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

PhD defended at: 

JADAVPUR UNIVERSITY,KOLKATA --- as JRF-SRF fellow of Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata

Author: 

Dr. Asmita Bhattacharyya

Defended: 

2014

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.

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.
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 organizational ideologies. 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.

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