IT Employment investigate

How Indian outsourcing's hunt for skills is boosting women and cutting bias

What started with the Indian services industry's attempts to attract talent through women-friendly policies now extends to all parts of the equality agenda.

Competition for talent in India's IT industry has made it more diverse and inclusive than any other in the subcontinent. Photo: Namas Bhojani

A couple of decades ago, women graduating from one of the thousands of colleges in India had limited options. If they went with the more popular career choices of the time, they could teach in a school, work at a bank or for the government. These days, they have another professional avenue - the IT services industry.

According to official data, India's IT and BPO services industry employs some three million workers. Today about a quarter or more of these are women, says India's industry trade body Nasscom. That is up from a fifth of the workforce in 2007. A recent study, Diversity in Action by Nasscom and PricewaterhouseCoopers, suggests the number of women workers is steadily growing. That change represents a generational shift.

The IT industry has extremely high diversity in terms of gender, geography, language and socio-economic factors, says Akila Krishnakumar, CEO and India for SunGard Technology Services, a US-headquartered provider of services to the financial and education sectors. "That is because meritocracy reigns in the industry. It all boils down to talent," says Krishnakumar, who is among the very few C-level women executives in the Indian services field.

The competition for talent in the IT industry has smoothed out many of the inequalities, making it more diverse and inclusive than any other in India.

Foremost is the gender balance. Thanks to women-friendly policies, including escorts to the doorstep on nightshifts, generous maternity benefits and 24x7 childcare, the gender imbalance in the industry is slowly being evened out.

More middle-class Indian parents, who wield enormous power over their children's career choices, are becoming comfortable with their daughters working late and being away on business.

But diversity in the industry still has its challenges. While there are plenty of women entering the workforce, there is a pronounced lack of women in leadership or boardroom roles. Sangita Singh, a senior vice president, healthcare and life sciences at Wipro, is among the select few who have climbed up the ladder in the industry. She believes change is round the corner.

First, Singh says, there are a lot more women at the entry level in the industry. Secondly, many women are rising in functional roles today. Among the managers who report to her, Singh counts eight women out of a total of 15. "It's only a matter of time," she says.

In five or six years, more women will reach the top in business roles, she predicts. "In a few years, the IT industry will start looking like India's banking industry," Singh says, referring to the domination of India's leading banks by sari-clad women CEOs.

Indian companies have imported and formulated some of the best practices in HR. Their flat structures and informal work culture is quite a departure from the ambiance at India's family-run or old- economy companies. But inclusivity in the full sense of word, encompassing generational diversity and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, is still not visible in workplaces.

Close to six percent of India's population has some form of disability but fewer than three in 100 are employed by the organised sector, says Ajay Kela President and CEO of the Wadhwani Foundation. The foundation is a not-for-profit set up by Romesh Wadhwani, founder of IT services company Symphony Technology Group. It funds programmes to empower and employ people with disabilities and special challenges.

"We are making progress through initiatives such as those by the Wadhwani Foundation and Nasscom, but the outcomes are still far from mainstream," admits Kela.

A gay worker at a multinational technology company told TechRepublic that there is more acceptance of diversity in the workplace than even a decade ago. For instance, he said, people have a more nuanced understanding of labels attached to sexual orientation. But diversity as a corporate agenda is largely focused on bringing women into the workplace, he said.

However, one remarkable aspect of India's young industry has gone largely unsung. India's infamous caste and class systems have been upended by the IT industry. With the migration from small towns to larger cities, many Indians no longer feel categorised by the caste system or shackled to it in an industry where merit rules.

The industry is dominated by a young workforce - in many large companies workers are aged on average in the early thirties. "Talent issues have diminished all biases, equal opportunity is the reality," says Krishnakumar of SunGard.

About

Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.

48 comments
Tea.Rollins
Tea.Rollins

The sickening thing is that a bachelor's in India is the equivalent of a high school diploma in the US. Our colleges are so greedy and eager for non-local students who pay through the nose that they'll disregard this and let them into a master's program. The reality is, 99% of all indians couldn't begin to pass a baccalaureate program, but they don't have to worry about it, because a master's program just requires putting in some time and doing a little work. They come here, go to school for a semester, work legally for 17 months, then go back to school for another and repeat indefinitely. What's worse, we count that as an EXPORT. Why should I be happy undereducated, unskilled people are getting ahead, regardless of their gender?

