GENDER AND WORK IN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SECTOR: A Sociological Study of Women Workforce.

Author: 

Dr. asmita Bhattacharyya

Defended: 

2014

Introduction
The post 1990 era, termed as the liberlised phase, is distinctly marked by the ‘information revolution’ pervading every aspect of our life. It has redefined the conventional notions of State, Nation, Polity, Technology, Culture, Economy, workplace and worker’s life. In fact, this new phase of Globalisation is a multidimensional process that has restructured, in a profound manner, the way we live. Its dimension has changed from not just the ‘out-there’ situation having remote connectedness with us to that of ‘in here’ phenomenon influencing the intimate aspects of our personal lives. On the whole, globalisation in its advanced phase actualises a whole new form of life and living aptly termed by the western sociologists as the ‘Post-traditional Society’/‘Risk Society’/‘Knowledge Society’/‘New Economy Society’ to portray the new era having significant differences and discontinuities with that of the preceding periods.
The prominent feature of this new type of globalisation is that every nation of the world has now become global and every individual across the world is empowered to think and act globally with all the necessary information at their fingertips. Empowerment is a broader term with wider implications. It signifies the power to question or challenge the injustices, inequalities or inequities, discrimination between the sexes and disparities in any form including giving vent to resentment against the patriarchal set up or capitalist interest or even the super-power. New globalisation phase is endowed with Information technology revolution, which has restructured not only the socio-economic order but also has spread its influence across the Nations around the globe. The said revolution has spread the homogenising influence of globalisation impacting both the Western and Non-Western nations, including India, equally. The situation casts doubt in retaining the local specifity of the locale. Thus, a dialogue may be set up within the framework of research to connect the global ideology with local settings to understand the uncanny relation between homogenous and heterogeneous phenomena.
Narrowing down our analytical angle of study, a special reference is made on the terminologies of new global economy, the new economic organisation and new elite professionals. Similar to the new global order, the new economy has also undergone de-structuring and flexibilisation of existing organisational structure, which is turn, empowers the workforce with enhanced capacity to challenge the constraints imposed by the dominant social structures. This phase is also conspicuous by the growing presence of women in the economy as the visible category of workforce. Feminist discourse has, however, always been concerned in some way or the other, in respect of women’s participation or otherwise in the paid employment.
It appears pertinent to bind if this kind of feminist discourse has its applicability in the Indian context where women historically have subordinate status. Their subordinate status and confinement to the traditionally prescribed domestic roles explains their low presence in the labour market and that too is concentrated in certain specified type of jobs. Their subordinate status is incompatible with human dignity and goes against not only the welfare of the family but also of the society. It prevents them from participating in all areas of political, social, economic and cultural activities on equal terms with men’s, posing an obstacle to the full development of the nation.
Thus, we arrive at the relevance of undertaking research pertaining to ‘Gender and work’ in Indian scenario. To address the issues in terms of opportunities and challenges encountered by women in the context of the changing environment brought about by the Information Communication Technology (ICT) is broadly dealt with. The discourse of ICTs is based on the conviction that access to networking technologies is an empowering tool for women of the developing nations. The consequential question may be asked—is this necessarily so?
The following research questions may be posed:-
1. How does the labour market treat women as workers in the work organisation especially in respect of opportunities and remuneration?
2. Is the new global workplace really gendered? If so, whether the gendered workplace is being reproduced or challenged by this globalised industry?
3. How do the transnational professionals, donning the new identity, negotiate with the primordial or traditional identities like caste, religion and gender at personal domain?
4. How does the work in software industry affect the social, personal and family lives of the female workers?

