BPOs offer a world of opportunity for women like never before. PAROMITA PAIN reports

The IT/ITES and the BPO sectors haven't stopped smiling since Nasscom released its forecast that predicts a growth rate of 32.6 per cent in the total software and BPO export revenues for the Indian IT and BPO industry, recently. And as an industry powered by a large number of women staff, employee here is `queen' with companies planning benefits galore to ensure maximum productivity. In fact, today for many women with graduate degrees, especially those in the cities, BPOs have well paying jobs and in the process provided an identity that they can be proud to call their own.

Varied options

There are various spheres here where women can excel and head honchos readily agree they are assets to any company. "While operations/projects may require them to work on shifts, which some may find a disadvantage, BPOs provide vast opportunity for women in various support functions such as IT, quality, Human Resources and training. These functions play a crucial role in the success of a BPO. Some companies allow work from home, which provides the industry with a larger resource pool. At all levels, the ability to listen, negotiate and build a rapport with people are key skills required and women are reputed to have an edge here," says Rajeev Menon, head-HR, Optimus. Some companies, like Ajuba International, believe in the power of diversity. "It is true that we pride ourselves on the healthy mix of women employees in our workforce (women comprise 45 per cent of our front line employee base and over 50 per cent of our senior management team). However, we consider this a natural result of our gender inclusive work culture rather than a mere statistic born out of conscious design. We have channelled our energies into creating an organisational climate where every employee is treated fairly, with respect and without discrimination," says Maya Mohan, director, health care, Operations, Ajuba International.

Excellent growth prospects

The latest openings in the Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) scene too seem tailor-made for women. "Knowledge Process Outsourcing, often defined as a high-end BPO, promises a rich and fulfilling career," says Vijayalakshmi Rao, director and chief operating officer, Scope e-Knowledge Center. "A domain-focussed and knowledge-based industry, it offers highly exciting jobs tailored around specific academic qualifications, with excellent growth prospects. More importantly, since most of the work is not real time, there are no compulsory night shifts, work timings tend to be decent and to some extent, flexible. KPOs typically offer a professional work environment, have process-driven systems and a culture that fosters knowledge gaining and sharing," she adds. While security lapses do raise their ugly heads once in a while, most companies make sure that their employees are safe. Organisations like iGate have self-defence programmes to train women. "The security of our employees is of paramount importance. We have strict guidelines against sexual harassment. We conduct reference checks on the antecedents of all our third party vendors and only if they meet our security parameters, do we deal with them. Our drivers are equipped with cell phones for any emergency contact. To have a double check on the safety measures during night travel, we have security guards who accompany the drivers, as an escort to the employees," says Ranjan Sinha, chairman and CEO, Summit HR World Wide. With more foreign companies coming in, this space looks set to grow in the future providing more women with greater opportunities. Biz TipsFor the `Women inBusiness', DivyaRamachandran,vice president,Helios & Matheson InformationTechnology,has some special mantras:Outsource. Employ as much help as you can. Time together with your family is more important than doing errands.Allow for personal change. You're bound to change over time.Think about who you are now and base your decisionson that, rather than who you were fresh out of school.Do your homework. Most of us don't really thinkabout our companies' policies on family issues whenwe start our career. Consider such things when evaluatingjob offers. Research the company precedent forparental leave. Build in flexibility so you have time todecide what you'd like to do.Allow yourself options. The choice of companyand the choice of work within the company can greatlyaffect your career path. If you have mobility restrictions,this can affect the breadth of your experienceand impact promotion considerations. The importantthing is to get the information, you need to understandthe decisions you're making.Work/life balance. Not just about kids, it's aboutfinding things outside the job that you like. Find onething apart from your work or family that you can do,so you don't lose sight of your individuality.Stay connected. About 10 years after you get out ofbusiness school, suddenly calling friends at 11 at nightdoesn't work anymore. You find your network shrinking.A lot of you might leave the workforce perhapsseveral times to have children, and your identity willbe severely challenged. You are no longer the big hitterand you long for smart conversation. Have that networkof smart women in place long before you takeyour first Lamaze class!