chapter  7
21 Pages

Empowerment and Constraint: Women, Work and the Family in Chennai’s Software Industry

By 2005, over one million information technology (IT) professionals were employed in India and the number continues to rise rapidly. The industry is dominated by the young and the median age of IT professionals is around 27.5. Salaries are high by Indian standards, and graduates recruited in their early twenties on a starting salary of around Rs 15,000 per month in the major software and services companies can easily double it within a few years. IT professionals, especially employees of these software companies, are therefore prominent members of the new-rich middle class in contemporary India (Fuller and Narasimhan 2007). About one-third of all IT professionals work for software companies, and 24 per cent of them are women, although by 2007 this proportion is predicted to rise to 35 per cent. A similar number of people are employed in the IT-enabled services (ITES) and business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, where the work is more routine and less technical, and entry-level qualifications are lower; in this sector, women outnumber men by two to one (NASSCOM 2003, 2005a). Given gender inequality, these relative proportions are unsurprising. Nonetheless, although women are a minority among the software companies’ ‘knowledge professionals’ (as they often call themselves), their presence in an industry at the leading edge of globalisation-as well as India’s economic growth-is large enough to make it socially significant, at least among the middle class in Chennai where the research was conducted.1