The changed situation raises a viable issue as to how far women software professionals are empowered to overcome the constraints that operate at their work and home fronts and the consequent challenges in handling the dual role in the workplace as also at the home-domain. A holistic study has been undertaken to look into the underlying structural determinants that constrain agents to actualise their agencies in this new globalised workplace in conjunction with the local specificity.
Women’s position in software industry, located in the eastern region of India i.e. in Kolkata is our subject of study. Incidentally, this region being the earliest recipient of modern thoughts, places women in more liberalised status compared to other Indian states. Although the gender studies in the software industry have already taken place in other Indian metropolis cities like Bangaluru, Delhi and Chennai, yet much of such study has not happened in respect to software industry located in Kolkata. As a result, Kolkata appears to be a virgin territory worthy of such research studies. The reasons to choose Kolkata city, the cultural hub and the prime megapolies in eastern India, as the site of our research work got rationalised. We have undertaken an extensive study on gender and work in software technology sector in Kolkata city. The present study purports to excavate the gender dynamics that have been rendered invisible in terms of articulation by the mainstream sociologists and economists about the present global economy.
The review of literatures on IT workplaces in other Indian cities suggests that the industry is more or less gendered and is almost akin to the pre-liberalised economy but in a different form. The present study takes into account the prevailing state of affairs in IT work places in the eastern part of India to explore the pervasiveness of such of gender bias. The feminist theoretical perspective showcases the rise of individualism in post-liberalised labour market. Individualism stands against the subordination/marginalisation strategies practiced by the pre-liberalised economy. The theoretical frame work essentially has two broader umbrella terms — exclusion and inclusion. The exclusionary practices include marginalisation strategies, impediments of cultural and biological determinants etc. and are the outcome of patriarchy─ private, public or both. Inclusionary perspectives embrace egalitarianism, empowerment approach, autonomy and individualisation. The discourses encompass the issues of tradition and modernity, hierarchy and egalitarian ideology, and emancipation and subordination.

Objectives of the Study
a) Empirical: To investigate as to how women professionals’ participation in the labour market has led to concomitant circumstances at the three levels, viz. women at work, women at home and women in workplace and home.
b) Theoretical: It seeks to study the ‘fit in’ between the two contexts — the ‘inclusionary understanding’ of the new labour market and women professionals’ ‘experience of exclusion’.
c) Methodology: Apt methodology is adopted to understand the inclusion and exclusion dimensions of the labour market as the method generates both valid and reliable data to obtain generalisability, representativeness and at the same time achieve in-depth understanding of the problems of the study.

Synopsis of the Chapters

Chapter 2: Methodology ─The essence of introductory chapter outlining the objectives of the study is discussed above in chapter 1 of Introduction. This chapter deals with searches for a suitable methodology to serve the objectives of study in a befitting way. Suitable methodological approach consists in outlining research strategies, methods, techniques, schedules and data types that are most appropriate to the purpose of our study. Moreover, sampling strategies are suitably worked out and applied on the target population to undertake primary data collection for the survey.
Triangulation of method or mixed method involving both quantitative and qualitative indicators, are applied to elicit information from 250 sample respondents. The quantitative base gives representativeness of the sample while the qualitative base extracts the subjective meaning, cultural understanding and structural patterns. Application of flexible research design, shaped in the form of semi-structured interview schedule along with focused group discussion, case studies and narratives were taken care of. The quantitative and qualitative elements of research have been introduced in different phases of the research process: the research design phase; fieldwork phase; and the phase involving interpretation and contextualisation. Given the varied field restrictions, the non probabilistic sampling does score over the conventional probabilistic sampling. The use of non-probabilistic quota sampling gives some randomisation in the selection of respondents across different sub-section of the population in filling up the quota. The data collected is put into analysis by using SPSS to find out relationship between the variables and pattern analysis on qualitative narration.

Chapter 3: Post Traditional Economy ─ The chapter elucidates the characteristic behaviour of the ‘New Economy’ and as to how the same has paved the way for the growth of the Information Technology Industry. The IT industry, in its turn, has transformed the world of work and the workers’ lives in the West as well as in India by unleashing a new socio-economic order by replacing the tenor of the old economy. New economy introduces structural reflexibility by the process of de-nationalisation, de-regulation of markets and sets in the post-fordist mode of production. The post-fordist economic structure gives opportunities for self-reflexibility to the workers by empowering them. Knowledge professionals are made self monitors and, in turn, they become individualised and develop ‘me-centric’ identity detached from the then in vogue ‘we-centric’ entity. This phenomenon holds good equally in both the western and Indian contexts.
Indian software industry, an offshoot of the new economy, has largely acted as a peripheral sector. It thrives mainly on the outsourced projects of the West. Our chosen study is gender and work situation in the software industry in Kolkata. IT industry has generated our interest to understand its contextual and cultural specificity to gain new sociological insights about the research site. The chapter concludes by delineating the distinguishing aspects of the socio-economic profile of the women professionals of IT industry in Kolkata. Most of them are found to be non-migrants and domiciles of Bengal. Majority of them are educated in the regional medium of instructions and having obtained their technical degrees from less renowned private institutions and finally get them employed in mid-small sized firms unlike those of other megapolies in India.

