July 2008

Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India

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Introduction

The Information Technology (IT) industry emphasises intellectual rather than physical resources and is an equal opportunity employer for men and women. The work participation rate for women is 24 percent and 69 percent in IT and Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) industry respectively (NASSCOM, 2006). These figures are higher than the national average of 25.7 percent for the total work force and 10.8 percent for the tertiary sector. Thus, computer related jobs hold more promise for females as compared to other kinds of work. Given that this industry is expected to emerge as one of the largest employers in the country creating 2.2 million jobs by 2008, it holds tremendous potential as a gender equaliser and as a means for bringing economically marginalised groups, such as Muslims, into the mainstream. ITES are major contributors to this figure and are expected to provide employment to more than one million by 2008. Unlike the jobs in IT that require sophisticated training, jobs in the ITES sector need elementary level of technical skills. However, these have to be supplemented with soft skills like communication skills which are traditionally associated with femininity and hence provide women an edge (Das, 2005).

Working in the IT and ITES is lucrative for marginalised sections like Muslims mainly due to high salaries that provide opportunities to leapfrog the socio-economic barriers. According to the 10th annual salary survey conducted in India by Hewitt Associates in 2006, the IT and ITES sectors (16.5 and 16.1 percent respectively) noted a higher salary growth than the national average of 13.8 percent (CIOL, 2006). Given the marginal representation of Muslims in government services, the young members are turning to the private sector (Sachar Committee Report, 2006). However, whether they are able to participate actively in the IT and ITES sectors depend on their capacities in technical and soft skills. In light of the above, this paper presents findings on gender differences in value-added skills-English language competency, communications skills, self-confidence, business skills and ability for team work -among Muslim boys and girls.

Value-added skills and ITES

Though there are no academic studies on value-added skills, popular literature has highlighted its role in securing jobs in the ITES. Private training institutes have realised the importance of combination of technical and value-added skills. The researcher's survey (April to December 2004) of advertisements of a premier computer training institute in the Times of India  and newspaper reports indicates that along with technical skills, certain soft skills are essential. The focus is on the personality gains following from computer education for both males and females. However, there is no systematic study of how the two sexes evaluate themselves on the value-added added skill set. These include English language competency, communication skills, self confidence and ability to work in a team. The list is based on the demands of customer care services that the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) units like call centres offer. As majority of their clients are located in the West, the demand for fluency in English language is apparent. Socio-economic class influences individual's language competency. Being poor and less educated, Indian Muslim families cannot provide an appropriate environment to acquire English language skills.

With regard to self-confidence, females could be disadvantaged as they have an inadequate sense of personal competence; while males tend to rate themselves higher in estimating their abilities. Evidence for this comes from research in self-efficacy beliefs, wherein it is found that performance of girls is comparable to those of boys in varied academic tasks; but the girls often report lower self-efficacy (Pajares & Johnson, 1996). Thanks to their biological roles and socialisation experiences, women are likely to possess higher levels of communication skills and ability for team work.

Besides the above mentioned set of value-added skills, if a person seeks to apply their computer skills for expanding family enterprise or set up one of their own, business skills are required. The Internet can aid business by providing relevant links to develop partnerships and information about financing, mentoring and business coaching. Self-employment offers real advantages for women since it allows them to work from home, offers flexible work schedule, and is compatible with their reproductive roles. Therefore, an effective way to improve women's position is to improve the returns to self-employment. Hence, women need to be groomed in business skills along with technical skills (Goyal, 2007). The social cues and the media highlight the relevance of value-added skills not only for economic benefits, but also psychological, social and educational gains. In light of the above, the present study seeks to explore gender differences in value-added skills.

Sample, tools and procedure

Participants of the study (N = 155; 82 females, 73 males) had completed a one year diploma course in  Computer Applications and Multilingual Desktop Publishing offered under the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) scheme of Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD)1. The NCPUL approved centres offer highly subsidised packages with the facility of paying the fees in installments, if they complete their Urdu certificate course. This has attracted well versed in Urdu, but economically poor Muslim youth to take advantage of the computer courses. The average age of the sample was 21.34 years (males = 20.46 years; females = 22.31 years) and their educational level varied from higher secondary (45.93 per cent) to undergraduates (22.67 per cent) and college graduates (31.40 per cent). Majority of the subjects (69.77 per cent) studied in Urdu medium schools, while less than one-third (26.74 per cent) had English as the medium of instruction. 80 per cent of the participants belonged to low income group (monthly family income of less than rupees 10,000/-) and 20 per cent came from middle income group (monthly family income Rupees 10,000

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