Tea.Rollins
Tea.Rollins

I've been to 6 interviews recently, and I've pretty much come to be of the opinion that as a white female interviewing for one of them, they're just going to cut you off, dismiss you and waste your time. The more technical they are, the more prevalent this becomes.

pmshah
pmshah

All those who are complaining about outsourcing have to take a few things into account. Has a single one of them refrained from buying a product because it was not made in USA? I very much doubt it. Even though I have lived and worked in the US - as a legal immigrant - for more than 7 years I do follow that practice. I absolutely DO prefer products from an Indian company over foreign ones even if costs more. The idea being my money is going to feed a fellow Indian. I have not spent a single penny at Pizza Hut, Starbucks or a subway. Never purchased a Levis., Arrow or Van Heusen apparel. From the statistics I read in various reports on expensive smartphones and tablets being sold in the US one would tend to think that the US economy is doing great. When the US legislators are cutting funding for schools and higher education we are working in the opposite direction. I am from Mumbai. In my state of Maharashtra college level education for females is absolutely free. We do have the option of totally free school education. We do have the option of free universal medicare. Our resources may be stretched but we are trying where as the US policies by any world standard are retrograde. Until one starts living what one preaches, one has no right to complain.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

After all, when's the last time anybody hearing of IT jobs going to Norway, Poland, Italy, etc? I want to be ambient as the author of the article cites some good points, but "globalization" - as we've seen it unfold is basically robbing Peter (US/developed nation workers) to pay Paul (CEOs). And this will happen in India and other countries, once another location is deemed "less costly". If we're "globalized", a preference to one country would not matter, no? If we're "globalized", a global wage and price would be set, no? I mean, the talk of being "fair", "even level playing field", "more chances to prosper", and other one-liner huff pieces... It's all about "multinational" companies profiteering off the backs of others, but then the moment there's any fiduciary or ethical downturn, the same companies are called "American" again. And gender or nationality has little to do with it, despite articles trying to make a big claim out of that belief. And globalized or not, we are not a one-world government, nor can regions/countries become the same monocultural condition. To put preference on one local economy at the expense of another is not logical either, and unlike displaced US workers, the companies doing the displacing still get a lot in subsidy (corporate welfare, taxpayer-funded handouts). People don't care for that double-standard, especially as when our money doesn't support them as customers, it gets taken out of our pockets involuntarily. That is not an example of a Democracy or Republic in action, either... Duroshark, Lwood, and Finge probably said it best, though, though I wouldn't call it "incompetence" as such. Different regions and cultures have different expectations. That's inevitable. Not racial.

QuantumEntanglement
QuantumEntanglement

Nice to know that outsourcing/offshoring is having positive effects in India while those of us in America continue to suffer through the worst economic decline in a lifetime, the ongoing reign of one of the two worst presidents in US history and a housing market they now say will take a full generation to recover. While there are executives continuing to enjoy moments of glory that come with initial numbers indicative of massive cost-savings, there's overwhelming data available establishing two undeniable outcomes: 1) the short-term cost savings dissipate quickly, achieving results (or a lack of results) that costs far more over time and 2) that a full 90% of outsourced/offshore projects outright fail. Is positive cultural change in India and elsewhere worth the longer term devastation that results from both hollowing out the American economy and squandering of America's technological dominance? I think not...

Professor8
Professor8

So, as the bodyshoppers -- and in this case, the ones based in India -- compete to recruit and retain cheap, pliant labor with questionable ethics, they're becoming more equal opportunity (by sex) abusers... while they engage in ever more bias against highly-skilled US STEM workers (nationality, age, you name it).

puppadave
puppadave

I you don't outsource then the top echelon (CEO, Prez. etc.) don't have enough "cash" reserve to pay big dividends to stockholders, and, still give multi-million dollar bonuses to themselves and others !!! Outsource is following the casino eddict... What is that you may ask ??? Casino eddict says: "You don't have to pay a SLOT MACHINE overtime, provide health benefits, give maternity leave and/or sick leave, and, paid vacation." Get the picture ??? For every job outsourced, there is someone standing in an Unemployment Line, facing a forclosure, or, going to bed (if they have one) hungry! Sorry, but I have to feel ashamed of any Company that has to outsource for greed !!!

