|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|8. Computerization and women's employment in India's banking sector|
Technological change usually involves changes in job content, making many traditional skills obsolete and creating a demand for new types of skills. Training and retraining ensure not only that the enterprise obtains the optimal benefits from new technologies, it is also an effective way of protecting the employment of workers affected by technological change and other structural changes.
Workers, and the trade union movement, are divided about training. Some unions, such as the BNP (Banque Nationale de Paris) union, seem to have relinquished not only any initiative, but also responsibility for both the employees who are being forced to quit and those who are allowed to stay. Despite the 1986 agreement giving the union a right to participate in determining and formulating the training, there has been no move from the office-bearers of the union, all men, to take the initiative. One union officer said that they 'had not realised the importance of this clause at the time. And now it is too late.' Women employees at the BNP were almost desperate to be given retraining. They were too young - about 39 to 42 years of age - to retire. They saw no other way to retain their employment. They were also keen to learn new skills.
The union in Citibank, on the other hand, participated actively in the computerization process as well as the training process. But even in Citibank there seems to be no long-term view as to the type of jobs and skills which will be required in the future. The younger recruits have been given a one-week training course in computer languages, which they did not use in the year following the course. They were then given a very brief, functional on-the-job type course. As one senior woman employee now working in the Bill Discounting department says: 'We were given a half-day "familiarity with the word-processor" course, and printed sheets telling us what to press for which function.'7 The Citibank women employees felt they knew too little, apart from their own little work area, and they wanted to know more so that they would not be adversely affected when it came to promotions. The attitude of women at the Hong Kong bank was similar. The ANZ Grindlays Bank Employees' Union had a very different perspective, 'We have completely opposed computerisation. There are no skills involved in operating computers. It only deadens your mind. We cannot participate in such a process. We believe in struggle.' In the Indian banks, the younger women and those between 31) and 45 years old seemed keen on their jobs as careers, whereas many in the 30-45 age group had many more responsibilities at home - although some of the latter felt that learning about computers at work would also help them to assist their children in their studies, since computers have been introduced in many schools. Many women felt that learning to use computers, and being in the EDP department, would protect them against transfers to remote areas, as EDP departments are located only in the metropolitan cities.
Most of the older women, especially those above 50, felt they would not be able to cope with any new retraining. They would undertake it if it was necessary for the job. However, a small minority of women above SO years of age also seemed keen to take up a new challenge. As one woman put it,
As women, we are used to challenges, at home, at work, in combining the two roles, and in relationships with in-laws, neighbours, community, children, colleagues, and bosses. As we grow older, these challenges become routine matters. When you no longer have in-laws, when children are well settled elsewhere, when neighbourhood relationships are settled and repetitive, what do we do? We are used to challenges. New skills are merely one such challenge. Why not take it up?8
Another woman disagreed, but from a very different point of view.
I'm not sure that computer skills are any skill at all. What are we doing? The generalised use of computers is only a means of deskilling and flattening us all. Very soon using computers will be like using our pencils. Then all of us will be declared unskilled and redundant again. We need to do something else.9
In the Banque Nationale de Paris, thirty-seven people had to leave under the Voluntary Retirement Scheme, including ten women. At the same time they recruited ten young women to work on the computers at the customer counter. A 39 year old woman who was forced to take the VRS explains the strategy thus:
For over two years, we were given very little work and we were shunted about from one department to another, one floor to another. We were treated like badli (casual) workers and were made to feel redundant and easily disposable. We pleaded to the management that we be given training on the computers. But they declined. We have a seniority of over twenty years, our pay levels are quite high, thanks to our earlier struggles. We are very confident and know our management inside out. Why should they want us any more?
Another woman activist working in the BNP says,
they would have to spend money giving us training. Now they've killed so many birds with one stone. One, the new girls are already trained. Two, the girls start at a much lower rate, about half our wage levels. Three, they are new, more enthusiastic to please the management. Four, the management has succeeded in creating an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty. These young girls are bound to be affected by this atmosphere and work with heads bent. Five, they have no experience with this management and are not affected by the union movement. The management has succeeded in throwing out all the active members of the union. Those active workers that remain are likely to be promoted to the management category.
On the issue of computerization and training, there seems to be fairly divergent views among bank managements too. By and large, the nationalized Indian banks seem to feel that 'it is better to retrain a banker in computer skills than train a computer specialist in banking'. To this end, the Indian Banks' Association has developed training packages for various types of personnel. The National Institute of Bank Management has a very wide range of training programmes for top management, and every bank has its own programmes for their staff. The foreign banks again seem to operate differently. In contrast to the BNP management, the Grindlays bank has not introduced an early retirement scheme, and has retrained its existing personnel. However according to the Personnel Department at the ANZ Grindlays, it is likely that the bank will insist that new recruits have some knowledge of computers.
One woman employee who had attended a training course arranged by the management at a professional computer training institute, said,
The whole management approach to training is like their approach to our work - extraction. In both it is the superiors or the experts laying the ground rules, without any input or participation expected from us. Participation is only a hindrance, a point of delay, precious time wasted. I had a feeling of being steam-rollered rather than of having learnt something.
Workshops should be organized in such a way that women are collectively given the space to handle PCs, and with manuals explaining what needs to be done. One can have experts in at crucial times like an introductory familiarizing talk, and when we feel we need someone to guide us, but not experts breathing down our necks like supervisors on an assembly line.10
In fact, the women felt that such training sessions would also achieve a great deal from the point of view of the management.
The crux of the problems created by technological changes appears to be that the entire strategy is still technology-centred. Behind the technology-centred approach is a mechanized world-view in which computers, a machine carrying out the brain work of the human, are superior to people.
In one of the training sessions we were told how computers may be used to level the hierarchies and authorities that exist in the workplace. But in practice a new hierarchy has been created, alongside the earlier one. You can do only this, and can have access to only this, while the authorities have a greater range of activities and access to greater areas of information11
Despite their criticism of the training programmes organized by the management, the women employees are extremely keen on learning new things and new skills. In fact, the new generation of bank and insurance employees, including women, are very serious about their work and career-conscious. Reports of workshops with women clerks, officers and managers have indicated both the problems women face and their commitment to face these challenges for a better career. A senior unionist who has been active in the bank unions notes a shift,
The attitude of the employees is changing. They no longer look at the unions as an expression of their aspirations, but as an agency which will deliver the goods. They are with the union because they mistrust the management. Their real interest however is their career.12
The unions too have begun to organize workshops for women employees. These workshops discuss the problems women employees face in their multiple roles, how women deal with these, and what their experiences are. Similar workshops are organized by the National Institute of Bank Management (NIBM), for women managers. Women clerical staff, officers and managers have reacted to these positively. One woman working in the EDP Department at the insurance corporation observes'
We feel the thirst for more knowledge and better career prospects. Stagnation somehow scares us. Training programmes and institutions which acknowledge this, and our dilemmas and situation, are well received. But there are fewer of those than we need.13
In some of the courses in the National Institute of Bank Management, women managers are encouraged to talk about their ideas and suggestions as well as their experiences as women in banking. Many other unions and management training institutes are organizing similar courses. Women feel that this needs to be done more systematically and more often, so that a greater range of issues and diverse sections of women employees might be covered.