Working the Night Shift: Women in India's Call Center Industry

Working the Night Shift: Women in India's Call Center Industry

Working the Night Shift: Women in India's Call Center Industry

Working the Night Shift: Women in India's Call Center Industry


Relatively high wages and the opportunity to be part of an upscale, globalized work environment draw many in India to the call center industry. At the same time, night shift employment presents women, in particular, with new challenges alongside the opportunities. This book explores how beliefs about what constitutes "women's work" are evolving in response to globalization.

Working the Night Shift is the first in-depth study of the transnational call center industry that is written from the point of view of women workers. It uncovers how call center employment affects their lives, mainly as it relates to the anxiety that Indian families and Indian society have towards women going out at night, earning a good salary, and being exposed to western culture. This timely account illustrates the ironic and, at times, unsettling experiences of women who enter the spaces and places made accessible through call center work.


For many young people, especially women, call-center work means money,
independence, and an informal environment where they can wear and say
what they like. Along with training in American accents and geography,
India’s legions of call-center employees are absorbing new ideas about family,
material possessions and romance

—Wall Street Journal, 2004

“Housekeepers to the World”—this headline gracing the cover of a 2002 issue of India Today was accompanied by an image of a woman wearing a headset. Other reports that emerged at the same time suggested that these twenty-something “housekeepers” were trading in salwar kameez’s and arranged marriage for hip-hugger jeans, dating, and living “the good life.” The call center industry, with its relatively high wages and high-tech work environment, was heralded as a source of liberation for women.

A closer look reveals a different aspect of the story. On December 13, 2005, Pratibha Srikanth Murthy, a twenty-four-year-old employee of Hewlett Packard, was raped and murdered en route to her night shift call center position in Bangalore. Reported by the India Times to the BBC and CNN, the Bangalore rape case attracted worldwide attention. Just two years prior, in December 2003, a speaker at the 2003 Women in IT Conference in Chidambaram, India, had reported that one of her employees in Chennai called her company’s New York office in a complete panic because the shuttle van used to transport employees during the night had been pulled over by the police. Despite having identity cards, the women were accused of prostitution. Global night shift labor was intersecting with the lives of women in ironic and unsettling ways.

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