gsalomon
gsalomon

OK lets get this over with.....I am not a racist or sexist.....I am an American. The US has dragged so many sorry butts out of trouble, be it helping in war or food or aid. And who the blip is helping us? ANSWER NO ONE!!! Our US citizens need jobs....good jobs....not Micky D's. But of course if the gov actually did its job I am sure it would cut into their respective porfolios. Glad I can retire in 3 years....provided SS is not raided for some other half butt t thing

LAGUY88
LAGUY88

Just another instance of outsourcing Marketing and Propaganda with a "heart felt touch". Let's celebrate and encourage woman here in the states first! Practice what you preach at home first or be what...........? Equal rights start at home first! Feed your children at home first, then feed the stranger. Don't take the food from your own children mouths to feed a strange first! Just common sense, not racist or any agenda with that.......

prakash_srikanth
prakash_srikanth

Making women work is not equality. property rights etc.. are something that can be given by the society and rest(most) of it should be earned by women herself by exercising Rights after being Responsible.

fhrivers
fhrivers

This article makes Stretch Armstrong look on in absolute amazement. The next article should focus on how offshoring helps children as well...the children of upper managers and people overseas. Because we know the best way to cast a positive light on something otherwise negative is to show how it benefits "women and children."

deepakd_fic
deepakd_fic

Yes i feel the article above is clearly showing woman in india are getting good options to support there financial needs and work culture, this is good step as corporates are trying to help woman develop there life style and work culture, still indian woman are very far to compete with any other woman in developed country, in india woman are depended on there family members, this is good start to give them chance to being independent... all the best to sweet and lovely woman in india.

Hans Schmidt
Hans Schmidt

I would feel better if this were about creating jobs for women (and men) in the USA. This is definitely an example of the 1% ripping off the rest of us. I signed up with "StraightTalk" a month ago. It took about 3 conversations. During one of them I had to give my complete name address, etc. 4 different times during the same conversation, same agent. In the end, I completed the transaction via the web. "Customer Service" was useless. Only once did I have a satisfactory off shore call center call. A laday in the Phillipines was on the other end. very nice and decent english. I forget which company it was for. We really need to reign in this crooked congress, paid for by business and industry. There should be a law about sending our jobs overseas, Bringing foreigners in on bogus VISAS, selling oil overseas, while saying we don't have enough oil here. et.,etc.,etc. The whole situation is getting disgusting!

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

And ulimately better for Americans. You see, as the standard of living improves in India, they keep asking for more pay and benefits. Doesn't take long for the Indian-Advantage to evaporate and America workers become cost effective again compared to them. Of course that just means that companies start looking for other 3rd world countries to exploit instead; countries where labor is cheap, and also dumber than a bucket of dirt.

djchandler
djchandler

This story's timing coincides with U.S. women currently feeling greater economic pain. Recent layoffs by state and local government agencies and school districts because of tax revenue shortfalls have disproportionately affected women's jobs, many of them in education. Cutting bias? Perhaps in India, but this story promotes greater resentment to off-shoring of U.S. jobs.

