PhD Research in Cultural Anthropology

The experience of women working in IT in Bangalore did not match their expectations—why?

Look for: Gap analysis, research design, fieldwork management, ethnographic fieldwork, interviews, transcription, qualitative data analysis, and presentation

The south Indian city of Bangalore is India’s center of technology outsourcing. In India, there are twice as many female engineering students and more women in entry-level tech positions as compared to the US. However, more women in India drop out of the tech workforce than in the US (see my blog post on Gender and Tech in India here for more detail).

I knew Bangalore was a hub of tech jobs for women in India. Before my fieldwork, my research question was open-ended: Since many women in IT are the first women in their families to have a career, what are multigenerational perceptions of how women’s lives have changed due to these jobs?

After spending some time in Bangalore, I refined my questions to: 
1) Why are so many women in India leaving IT jobs after just a few years?
2) How does the increase of women in IT affect gender equality at work and at home?

I successfully won competitive grants for two summers of research and a Fulbright-Nehru Student Fellowship for a year of fieldwork. My methodology for finding participants included “snowball” sampling, or asking contacts for other contacts, building on friends from the first two summers and local women and tech groups. However, I also sought a range of participants in terms of class background, religious background, and age, to represent the spectrum of women in IT. So, I went out of my way to find contacts in groups I had not yet spoken with.

I conducted over fifty 60-90 minute interviews in addition to participant observation in workplaces, homes, and urban social spaces. While in the field, I periodically wrote up my interviews and fieldnotes to begin analysis and make sure I was asking the right questions.

When I returned home, I transcribed interviews using voice-to-text dictation software. I coded these interviews and my observational fieldnotes using ATLAS.ti into thematic groupings, with codes for each participant so their identity was anonymous while their demographic information was preserved.

I analyzed the group for quantitative trends, such as, “How many women with children dropped out of the workforce?” (Answer: over half stopped working, a quarter were part time, less than a quarter were still full time)

However, I spent most of my time wrestling with the narratives and what these jobs meant to the women I spoke with. What were they most concerned about? What did they think was different for them as compared to past generations? What did working in tech mean to them?

Findings:

1) Gender equality must be understood in culturally specific ways

2) Urban spaces allow women to re-imagine their kinship identities

  • Women deal with their frustrations by seeking belonging in new ways, largely through friendship.
  • I will soon publish an article on kinship and gender in urban settings.

3) Time is gendered

  • The women I worked with experience a gendered anxiety I call “temporal liminality,” or the feeling that they do not fit in a recognizable historical or life course timeline.
  • This idea inspired me to research the anthropology of time, and think about how time informs identity.

In answer to my initial questions: Women in tech in Bangalore expected that working in IT would make their romantic relationships more equal and would reduce gendered kinship expectations at home. They also expected to have more success and respect from men at work.

But they were often disappointed because others’ expectations of them did not shift, especially in the workplace. As a consequence, many left their jobs. Women the world over choose to spend more time with their families as they get married and have children. However, the disappointment I found among women who had left their jobs led me to question the structural factors that led to that outcome, even as they explained it as their choice. Interestingly, they were most frustrated by static gender expectations in the workplace versus home. 

Solutions include:

  • Match women with female mentors at work with a specific goal in mind, such as training younger women as managers or in a new technical skill
  • Create small networks of women at different levels through management training teams
  • Establish formalized support networks for female urban migrants in IT to address the challenges of moving to the city, being promoted at work, working in English regularly, and family concerns
  • Rethink office social programming to include events that allow women from different class, religious, and family backgrounds to feel comfortable
  • Create gender-blind promotion metrics to prevent women stalling at lower levels
  • Find ways to account for family crises and caregiving, and allow for more flexibility and time off
  • Facilitate child care solutions for families that do not have access to child care by elders
  • Run workplace seminars featuring upper-level women who have careers and families to speak to groups of junior women and men in the office
  • Explore creative ways to establish a culture of equal and appropriate treatment of women at work

I have given public presentations on this project for audiences in Anthropology, Asian Studies, Sociology, and Information Sciences, in the US and India.

“Working for a Happy Life in Bangalore: Gender, Generation, and Temporal Liminality in India’s Tech City,” Rachel C. Fleming, Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Colorado Boulder, 2016.

Advisor: Dr. Carole McGranahan. This project was made possible by the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, Fulbright-Nehru Student Fellowship Program, SSRC-AAS Dissertation Workshop on “Family, Gender, and Generation in Asia,” Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) Program (Hindi language), and the University of Colorado Boulder Beverley Sears Graduate Student Grant Program and Goldstein-Altman Fund Travel Award.