Does the gender of your colleagues play a role? This question is relevant in a traditional setting like India, where gender roles are rigid and there is little interaction with different genders as equals inside and outside the family.
In 2019, I conducted a survey of 1,200 call center employees in five cities in India to examine the impact of gender diversity on employee productivity. I found that around 30% of employees outside of their family do not interact with the opposite sex during school hours. Either they did not attend co-educational schools, or if they did, boys and girls were not allowed to sit together. These archaic gender norms, which advocate gender segregation at a young age, make the barriers to entry for women into the world of work even more difficult. More than 30% of the call center workers surveyed were from rural areas.
The field experiment – or randomized controlled trial (RCT) – took place in two Indian call center companies: Call-2-Connect India Pvt. Ltd and Five Splash Infotech Pvt. Ltd. They serve domestic customers and therefore customer representatives often speak to customers in the local language. I randomly divided the 765 employees into mixed-sex and same-sex teams. The employees sat in teams for three months.
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I found that it was not expensive for companies to integrate women into all-male jobs. The division into a mixed-gender team for male employees has no negative effects on productivity or the proportion of working days during the study period. In addition, male employees benefited from female employees as women were helpful in work-related matters.
Importantly, men with progressive gender preferences assigned to mixed-gender teams were significantly more productive than men with regressive gender preferences. These attitudes were collected at the start of the study when I was conducting a study to broadly identify attitudes about gender such as education, employment, fertility, and traditional gender roles. For example: “Should the woman be less educated than her husband?”
The study also found that among female employees, peer-to-peer surveillance and comfort increased for those deployed in mixed-sex teams.
Researching productivity improvements in this high-growth private sector employer is critical to creating jobs for many young workers, especially women. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) and the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) are interested in expanding these call centers to smaller towns and villages and in offering companies special incentives to hire women. This move holds enormous potential for gender inclusion.
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In a post-pandemic world, policymakers need to provide fiscal incentives to stimulate labor demand in the Indian economy. Measures that incentivize companies to hire women can get them into paid employment. The results of the study also speak in favor of improving gender attitudes as a policy measure to increase the recruitment of women. Productivity in workplaces with different sexes is likely to be higher with greater integration, as long as male workers have a progressive attitude towards gender. This can be inoculated.
However, gender inequality appears to be increasing as India’s rank on the gender inequality index declines over time. Its position among its neighbors is only better than Pakistan and Afghanistan (World Economic Forum, 2021).
Bangladesh, with a lower per capita income than India, scores significantly better on most indicators of gender equality, including gender balance at birth, female literacy, female labor force participation, gender wage equality, women’s earnings and political representation . Bangladesh has made this progress, among other things, through initiatives to empower women, which aim to increase social acceptance of women’s work. Therefore, investing in workplace interventions that include gender equality training by companies in India could be beneficial in improving their productivity and bottom line. Call centers can be a start.
Deepshikha Batheja is a postdoc at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy
The views expressed are personal
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