What It’s Really Like to Be a Female Uber Driver
Fourteen percent of Uber drivers are women.
Sounds slim, but it's actually an uptick compared to female taxi drivers and chauffeurs in the U.S., which falls to 12.7 percent. Uber has pledged to get even more women in the mix, recently announcing a plan to create 1 million driving jobs for women by 2020. It’s been well-documented that Uber has posed some unsafe situations for female passengers (think unwanted sexual advances and assaults), but many fear that female drivers are at risk, too. U.N. Women — an original partner in Uber’s job creation pledge — was forced to back out of the deal when concerns were voiced over Uber’s alleged disregard for female safety. Despite this debate, the promise of flexible work hours and a steady, automated income are major upsides for women seeking a new side-hustle. So, Levo decided to chat with a couple of female Uber drivers to find out what it’s really like to be in the driver's seat.
First up is NC State All-American and 12-year WNBA veteran Chasity Melvin. Since she retired from the WNBA in 2011, Melvin has been working as a basketball commentator and radio host, writing two books, getting certified as a life coach, and yes, driving for Uber in her spare time. (Frankly, I should have asked her for some time management tips.) Melvin says that when she first moved to Atlanta and was in the process of writing her books, she needed something to do to get into a creative space, and Uber was the perfect solution.
"I grew up in the country, so I like to drive," Melvin says. "I heard about Uber and figured I would try it. My mom had a fit, but because they let me set my own schedule, I can do things during the day, like go to a speaking engagement or run a basketball camp." Not only that, but it also presented a unique opportunity for networking opportunities. "Since I had just moved to a new city, it became a great networking tool and I was getting paid for it — rather than going to networking events that cost money," she adds.
As a former professional athlete, Melvin says the experience has also helped her integrate back into the common workforce. "I haven't had one person get in the car and recognize me or even ask if I played professional basketball," Melvin says. "It's really helped me get in touch with the reality of everyday working people. I hear so many stories — someone's car broke down, someone doesn't know how they're going to pay their rent — people come in and talk to me about everything."
As a new graduate searching for a job in Washington, D.C., Namoonga Mubagwe also found Uber to be a great way to make some extra cash. "Every person I have driven has been polite and respectful," Mubagwe says. "The first few weeks were a little intense because I was still getting used to the app and how the system worked — which caused me to second-guess myself often — but everyone was very understanding, and they would even help direct me."
Thankfully, neither Melvin nor Mubagwe has been the victim of harassment or other incidents, but both attribute this, in large part, to being very careful about where and when they drive. "As soon as the sun starts to set, I head home," Mubagwe says. "The challenges of being an Uber driver are amplified in the evening, because you don't know who you are picking up other than their name or where they are going."
Mubagwe went on to say that some of her peers have been in a situation where they were worried for their safety. "A few of the drivers [I’ve talked to] who drive at night have told me that some people have tried to get violent with them," she says. "Safety is always a concern and I do not compromise — if I feel uncomfortable, I turn off the app and drive to a location I am more familiar with." Melvin adds that she tries not to drive on Friday or Saturday nights, even though that's when you can make the most money.
Though Melvin says she has been blessed with great riders overall, she did say that sometimes when she drives at night and people are drunk, she'll overhear offensive comments. "Once this one guy felt really bad because his friend was making a lot of racist comments — not toward me, just in general — and tipped me like $40," she says.
Ultimately, both women say that they would absolutely recommend Uber driving as a side-hustle — as long as you're smart about it. "If you're hesitant, test the waters during particularly safe, high-traffic times of day — during rush hour, or even at the airport," she says.
"This is a great platform for people to earn money quickly and gain independence," Mubagwe says. "As with everything, there can always be improvements. I hope Uber begins to incorporate even more elements that allow female drivers to feel safe regardless of what time they choose to drive."
Photo Credit: Getty Images