannot work scheduled hours, according to Lyft’s annual Economic Impact Report. Overall, 44% of women drivers are routinely providing care for children.
44% of women drivers are routinely providing care for children.
2023 Lyft Economic Impact Report
Additionally, the vast majority — 98% — of female drivers on the Lyft platform feel that app-based work provides them with the freedom and flexibility to work around other commitments and constraints.
Lyft’s president, Kristin Sverchek, a mother of three herself, is no stranger to the constraints of caregiving. “It demands time of you at all hours of the day, at irregular times,” she says. “And so, driving with Lyft is a really great complement for women who either have professions where they’re not working full-time or who are staying at home most of the time. The beauty of being a driver on the Lyft app is that you can log on or off whenever you want to.”
Today, Lyft is launching Women+ Connect, a new feature that gives women and nonbinary drivers the option to turn on a preference that will prioritize matches with women and nonbinary riders. “We heard so many drivers asking for this — just a constant drumbeat of feedback that if they had a way to be matched with more women riders, they would feel more comfortable driving, particularly at night,” Sverchek says. “This was about the comfort of being able to go out there and get on the road at the times that are most convenient for women and nonbinary drivers. We believe that this could unlock economic earnings opportunities.”
For Lyft, empowering women and nonbinary drivers is a “virtuous cycle,” Sverchek says. “Our surveys show that women make up nearly half of Lyft riders. If you opt in to Women+ Connect because you feel more comfortable riding with another woman or nonbinary person, then you’re likely to take more rides. And then Women+ Connect drivers are likely to give more rides.”
Beyond caregiving, rideshare also helps women drivers earn extra money to meet short-term needs and save for the long term. In fact, 57% of women drivers on the Lyft platform say they drive to provide supplemental income to their household, and 90% say app-based work allows them to earn money while pursuing something else, like starting a small business.
Stephanie Aleman started driving with Lyft in early 2020 to make some extra money for a vacation she was planning to Japan. But then the pandemic hit, flights shut down, and with her plans to travel canceled, she found herself with extra savings. “A friend and I would both work in the medical field, and we decided we wanted to get into body sculpting,” she recalls. “I opened a medical spa using the same funds I had saved up and was still accumulating because I was still driving with Lyft.”
Now, three years later, Aleman has ten employees. She says she wouldn’t have had the extra income to open the medical spa without Lyft. “I was already working in the medical field, but it wasn’t enough,” Aleman says.
For LaShonda Thompson, Lyft was a lifeline when she needed to take care of her parents three years ago — and she still turns to it today to make supplemental income. “I still drive with Lyft — I call it ‘my money,’ ” she says. “Whether it’s to get my nails done or for an unexpected expense, it’s my money to do whatever I want.”