Chapter 4: Women’s Public Domain ─ This chapter proceeds with the analytical aspect of the study of the situations of women in their public or workplace domain, across firm sizes and gender equation at the workplace of the software industry. IT industry has made various inclusive provisions for women with different incentives so as to attract them in greater numbers in the industry. The industry has made women not only inclusive participants in the workforce but also empowered them to challenge the traditional gender norms at work by venturing into male dominated technical areas, by being mobile across the places− be it inland or overseas, putting themselves to late hour stay in office, and imbibing the bargaining power for salary hike and for promotion etc. Nevertheless, the long working hours, late-night shift duties and the hectic work schedules etc. are some of the exclusionary factors which disorient them to sustain in the industry.
The first analytical variable used is the firm size for comparative understanding of women’s prevailing conditions in these firms. The findings reveal, as expected, that the large-sized firms have better working conditions in terms of employee benefits such as higher pay package, better career and promotional prospects, ample scope for in-house training, skill upgradation facilities and most importantly, provision for women sensitive policies are there in place than those of the mid-small sized firms. However, the job satisfaction level in mid-small firms is surprisingly more pervasive than that in larger firms. Implicit rationing on availment of entitled leave, incidents of sexual harassment and the sanctily practiced policy of ‘equality in recruitment and promotion’ are some of the malaise associated with the industry and are spread across all the IT firms irrespective of their sizes.
Apart from this qualitative perspective in having the interlinkages between work and gender, deciphered from the professionals’ view point of ‘exclusion’, in the work environment is studied for due assessment. A comparative perspective between two groups of women professionals comprising the unmarried and the ever married are selected. Marital status of women workforce is significantly related to their being victims of discrepancy in terms of salary, rare allotment of challenging projects and for promotion vis-a-vis their male counterpart. This discrepancy is due to the subtle strategies involving gender typecast and is frequently labeled against the female colleagues by their male counterpart affecting adversely their career prospects. The resultant effect creates the glass ceiling for women and only a few of them reaching at the top is an exception. Against the flip side of their lesser vertical mobility suggests that they are segmented at the horizontal layer in certain fields and positions in the human resource management, as programmers and such other offshore assignments. The other reasons associated with the glass ceiling are that most women squeeze out before reaching mid-level managerial positions for being unable to adapt themselves to the workplace challenges and aspersion etc. cast against them.
IT sector has generated considerable women participation in the recent past. But their rise in the promotional ladder is masked by gendered sociability, making the workplace gendered, leading to segregation and feminisation of certain job roles within the industry. To sum up the above facts, a long-standing linkage of gender, skill, and technology operate in such a way that the situation ultimately favours men by leaving women in the sidelines of the technological industry milieu.

Chapter 5: Women’s Private Domain ─ The chapter focuses on the broader aspects of women’s agencies negotiating with the traditional structural limits of gender norms, primordial identities and institutions in their private arena. Women’s involvement in the paid work leads to concomitant change in their status by developing an increased sense of autonomy and empowerment while negotiating with the traditional gender norms. Certain differences in the empowered position between the married and the unmarried woman groups have been noticed.
The level of autonomy gets tested in terms of the exercise of decisions in respect of financial and expendable matters, self selection of spouse and through sharing of household chores between the spouses. The results of our findings indicate that incase of married respondents, the financial decisions on their income in most occasions are taken jointly with the male members of the family (father or husband) and the expenditures are mainly directed towards supplementing the family needs. But women are emancipated to take marriage decisions by self-selection of their spouses disregarding caste affliction, unlike the cases with most of their parents. It has been revealed that the married respondents do not seem to be emancipated in achieving equalitarian gender relation at home. When it comes to sharing of household chores or rearing of children it is woman who has to shoulder these extra burdens. To deal with their ‘dual burden’ of office and home responsibilities, usually the assistance from paid services or from the family members especially belonging to the extended family or external support system is sought for maintaining the household responsibilities.
The empowering effect of women professionals of today is perceptible if we cast an insight into the mobility of the daughters from those of their mothers forming inter-generational perspective. The qualitative narratives of the respondents offer an optimistic picture of their emancipated position in terms of accessing professional education and jobs, achieving of economic independence, as also more voice in the family matters in contrast to those of their mothers.
The overall effect on women professionals’ status in the family suggests that although they may appear to be ‘empowered’, yet they continue to live within (and accept) the patriarchal family structures. The globalising influence at the workplace has, undoubtedly, enhanced the autonomy of women professionals, but, on the whole, they stick to their traditional roles and identities.

