Challenges facing women working in Call Centres and BPOs

callcenter Towards the end of the 20th century, when the western world was preparing itself for the great Y2K database threat, it opened the doors for India as an important back-office destination of the world. Ever since then, India’s BPO industry has never looked back, and it continues to grow from strength to strength. According to a Nasscom-McKinsey study conducted in 2007, the Indian BPO industry grew 7 times the annual GDP growth. In 2009, the industry contributed nearly 2.5 percent to the GDP (1).

At present, women workers constitute about one-third of the total Call Centre and BPO workforce in India. However, despite such a major economic contribution of women to the industry, several challenges faced by them still remain to be addressed. As per Nirmal Mirza, the CEO of Sitagita.com, communication and self-expression are the key challenges that women working in the BPO and Call Centre industry still face in India. There is a general lack of confidence among women at junior levels to speak up against issues such as “graveyard shifts” (night shifts) and lack of adequate safety and security measures. (2)

Safe transportation for women continues to remain a major challenge in the BPO and Call Centre industry. Following several incidents of crimes against women BPO employees, many BPO companies have tightened their safety policies. Company-sponsored pick-up and drop vehicles have been provided for women employees. Many company rules stipulate that women must travel only in the presence of another male employee. Internal hotlines and SMS services have been introduced to monitor the well-being of commuting employees. Adequate background checks on the designated cab drivers are also made by the employers. These measures have improved the situation considerably, though it still does not make the women employees feel 100% safe, especially when they work in night shifts. (3)

The socio-cultural factors also work against the women who are employed with BPO and Call Centres in India. Even if the woman is happy and satisfied with her night duty job, and is getting an excellent remuneration for it, but her troubles may begin once she gets married. In many cases the women are forced to quit their jobs because of the disapproval of the husband and his family. However, the BPO industry is making an attempt to address this aspect as well. Zia Sheikh, the COO of Infowavz International, a Mumbai based Call Centre says, “We try to reassure the relatives of our women employees by organizing Family Days on a regular basis.” (4)

The government, on its part, can make it mandatory for companies to install GPS in cabs to have a stronger monitoring. Self-defence training to women, installing CCTVs at the workplace to prevent sexual harassment, police verification of cab drivers, security guards and peons working in BPOs, and efficient complaint redressal systems should be made compulsory for all employers. (5)

In 2008, a survey on gender inclusivity in the IT-BPO sector in India conducted by the HR consulting firm Mercer and Nasscom revealed that apart from safety and security, flexible working hours and leave policy play a crucial role in attracting and retaining women in the BPO organization. Other practices that women workers appreciate are anti-harrassment policy, healthcare and awareness programs, women’s lounge and recreational activities. (6)

The BPO and Call Centre industry in India has a bright future ahead. Since women are an integral part of this industry, it is entirely in the employers’ own interest to address the challenges and issues they face at the workplace.

 

- Vikas Vij(views expressed in the article are that of the author)

Sources:

(1) http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2007/05/11/stories/2007051100390900.htm

(2) http://www.efytimes.com/efytimes/fullnewsbpo.asp?edid=26456

(3) http://coreadvisor.com/globalwise/2008/02/28/how-safe-are-girls-on-bpo-graveyard-shift/

(4) http://www.indiacurrents.com/news/view_article.html?article_id=2ba79f90c71d60ebddc033fdeebf24ce

(5) http://www.livemint.com/2008/10/09134306/53-working-women-in-India-fea.html

(6) http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/infotech/ites/Number-of-women-working-in-IT-BPO-sector-up-60-/articleshow/4525973.cms

 

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