When news of the gang rape of a 23-year-old student in New Delhi broke out, one of the fastest sectors to react was the IT and outsourcing industry.
While a few knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) and business process outsourcing (BPO) centres across Chennai, said women would be exempted from night shifts in their offices, most other offices also firmed up their policy of not letting a women employee travel alone in a cab, reduced the use of hired cabs, and put in place other measures to ensure the safety of their women employees.
However, at least some of the employees were dissatisfied. “We received an email on Thursday stating that all 27 women working on night shifts would be accommodated on day shifts. While I realise this is being done for our safety, I am not sure I want to shift. I am comfortable in my current role and I want to be promoted soon, which might not be possible now,” says 23-year-old N. Rajathi who works at a BPO in Velachery.
Taking safety into account should not mean the denial of opportunity, says Anupama Srinivasan of Prajnya, a non-governmental organisation that works in the area of gender violence. In many companies, anti-sexual harassment committees are in place and transport rules are implemented.
“But ultimately, companies are following Supreme Court guidelines. There is no penalty, however if a company does not follow them,” she adds.
Many KPOs and BPOs that have done away with night shifts for women say if logistics are managed well, it is possible to have women working only during the day. But the body that represents the IT and ITes industry, NASSCOM has repeatedly termed the abolition of night shifts for women a retrograde step.
“The foundation of the IT industry is based on equal opportunities. We need to adopt safer practices and implement them. Women employees are not liabilities. Their safety at the workplace is our responsibility,” said K. Jailakshmi, director of a pharmaceutical BPO here.
Last year, the Madras High Court upheld an order declaring unconstitutional Section 66 (1) (b) of the Factories Act, provisions of which prohibited the employment of women in any factory between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. With over 70,000 women working in the ITeS sector and around 45,000 employed in the IT industry in the State alone, companies are also standardising policies pertaining to working women, particularly those who work till late in the evening, or are on night shifts.
“But often all that if forgotten. Once our cab driver was drunk and he drove quite rashly. Action was taken against him when we complained but I shudder to think of what could have happened had we met with an accident that night. That should have been checked earlier,” said Shalini Mathews, who works in an IT park in Siruseri.
Companies such as Cognizant, TCS, Infosys, HCL and Wipro have very strict rules that include firing people who are found harassing women at the workplace.
Many also have rules against, ‘textual harassing’, under which a woman employee can complain if a male colleague sends her lewd messages.
“But the focus is to ensure that the issue is sorted out internally. There have been instances where the woman has wanted to file a police complaint but companies have stopped her, promising it will be dealt with,” said Reena Pillai, a counsellor in an IT company.