India continues to lead the world today in IT and business process outsourcing, followed by the Philippines, Poland, China, Costa Rica, Ireland, Czech Republic, and many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to a Nasscom India study, women account for about 50 percent of the business process outsourcing workforce in urban areas in India, while women working on the night shift in the BPO sector constitute over 40 percent of the total workforce. However, despite the major economic contribution by women to the Indian BPO industry, many challenges can undermine the progression of gender equality in the workplace. According to the CEO of the Indian home portal Sitagita.com, communication and self-expression are key challenges for women in the country’s BPO sector. Women at junior levels often fail to speak up against issues like lack of safety measures in the workplace and graveyard shift work.
Female BPO workers do not feel 100% safe despite considerable improvements like company pick-up and drop-off vehicles, hotlines and SMS services that monitor commuting employees, and background checks on taxi drivers. Issues also arise when a female BPO worker gets married. Instead of taking a leave of absence, women are often forced to quit their jobs because of pressure from their husbands and family members. A Mercer and Nasscom survey on gender inclusivity in India’s IT-BPO sector showed that besides safety concerns, female workers struggle with flexible working hours and policy on leaves and absences.
The study also revealed that companies wishing to attract and retain female BPO talents should have anti-harassment policies in place, healthcare and awareness programs, women’s recreational activities, and family days. The Assocham Social Development Foundation (ASDF) suggested that the Indian government should make it mandatory for companies to install GPS in cabs and CCTVs in the workplace, and introduce self-defense training classes and efficient systems to address complaints by female employees.
Business process outsourcing is a growing sector of the global economy, presenting expanded employment opportunities for women and increasing the demands made on them. The impact of outsourcing on women is shown clearly in emerging markets and top BPO destinations India and the Philippines, where the sector has generated new income and entrepreneurship opportunities, especially for well-educated women. Despite the challenges, the IT-BPO industries in India and the Philippines are noted for extremely high diversity in terms of gender. Above all other factors, workers are hired based on talent, allowing highly-educated women to assume a wide range of positions in the industry.
Thanks to higher wages and female-friendly policies, the BPO industry is helping women invest more in health and wellness. Many Indian companies provide generous maternity benefits and 24/7 childcare for their female employees (How Outsourcing is Boosting Prospects for Indian Women, CNET 2012). In India, parents traditionally have enormous influence over their daughters’ career choices. With the growth of the IT-BPO sector, middle-class parents are becoming comfortable with their daughters working graveyard shifts or traveling for business.
Information technology is a male-dominated segment, but the global expansion of IT and BPO has opened up new avenues for women workers. The IT-BPO outsourcing industry in India and the Philippines is a meritocracy that favors skills and talent above gender, allowing highly-skilled, educated women to hold positions in an environment previously open only to men. The promise of higher wages and female-oriented benefits can encourage women who are still in school to major in IT and software degrees to further improve their employability. Nasscom India estimated that women made up 20 to 25 percent of science and engineering graduates in the country. In 2008, women accounted for 28 percent of the country’s overall IT workforce, a relatively higher proportion compared to other sectors of the economy.