The global IT sector has been an important employer of young, educated Indian middle class women. The jobs have often been created by large multinational companies, with headquarters inside or outside India. The IT sector has been seen to be promoting gender equality in the Indian society by providing professional employment to women. Multinational companies with headquarters in the West are sometimes seen as promoting gender equality in the Indian patriarchal context, for example, by implementing corporate gender equality policies (Adler, 2000; Kelkar & Shresta & Veena, 2002).
However, the picture is not all positive. Poster (2008) shows how corporate equality policies are transformed in local contexts to become more in tune with the local traditions. Moreover, research in gender and organizations has criticized the hierarchical organizational settings as being particularly problematic for women (Acker, 1990). The Indian offices of large IT companies are prime examples of this kind of organizing.
In addition, there are particular problems in the Indian societal context that Western based gender equality policies fail to target: The restricted mobility of women and the expectation that women give their family preference over work (Kelkar & Shresta & Veena, 2002; Shanker 2008). Work in multinational IT companies in India is often characterised by long working hours and night shifts to cater to the needs of foreign clients, restricting women’s possibilities to participate.
This interview study looks at two small IT enterprises in India, one managed by Swedes and the other by Dutch. Against the backdrop of previous research in big Indian IT companies, the study investigates how gender relations are shaped in this kind of Swedish/Dutch organizational islands in the Indian organizational and societal context, and in particular how managers from relatively gender-equal societies relate to the organizational implications of the local societal gender contracts. The relationship between formal and informal barriers for women’s careers (Wajcman 1998) can be expected to be different here, compared to the large hierarchical organizations.
Both companies in the study have a partly visionary origin – the aim of the founding men has not only been to conduct successful businesses, but also to create better workplaces than the big hierarchical IT ‘code industries’. These small firms are designed to work with flat structures, interaction with the foreign clients by all employees, reasonable working hours and social coherence. Thus, they provide an alternative way of organizing, which should be beneficial to female employees. However, these small companies also rely on the visions and decisions of their founding men and informal and personal solutions. They do not have official gender equality plans and policies, and this might make them a problematic environment for women.
In addition to illuminating gender relations in small, foreign-owned firms which are an under-researched part of the Indian IT labour market, the study relates to questions regarding the possibilities for societal gender equality ideologies to travel globally through policies and through individuals.
Gender, Work and Organization 2014 8th Biennial International Interdisciplinary Conference