monkja1
monkja1

I think that each country should take care of its own people and the rest of the world worry themselves. The problem today is that the 1% and I do not mean to be bias in this, but they do not want to pay a fair wage to the people in their own country, so they out source. Now to the meat of the matter, I think that it is wonderful that the sexual bias in the third world countries (I hate that phrase) is slowly but surely disappearing. However, outsourcing harms my country and other countries where the jobs are lost, to people that for lack of a better word, have nothing, but a little booking learning and very little language skills. I know that I am not the best writer and make typos. Monday, I spent over two hours on the phone with a company who outsources their customer service and since the other person could barely speak English, I spent most of that time spelling my name, my street address, the name of my town, the name of my state, etc. Today, I spent another thirty-five minutes on the phone with the same company???s customer service, after receiving an email, with information about an air-bill that I would receive Friday. They got my physical address wrong, instead of being Fillmore Street Apt. #; they had Fillmore Beach Apt. #. The state that I live in is landlocked and the closest ocean is just about a thousand miles away. I learned today, that in the USA, if you call a company that outsources its customer service, you have the right to request that you be transferred back to the USA so that you may speak with someone there that speaks your native language be it English or Spanish, etc,. I know that this sounds racist, but I am not. Business is business and my time is just a valuable to me as the employee???s time is to the company that they work for. Spending two hours on the phone just, have a warranty repair is beyond the insane. I am a clam person by nature, but if I could have reached through the phone and grabbed the other person I would have smacked him around just a little bit. Please to not think me a racist, for I am not. I have many friends for other countries, that I enjoy their company; however, sometimes, I have trouble understanding them, due to the cultural differences that we have between us and the heavy accent that some of my friends have??? I know that it is frustrating to be asked to repeat yourself, but when it comes down to the bottom line, if one does understand what you are trying to commutate, then all the gains will be lost and then everybody with be back to square one.

ssstallings
ssstallings

So this is supposed to make us all feel good about the fact that there are many of us who have had our jobs taken from us and sent half way around the world, huh? The previous poster felt the need to apologize for his feelings. I on the other hand see no need to. If you are looking for someone to say that they feel better now about having their job stolen from them, don't look at me. And while it may be a great thing for women in India, it does very little for women in this country. Oh wait, I forgot. Since 2008 the people in this country don't count anymore. Look for sympathy elsewhere, dear.

Finge
Finge

I agree completely with duroshark but he was too nice about it. I've had nothing but problems with outsourcing, mostly with honesty, clever redirection, stalling, lack of product knowledge, and the ever problematic accent. When outsource agents pay commissions is based on performance, I've heard of and experienced dishonest agents while on the phone, providing information for one plan finding out later that another was being implemented just to boost their commission, leaving their customer service departments to take the problem to a next level once the customer discovers the problem, in other words, you thought you were getting this, but you were actually getting that, at a higher cost than you thought. As for me, my colleagues and those we work for, we research a MF(s) help system and if their support or sales is outsourced especially via other countries, we look elsewhere for the product. Granted not all outsourcing is this way. We???ve found it harder to find MF(s) that stay US for their support. They???re out there and we???ll support them. This problem is also compounded by 2 additional factors, inferior China made products with no repair parts available, and the additional high risk of personal and/or company information falling into the wrong hands via outsource agents, resulting in increased spam, timely viral attacks, calls fraud, not to mention identity theft and bank fraud. Thank you US Government Policies made by the Greediest folks on the planet forcing US companies to seek out profit based outsourcing, leaving that US workforce out of honest and much needed work.

kristina.bisseker
kristina.bisseker

As a white woman who was outsourced to an Indian company when our IT department was taken over this certainly is not what I saw. There was no more than 1 % of their workforce that was female and they treated me like I should have been a stay at home wife. Considering that I was in a position where I managed 10 highly talented 3rd line and project staff I think that perhaps they should have at least given me the benefit of the doubt. It is still a culture driven by age and status and class and NOT by skills and capabilities. It's the same for the males further down the line. They are not treated with any respect whatsoever.

Zolar
Zolar

Christians, Muslims, and Jews can agree on one thing - the religious teachings specifically say that a woman is worth 2/3 of a man. Anyone who believes otherwise will pay the price when the time comes. People need to address problems in their OWN country and butt out of other country's business PERIOD. If it is their culture that women are subdues then that is THEIR business. The world is all screwed up because people want what they aren't supposed to have and churn out too many kids. Cut the population and the problems dry up. A man is to work by the sweat of his brown and the labor pains of the woman will be greatly increased. Right there says women are supposed to be in the home. I could go on and on but what's the point? Some smarta$$ will just argue about it...

petermcc
petermcc

As fine a sentiment as getting more women into IT and breaking down the caste barriers is, I think the outsourcing of Aussie jobs to India is heading for a wind back and what happens if this reaction is mirrored in other countries? Locally we have a lot of agro towards companies that use Indian call centers and it's growing. Once someone starts marketing their business as truly "local" the flood gates will open up and in the cut throat business of mobile marketing where every edge is sought this will probably be irresistible. What this will mean in India when it has an oversupply of skilled staff is anybody's guess but usually the dis-empowered lose out.

