(Bloomberg) — The coronavirus pandemic has hit women worldwide with job losses and closures of childcare centers. Yet a surprising bright spot is emerging: India’s $200 billion technology services industry, where new rules are expected to provide female workers with a broad swath of flexible work arrangements and fresh employment opportunities.
On the outskirts of New Delhi, Teena Likhari, 45, quit her job running operations for the Indian back office of a Silicon Valley company in 2018 because of a family medical emergency. Looking to rejoin this year, she expected a market stunted by lockdowns. Instead, the pandemic had made work-from-home mainstream in her industry, which had long shunned the practice.
Not only did the operations manager quickly land a job with Indian outsourcer WNS Global Services, but working from her home in the city of Gurgaon, she began overseeing a 100-member team in the city of Pune about 900 miles away.
Teena Likhari working at home in Gurgaon last Friday.
Photographer: Anindito Mukherjee/Bloomberg
Likhari is one of the early beneficiaries of India’s decision to lift decades-old restrictions on remote work in back office firms because of the pandemic. The tech services industry — one of the country’s most important financially — can now allow employees to shift from traditional offices to work-from-anywhere arrangements, permanently if needed. Indian women, who have often had to sacrifice for their husbands’ careers or other commitments at home, have much to gain from the policy change.
“Even a year ago, an operations leader working remotely would’ve been unimaginable,” said Likhari, who has seen scores of women quit work after childbirth, marriage or when a family member fell ill. “The change will allow so many career women like me to do what we do from home, it’s a game changer.”
India’s large numbers of English-speaking graduates and cheaper costs relative to the West have spawned a sprawling industry that’s often called the world’s back office because of its global reach. The broad outsourcing sector, which includes technology services in addition to business processes, employs about 4.5 million people. Foreign banks from Deutsche Bank AG to Barclays Plc run wholly owned centers handling everything from global payrolls to technology infrastructure maintenance for themselves and customers. Local outsourcers Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. and WNS offer everything from data analytics to support on financial and accounting processes to international clients.
The pandemic has changed workplaces globally but the new norms are particularly significant in India. Social conventions that required women to move to their husband’s locations or stay with family in small towns, or simply be available inside the home to care for elders and children have shut out millions of qualified female workers. Greater flexibility and the opportunity to work from anywhere would give them choices they’ve never had before.
Also, India’s old rules – originally designed to prevent misuse of leased telecom lines – had prevented permanent work from home arrangements in