The growth of ICT sector worldwide, availability of a large English speaking and low-cost labor pool has resulted in India emerging as one of the desired destinations for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) (Ramesh, 2004).
BPO, also called information technology enabled services (ITES), is the delegation of one or more ICT intensive business processes to an external provider that in turn - owns, administers and manages the selected process based on defined and measurable performance criteria.
Call centers are an important sub-category of BPO that specializes in the voice based services. Call centers in India serve domestic firms as well, but their greatest prominence arises in cases where their clients or owners are from developed countries such as USA and UK (Singh, 2007). Due to the different time zones of India and developed countries, most of the call centre jobs, in India, are performed during night hours. For example, a customer in US or UK wants to know her flight information during day time, she would call the local toll free number which will be answered by the Indian call centre employee, who is working the night shift at the same time due to her geographical position.
Before the advent of call centers, other sectors such as nursing and hotel industry also involved night shifts, but the major work in these sectors is carried on during daytime. In case of call centers, majority of work is done during night hours and starts in late evening hours because the clients are based across the globe. Even the 24x7 working hours of call centers, demand the agents to travel late night either to or from the workplace. As sizable revenue is generated from the US, Indian BPO sector has late night working hours, due to time differences between US and India.
The rise of the Indian BPO industry has been impressive from growing from USD 6.3 billion in 2005-06 to USD 9.5 billion in 2007-08; and with a growing employee base from 4,15,000 in 2006 to 7, 00, 000 in 2008 (NASSCOM, 2009). Participation of women is constantly increasing from 25% of the total workforce in 2006 and expected to touch 45% in 2010 (NASSCOM Foundation, 2008). The advent of BPO sector has substantiated the employability potential of English speaking women into the workforce.
Transnational call centre employment provides women with relatively high paying jobs that were previously unavailable and represents a marked shift in women’s access to employment (Clark, 2007). The transport facilities provided by call centers have encouraged many women to join this sector (Ng & Mitter, 2005). Night shifts raised initial apprehensions about participation of women in the call centers. For a woman in India to be out and about in the middle of the night is generally considered improper and unsafe.
The presence of women in India’s urban nightscape is often linked to questionable moral values. In spite of this, women’s participation in this industry is increasing. Extant research does not provide an adequate understanding about how the issue of respectability is negotiated when women access to the public space while travelling to and fro work, during night hours. In the earlier studies on gender and space, the sense of purpose has been attached with the woman’s presence in the public space (Phadke, 2005), where unlike men, she is rarely seen loitering around. The sense of purpose adds respect to her presence in the public space. However, the paper argues that in the context of night hours, apart from the purpose, women need to have visible safety measures around her (which are sometimes symbolic) to further add the respectability that she is worthy of being protected. In the night hours even the sense of purpose might attach the image of unrespectable or public woman with her. The paper discusses that how the safety measures adopted by the BPO sector contribute into the respectability of these women.