Lwood
Lwood

Let the chips fall where they may - we can complete with anyone just as long as management wants to see real results.

durocshark
durocshark

I'd rather boost women in my home town/state/country. I know it's reactionary, but I see no reason to celebrate outsourcing.

pchintalapudi
pchintalapudi

Good to know that talent is becoming high priority and has value than caste, class and gender.

Knewt2010
Knewt2010

That sounds great. I love women. I also love to read about the social change in India. Good post.

LalaReads
LalaReads

Just as it is increasing the poor-rich divide in the US. I feel for those who are being negatively impacted.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

Wait! No, I don't! "Has a single one of them refrained from buying a product because it was not made in USA? I very much doubt it." Your obligatory 'doubt' says more about your expectations for human nature than it does about Americans' actual buying predilections or choices. I (like you *claim* to) go out of my way to buy--in my case-- American products; I sell my own stuff, primarily on this continent, and I have every reason to WANT American buyers to be able to afford my products. Something for which I'm shopping better be genuinely better than 'Made in USA' for me to buy it---not just cheaper. The rare exceptions do exist: I own a superior Japanese car, and there's some high-quality woodwork I purchase from Indonesia---because THEY'RE THE BEST AT IT. Most of the people you saw buying cheap crap from China in Wal*Mart in your '7 years here' were trying to make do in life on a hand-out budget---because their job went to Dakar, Mumbai, Pulau Penang...at the whim of Industry's bottom line. You don't seem to get it, sport, but you're next. When your Mumbai call-center job ships off, on schedule, to the next disadvantaged p-hole, you'd BETTER keep trying to 'buy Indian'. Good luck with that.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Who pays the teachers?

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

As a glib generalization, that sounds great, but you're not going to get many supporters unless you add a little more detail. Especially considering the "American" companies are doing the migration of jobs and gutting this country with US taxpayer funds, and so far only Obama has been on record talking of eliminating subsidy for companies that offshore and giving entitlements to companies that create the middle class-paying jobs here. That was from a couple months ago, but I could put up a dozen articles and nobody's minds would be changed... I learned long ago that trying to spell out detail facts doesn't do very much in the end, either... :(

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

when "the 'India-Advantage' evaporates" assumes that India and the US are the only two countries on Earth (and then, we could surmise, the jobs would indeed flow back to the US). However, since they're NOT the only two countries in the world, the correct assumption of the business cycle here is, "...as the standard of living in India improves, they keep asking for more pay and benefits. Doesn't take long for a Haiti-Advantage, a Brazil-advantage, a What-you-called-India(pre-offshoring)-at-the-end-of-your-comment-Advantage (a "country where labor is cheap, and also dumber than a bucket of dirt")---to form, and THAT'S where those call-center/tech-support(!) jobs are going next, not back to America as you suggested at first. You admitted where they're going next in your last sentence (can you say, "Sri Lanka"?)....

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

But my other responses would only be duplicated in my direct response to you... but being treated unfairly is an impetus behind the emotional response of "resentment"...

LalaReads
LalaReads

My job was moved to India and I had to train my Indian replacement. I do not begrudge him or his coworkers since they were all working stiffs like us and they felt very fortunate to have gotten a job, just like us. I put a lot of time and energy making sure I could give him as much as I could so the position didn't suffer. And I'm glad that women are benefitting. I really am. I blame the executives and bean counters, combined with their ability to hide behind the legality of a faceless corporation with no sense of social or patriotic responsibility, too eager for their next quarter profits, lining their pockets along the way. It is so myopic and endangers our country. It pollutes other countries, since the reason India and China are so cheap is they don't have the regulations and authority to enforce human decency and protect the environment. In about 20-30 years those countries will be much more regulated and subsequently more expensive. In the meantime their cultures will have suffered greatly. Then the corporations will move on to the next great untapped resource and exploit it. All these companies pay lip service to sustainability - ooh look! They have containers made with plants! Meanwhile they chew up and spit out any 3rd world country who is "fortunate" enough to land their business. This business model is unsustainable, and is the primary driver to most of the ills we all face. Until that changes, this country and all the others that now have our jobs will suffer. And it all ties back to improving women's status to some degree. The system that is providing this opportunity to them is damaging in so many other things. Is the price worth it?

