Paromita Singh is a working woman. But her office hours don't quite begin like her mother's teaching job. "I sleep while she works, and I work when the world sleeps," laughs Paromita. A little odd, was what her parents commented when she started with her job after graduation some two years ago. "But they are used to it now, because they have realised that I am not the only woman working at that hour in my office. My first cousin has also joined my company," states Paromita helpfully. This 22-year-old Lajpat Nagar resident works in a well-known BPO in Noida and takes the `office drop' at 3 a.m. six days a week.
Nivedita Rai's case was a little knotty. She was in an IT company in Noida some eight years ago. With the country's economy opening up and the Indian IT industry surging, many an MNC began to set up shop around Delhi. Enticed by a `head-hunter', she too went with the flow. Soon, she switched jobs and shifted base from Noida to Gurgaon, something she began to regret the second day at the office. "I felt like returning to my earlier company though the salary difference was quite a lot, simply because I found Noida more women-friendly. Those days, even taking a rickshaw to go to a nearby shop in Gurgaon was not free from risk. It was so thinly populated. Besides a few cars whizzing past you, the roads were almost empty. But I somehow stuck on," says Nivedita. Her endurance and loyalty to the company has earned her today the designation of project head. "My patience has surely paid off," she says with a smile.
A wide spectrum
Making inroads into a sector long established by statistics as a men's bastion, Paromita and Nivedita are but two ends of a wide spectrum in the Indian IT arena. If one is at the entry level of an IT-enabled company, the other has already climbed a few steps in an international IT firm. To paint the full picture, take a look at these figures: In the Indian IT industry, women now account for close to 30 per cent of the total workforce and this is expected to go up to 45 per cent by 2010. What is noteworthy is the steady rise of the figures. The figure, according to the Registrar General of India, as in 1981 was 19.7 per cent, which rose to 22.7 per cent in 1991, further rising to 25.7 per cent in 2001.
Recent figures gauged by Nasscom claim that the percentage of women workers in the IT and ITES sectors in India has risen by almost 18 per cent in the last two years. What's more, as per experts, the number of women technicians is likely to rise to 50 per cent by 2010.
Sangeeta Gupta, Vice President, Nasscom, says, "In the Indian software industry, the male to female ratio is 76:24. However, by the end of 2007, this ratio is likely to be 65:35. The trend is likely to continue and in fact gain momentum."
So much so that the American IT sector is being outpaced by India in the race to attract more women into high-powered technology jobs. In the U.S., however, there's been an 18.5 per cent slump since 1996 in the percentage of women working in IT, according to the Information Technology Association of America.
In her recent study, Roopa Purushottaman, an economist, notes that the participation of women in the workforce is currently 35 per cent less than the potential. Increasing this participation can impact the national GDP positively by U.S. $35 billion in the next five years.
What's more, an increase in the percentage of women in senior positions improves the performance of women down the hierarchy. According to a study published by the Administrative Science Quarterly, the ability of professional women to form productive relationships with women co-workers depends on the proportion of women in senior positions rather than the total number of women in the organisation.
Going by the statistics, it wouldn't be wrong to deduce that there is definitely a mind shift among average middle class Indian parents, particularly in the metros, about educating their daughters. "I feel many parents are gradually getting to see the full picture. At the beginning, I too was not comfortable with my daughter's late working hours but finally realised that it is the demand of the job," says Arun Mehrotra, father of Ruchika, Paromita's colleague at work. A Preet Vihar resident, Mehrotra says though relatives still worry about finding Ruchika the right match who would be comfortable with her working hours, this, one finds, is the least of Ruchika's problems. "Men of my generation are changing," is her reaction.
But what Ruchika's family need to know is that according to a UN study, time-use surveys in six Indian states reveal that women typically spend 35 hours per week on household tasks and caring for children, the sick and elderly, against four hours per week for men. Even as we celebrate International Women's Day, we realise our women have been good at multi-tasking.
Now, looking at the overall picture of the industry, one sees that the Indian IT sector is still in the growing stage, and as the need for talent grows across all levels, woman-power, if leveraged, can bring significant benefits to all stakeholders. According to Gartner, the emergence of women in varied roles in IT is among the 10 converging factors that will change the workforce by 2010.