"Noticed that homely Jane with the demure smile whizzing past on her new Activa? Homely and Activa? ...sounds contradictory. No? But that's what the average Indian urban woman is today - a rich amalgam of East and West. She has catapulted herself to new heights with her knowledge and experience....working in a BPO," says a blogger at sitagita.com's recently launched BPO women's blog. And perhaps, this is a clear indicator of what a woman working in a BPO has achieved today. Sadly though, much of this achievement comes with a fair amount of sacrifices and bruises. Most of all the sacrifice of their right to socialise, given the hectic work schedule and odd working hours.
So has the BPO industry really given Indian women the much denied freedom of expression finally, or is the freedom just limited to money? Not according to Nirmal Mirza, CEO, sitagita.com. "Communication and self-expression are the key challenges that women working in the BPO industry face today, and this comes from lack of confidence," she empathises. But aren't women from the BPO sector supposed to be confident? "Not at all levels," argues Mirza. "Women at the senior level may be very confident but it's not same for the junior level employees," she adds. Does blogging make expression easier then? "It is easier to put our thoughts in writing. A blog gives me that advantage. I can now blog about all what I like and what I don't like about the industry. Something which I couldn't do otherwise," says Namita Saxena, 31, an ex-BPO employee. After working the graveyard shifts and battling against all the odds for seven-and-a-half odd years, Namita decided to quit the BPO sector in search of change.
Awaiting the freshers in the industry is a complete cross-cultural dilemma - a new work culture, pressure of deadlines and never experienced before graveyard shifts. More puzzling for a candidate from a small town. Worse still when these dilemmas find no expression."I was shocked at the way girls dressed up for work, their smoking, and the way they went about doing their own thing. I had no idea how I would cope with this new culture," says Mary Gomes, 25, another ex-BPO employee who couldn't cope with this completely new atmosphere and opted out of it.
Many freshers have no idea of the life at a call centre. Further, many have a distorted idea. Employers do not usually take the pains to give the freshers an idea of what they should look forward to apart from the work culture. Neither is there anybody to educate prospective candidates in foreseeing and preparing themselves for the BPO environment. All is rosy at the time of hiring candidates, but at the same time what needs equal attention is giving the candidates the flip side of the story as well and a chance to decide if the plunge is worth taking. This would also solve much of the attrition problem in the industry.
Women love to pour their hearts out. More so when the heart is heavy with sorrow. Either crying out or speaking out is their medicine. A grim Neeta Lakra, 23 working at a leading BPO in Kolkata though hasn't got that chance ever since she sold her soul to the graveyard shifts of the sunshine industry. She is a self-confessed blogger and loves the fact that she can express herself through a blog which is for women in a similar situation like her. She says, â€œLife has started running the other way round. I hardly get time to talk to friends or even to my family members. At least now I'll be able to address my concerns to somebody."
But not all women feel the same way. "Who has the time to blog?" quips an irritated Pardarshana, a Bangalore based employee. The odd routine hardly gives her the time to think about anything else. "If I had the time, wouldn't I rather spend it with friends than on a blog or a website?" she questions rather peevishly.
"Earlier a lot of problems directly or indirectly related to the BPO sector were posted on the Agony Aunt column of the website. This generated our interest in the sector," says Mirza. Perhaps also the key reason behind the launch of sitagita blog section. A panel of some 50 odd counsellors are on board to address work related issues of woman staff at BPOs, and also other problems pertaining to health, lifestyle, mother-child care, beauty tips, survival, to name a few.
The 'BPO Agony Aunt Column', is where women can send in their queries and receive advice on everything from grooming and etiquette to career opportunities and growth. The column will post solutions offered to the queries, thus providing a 'ready reckoner' to those who are faced with similar dilemmas.
Prominent personalities like film actress and politician Hema Malini, nutritionist Lily Madhok, sexologist Dr Dega Narayana Reddy, amongst others, are on its advisory board.
"The BPO industry is the most challenging to work in and because of the high attrition rate, the sector wants more women in its workforce. They are looking at women as the stability factor right now," says Mirza. The current ratio of women against men working in the BPO sector is 69:31, and it is expected to grow further with the women's side increasing. Therefore, a blog like this is a welcome platform for women enabling them to express their concerns.
V-customer employee, 29-year-old Hema Suri looks beyond the problem sharing platform into the fact that the blog has everything "that a woman would look for. I am interested in other things too like, health care tips, legal help..." BPO woman workforce can now look forward to a virtual club of sorts of their own, with all rights reserved including admission exclusively to them, where they can discuss issues, share ideas, and even cry on each other's shoulder without fear of exposure or recrimination.