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

The moment they cease to be is when every company that has taken US-funded subsidy or bailout money refunds every penny of it taken over the decades, with as much interest as deemed fair. Then they can hire anybody from anywhere. But they started here, had us train our replacements, take tax money and not by representation... that's highway robbery. When we have ethical and moral people running the show, they are worth compromising and working with. I don't see how this program started in 2008, either - offshoring started in the early 2000s, mid-90s, 1980s, depending on issue... (manufacturing, automobiles, IT, etc...)

Zolar
Zolar

Just WHO will those companies sell anything to once there are no jobs left here in the USA? No jobs = no money = can't buy anything=starvation=revolution. Outsourcing is just a fast cash scheme by corporate CEO's.

sgthomas
sgthomas

"Skills and capabilities"? What a joke! Exceptionally few indians, whether male or female, have any real computer skills! It usually takes 3 hours to do what can be done in a few minutes here in the USA.

hippiekarl
hippiekarl

>Using one's theological interpretations to make a point rarely gets traction around here. >The parochial claim that international businesses/industries can have no interest in various countries' labor pool's availability, and social conditions into which to apply their product/service was the weakest of jingoism. "Epic fail", as they say....

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

Some of my other responses to people allude to that as well, as there are plenty of countries and companies will use whatever means (ethical or otherwise) to move jobs around. Like when I said "pride is a sin". People have to keep retraining all their lives because this "new normal" means you're going to be doing different things. Live off of pride and you'll end up starving to death because pride doesn't pay the bills. Wages, especially relevant to inflation, the concept of "prosperity", and other factors are far more relevant than pride or hubris ever will...

QuantumEntanglement
QuantumEntanglement

Already happening - those in India are already being hammered by outsourcing to China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, leaving the few in India that had a taste of something better increasingly in freefall. What the article ought to address is the massive upheaval and social unrest that the outsourcing disparity has caused within India. What rarely, if ever, gets reported is the answer to the following: "Despite failing on a massive scale within the Soviet Union and North Korea, as just two examples, where in the world is communism continuing to win converts, gaining strength and beginning to flourish all over again, now back from the dead?" Answer: India, and primarily among the vast population that lives outside urban areas, places where the growing (if temporary) disparity remains glaringly apparent...

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

I've read enough to know, but many wouldn't... The companies basically exploit these countries due to having "no regulations", which then makes pollution easier to do and to get away with. Indeed, if pollution is a problem, the law of "supply and demand" should make that a tad more valuable, since nobody can escape the effects of pollution - at one point or another...

JLogan3o13
JLogan3o13

Especially will the thelogical debate not gain traction when one's interpretation is so far off. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, shows precisely how esteemed women are in God's eyes.

LalaReads
LalaReads

...and not much at that. For my own peace of mind it was a matter of ethics. There were other factors at work too, such as no technical support for a technical job, etc. etc. I also wanted to make sure that when it fails no one can point to me as the reason. And from what I hear it's a real mess now. I have to admit that brings a wry smile to my face...

Zolar
Zolar

Only a very select few were esteemed. Others were considered 'unclean' The Bible says that a woman's value is 2/3 that of a man. Even if they were paid the same wages, most of them can never do the same job as a man. Best is to pay by ability, not legislated equality. Should some woman make as much as you but cannot do 1/2 of what you do just because some idiotic law says your employer must pay equally? Only those ignorant of reality and what God really says in the Bible (plus other religious texts) will support and believe that women are equal. A woman's place is in the home taking care of the kids and home, not competing in a man's world. Remember, the Bible says that a man shall work by the sweat of his brow and a woman's labor pains will be increased? I do not want to do a job and a 1/2 because some woman wants to screw men in the work force. Bad enough there are immoral and downright illegal laws 'protecting' women's rights. Men are already getting screwed - see the 3rd illegal law in the sexual harassment laws that says a hostile or offensive environment is illegal. That is directly opposite the constitution's inalienable right to freedom of speech. Remember? Inalienable means it cannot be taken away? With such laws in place I can see why men fight to keep what is left of a fair shake in the business world.