Chapter 6: Women’s Dual Role in Public and Private Domains ─ The last analytical chapter discusses women professionals’ dual role in their public and private domains and how the same affects their lives. The organisational stress better known as the techno-workplace stress is distinctive of IT work culture. This adversely affects the health, job satisfaction and effective performance of dual role and ultimately severely hampers the quality of life of women professionals. The effective discharge of duties towards office work and taking care for home front necessitates maintenance of work-life balance. But it proves to be a difficult task especially because of asymmetrical double burden usually falling only on women employees who are to undertake the workload of both the paid workplace duties and the unpaid domestic responsibilities. Ill-equipped and under-developed external support systems of paid services or day care centres further aggravate their woes. As a result, they need to develop their own strategies to cope with the compressed time in striking balance in work-life. Because of the work-life strain, both career prospects and quality parenting time gets derailed and proper care of the children is hampered. For women professionals, juggling between public and private domains are like a double edged sword affecting them in both the ways.

Chapter 7: Conclusion─ In this concluding chapter we summarise the broader outcome of our research findings, derived from the field study, having empirical, methodological and theoretical implications. Knowledge gathered from the study has distinctive policy implications on social equality and equity angles to bring about a social change in the lives of women professionals. The gist of findings is as under:
a) Empirical findings: It sums up the broader traits and patterns about women professionals’ situation in public domain as well as private sphere and challenges faced in balancing the dual role in public and private spaces (vide details in ‘chapter synopsis’ section mentioned above).
b) Theoretical significance: Due emphasis is laid on the feminist discourse analysis to understand the constant conflict between the individual autonomy and structural determinants leading to creation of barriers in realisation of individual agencies. The theoretical debate dwells on inclusion vs exclusion or empowerment vs disempowerment determinants. IT workplaces appear to have failed in realising their full potentiality in attaining inclusivity as the tools for gender equality, women empowerment and human development etc. because of the oblivious presence of the Capitalist and the patriarchal mindsets ingrained in their mottoes. The theoretical standpoint on inclusion yet exclusion rightly categorises the new global IT workplace in India. The relation holds in continuity but not as the dichotomous practice.
Within the structural deterministic ambit, individual agencies make their way out of the imposed structural constraints. The resultant effect, derived from our study, is that the women professionals are partially emancipated in getting the structural rigidities relaxed but that does not liberate them to break away fully from the structure. The phenomenon is, thus, aptly termed as the ‘structured individuation’ instead of the widely known ‘individualisation’ postulation.
The theoretical position interlinks gender inequality maintained by various exclusionary mechanisms to justify women’s subordinate status at the societal level as against their individual agencies gained from the acquired through their respective gender-neutral workplaces by bringing possibilities for effecting changes in the social surroundings.
We have struck the theoretical middle path that views the relationship between structure and agency as of mutual inter-dependence, rather than of dichotomy or of duality. Understanding of duality of structure and agency, without giving analytical primacy either to agency or structure, helps anyone in the analysis of social change. Thus, the theoretical position demands macro-micro linkages in analysing the social structural conditions and the agency to comprehend the prospective of social change.
c) Methodological significance: Methodological standpoint considers women not just as workers in the labour market but as the entities which critically interpret the structural and cultural context in which they are placed.
The feminist methodological perspective aptly serves to uncover women’s position in the labour market from the actors’ point of view to evaluate the phenomena of inclusion and exclusion experienced by the women professionals. A typical ‘bottom up’ approach is found suitable to unravel the value systems leading to the sexual division of labour, ideological construction of gendered skills, presence or otherwise of gendered power relation in the workplace and at the households. The perspective offers an alternative discourse to the dominant male perspective that exercises the ‘top-down’ approach of the reality. ‘Gender and Development’ (GAD) approach fits well for the present discourse in replacement of earlier perspective of ‘Women in Development’ (WID).
A convergent middle ground has been carved out in which the individual, as an agent of change, is recognised without losing sight of the constraining structures within which the agent exercises its agency. Thus, operationalising the concept of inclusivity, empowerment or autonomy, as against the concept of exclusion or gender subordination would give a holistic perspective to understand the inter-linkage between gender and work in this new workplace.
A middle ground is struck by a method, called the mixed method, which triangulates or combines the essence of both the quantitative and qualitative methods to determine complementary nature of data sets involving quantitative indicators as well as qualitative narratives to serve our desired purpose. Flexible research design and semi-structured questionnaire, covering both the close-ended and open-ended questions have been put into use for non-probabilistic quota sampling. Thus, it is observed that the quantitative generalisations get substantiated by the qualitative cases and the qualitative generalisations are well supported by the quantitative data.
The quantitative analysis finds out association and level of significance among the variables whereas qualitative analysis looks into the patterns or trends abstracted from open-ended responses. Both of these data types prove to be complementary to each other and have strengthened our arguments. Both the quantitative and the qualitative interpretations are given equal weightage in this analysis so that they can deliver a holistic picture of gender-work inter-linkages.

