Saturday, September 04, 2004

Are We Condoning Discrimination Through Outsourcing?

I hate to even mention outsourcing since it's been discussed and debated ad nauseum. However I did come across an aspect of outsourcing that I haven't heard before that warrants attention. This comes from the unlikely place of a letter to the editor in CFO magazine. The letter writer, a corporate controller, writes:

"As a female accountant, it has been many years since I have been exposed to blatant discrimination based on my gender. However, almost every time I deal with offshore customer service staff, discrimination kicks me in the face."

She goes on to describe how male staffers in India or the Philippines belittle her suggestions and comments. "I often feel like I'm dealing with an automobile service station - all that's missing are the calendars with naked women on the walls."

Our letter writer doesn't find much relief in the outsourced female staffers either who she guesses aren't used to accepting that another woman might be as capable or more so than their male bosses.

She brings up a good point. In her words, "Offshore staffing ignores the benefits we have of working in our society and forces us to deal with behaviors that our nation has long since outlawed. As a professional female, I should not have to deal with discrimination...Women have worked too long and too hard to be respected in our professions. Those efforts should not be tossed aside just to enhance corporate profits and executive bonuses."

How do we as a country feel about this? How about from a Human Resources perspective? Do we need to protect our employees from discrimination that they might encounter on the job?

And what about the discriminatory practices (from US perspective) that might be occurring in the companies to which we outsource? Should it matter to us if in India it is common to discriminate against hiring young, child bearing age women for professional positions?

Feel free to leave comments. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

Beth C.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My comment is more local.

At the risk of sounding as though I hate immigrants, I have noted that such discrimination is often practiced when men move from their previous homeland to the U.S. Either I have managed to ignore such behavior, or it has become blatant the last few year. The latter may be the case, as much of Silicon Valley remains unemployed, and the methods that people use to "protect" their jobs tend to be destructive. Others (men and women of various color/culture) have noticed that discrimination has accelerated the last few years.

discouraged high-tech writer

6:48 AM, September 14, 2004  
Blogger Beth N. Carvin said...

Anonymous Tech Writer, Unfortunately it's not uncommon for people to lash out when they are feeling their own pain. It's too bad that they tend to focus on placing blame (on usually the foreign or unfamiliar)instead of trying to do something constructive toward improving their situation.

From an HR perspective it's been interesting to watch the evolution. We went from a scarcity of applicants/employees at which time we all encouraged the expansion of H1B visas to an abundance of local job applicants. When you think about it the whole rise and fall was very quick. Not a lot of time for people to mentally adapt to the new situations.

Beth C.

9:55 AM, September 14, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why not use China for outsourcing? One of the few good things the communist government has done is to bring equality to Chinese women. In China, both men and women are considered equal in work/government/legal transactions. Everyone I have talked to in Silicon Valley said that China will overtake India in IT sourcing in the not distant future. Why? There are more engineers in China and they are much better educated.

3:31 PM, September 14, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One question I'd have for the female accountant: how does she feel about profitability? About unionizing efforts in her company's domestic operations?

In the recent Canadian election, the Liberal party beat back a strong threat from the Conservatives in part by pointing out to the Canadian voter that you can't have an American level of taxation (i.e., theoretically lower than the Canadian rate) without an American level of social service (e.g., no single-payer healthcare system, 15% of the population with no coverage, etc.).

One reason offshoring is popular is because it's cheaper. The reasons why it's cheaper vary from country to country, but among the standard-of-living factors are the social network, which arises out of... the society.

Few people recall that when the Polish union Solidarity was first getting underway, a good deal of their support came from the AFL-CIO, people who, regardless of other political agendas, tend to think that workers deserve better conditions.

Countries like India and like China will face in their own time the "factory girl" phenomenon of New England in the 1800s--when girls could leave the farm and its bleak prospects, even if only to live in dreary brick dorms, working 11 and 12 hours days at a mill. But the girls got paid, which meant they had direct access to the concentrated energy that money represents, which means they had more freedom of choice than they had before.

The women working for Dell in Bangalore are outliers -- educated, English speaking -- but they like their New England counterparts have roots in small villages. They may go along with an arranged marriage (as American-based Indians do) but they're not going back all the way, and the society will have to deal with the changes.

Given that most heads of American corporations don't themselves have to worry about issues like child care, family leave, paying for their own health plans, they're unlikely in the short term to value anything that will raise their costs.

Sadly, the United States has been wasting its moral stature in the world (whatever that was and despite the implicit condescension and hectoring that went with it), and so huffing and puffing about discrimination in South Asia when we can't get into the top 20 for infant mortality seems misplaced.

7:22 PM, September 16, 2004  
Blogger Beth N. Carvin said...

Are not our outsourced providers an extension of our own company? Do we want our own company to be participating in discriminatory and/or other practices that we deem unethical, immoral, reprehensible or illegal? Is it okay because it's "over there?"

Beth C.

10:52 AM, September 18, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Are not our outsourced providers an extension of our own company?"

That depends on how far up the supply chain you want to swim, and on what issue you're hot about. How many people buying a car from Ford or cable access from Comcast consider who their suppliers are -- and even if that were known, how many consumers (individuals or businesses) will choose a higher-priced product based not on the product itself but an intangible?

The answer's Wal-Mart, our largest retailer, whose success seems to come from relentless offshoring (so we can buy inexpensive shirts and shoes), adamant opposition to unions, exploitation of their own workers, violation of wage-hour laws, and systemic sex discrimination--all here in the U.S.

12:31 PM, September 20, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately US companies' own overseas offices in many cases don't follow the company culture, including discrimination based on gender, age, hiring practises. I can't imagine they'll try to force those on to their vendors.
It is scary to think that they just follow these here because of the laws...

8:30 AM, September 21, 2004  
Anonymous purchase research papers said...

I suppose that criticism of outsourcing, from the perspective of U.S. citizens, generally revolves around the costs associated with transferring control of the labor process to an external entity in another country.

3:50 AM, June 24, 2011  

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