Afterword

Women’s increased participation in the IT industry has not only demystified the notion of gendered workplace in science and technology arena but also has injected a positive element of increased equality between men and women and thereby putting a bold step forward against gender inequalities. Though the Indian IT industry is branded as a ‘global workplace’, yet it tends to mirror the dominant ideologies embedded in the larger society interplayed in the form of gender stereotyping putting women workforce in a disadvantageous position compared to that of men. The gender typecast is the manifested form of internalised gender differences, framed in terms of binary between male and female roles. The immutability attributed to gender roles goes on in unaltered ways, in which women are positioned as care providers to the family members and their children. In the workplace, they are considered as subsidiary or transient or less aspirant workers rather than as committed professionals. Women’s position in the labour market is, thus, unequal and their familial roles impede exercising their choices to the fullest potential. Women’s participation in the paid work in the public domain does not liberate them from societal expectation for prioritising the family. They are in between asymmetric patriarchal rule at home and the capitalist interest conjoined with the patriarchal strategies at the labour market.
The context raises the dichotomous issues of tradition and modernity. The professionals are, thus, in the cross-fire of two opposing ideologies – one of modern progressive ideology arising out of the global, multicultural work environment and the other is of traditional patriarchal value based legacy ingrained in their psyche. The modern progressive ideology stands for empowering (opportunities) while the traditional patriarchal diction represents disempowering (constraints) forces. These conflicting forces create dilemma in the minds of the new genre of middle class IT professionals who are after ‘to be or not to be’ in the ‘rootedness or up-rootedness’ or to be sided with ‘push or pull’ of the ideological values.

Policy Implications

To raise the status of women in Indian society from the universal form of subordination, to that of empowered agents, necessitates policy formulation sensitising their concerns. The new policy formulation has to focus on the agenda of greater ‘inclusivity’ of women in men-dominated sectors by altering the earlier schemes of ‘efficiency’ and ‘welfare’ related policy planning. The ‘gender inclusivity’ may be attained by incorporating policies of gender equity and equality leading to empowerment to sustain in this industry. While incorporating the ‘Gender and Development’ (GAD) approach in policy formulation, it is imperative to take into account the issues relating to gender inequality at the workplace that impede attainment of full potentiality by the female workforce. The GAD approach includes the practical and strategic needs in gender planning. IT industry should attempt to transform the workplace from inclusivity to empowerment. The process is, no doubt, a complex process requiring multi-dimensional efforts which requires a holistic approach at all levels−individual, organisational and governmental levels.

Significance of the Study and Research Forward

The results of this study have significant implications for the policy making in future as well as taking forward further research in this area of study and in related fields.

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