An article on sexism, from the BBC:
Although you are likely to have dealt with both male and female call centre agents, the fact is that 71% of workers in the global call centre industry are female. Dubbed the “female ghetto” or, more positively, “female-friendly workplaces”, women are significantly over-represented in call centres.
My initial, gut-instinct response is that, with women now pouring into the workplace by the million, someone needed to find something for them to do. Hence the growth of HR departments, process-driven bureaucracies, NGOs, and – for the dimmer women out there – call centres.
With the closure of factories, automation, and a shrinking army the options for dim young men are narrowing, but they can still work as security guards or lug stuff around on a building site. But what are the dim women supposed to do, now they’ve been encouraged (or forced, due to house prices) to enter into the workforce? Cashiers are dwindling thanks to automation brought about in part by the minimum wage, leaving them with few options outside a call centre. The author has other ideas, though:
My research sheds light on this phenomenon. After extensive interviews with call centre managers and agents, as well as an investigation into the industry’s working culture and practices in Scotland and Denmark, it became clear that call centres are built on the sexist attitudes embedded in society.
Of course. What else could it be?
Call centres are intensely regulated and target-driven work places. Agents are instructed to speak to customers in certain ways. The extent to which they follow these instructions is monitored by managers, and their salaries and career advancement can depend upon it.
Agents may be told to use the customer’s name, create small talk and interject with prescribed “listening sounds” such as “aha”, “OK” and “I see”. The purpose is to ensure that agents keep the call on track and also give the impression of a personalised service.
Call centre employees need to be agreeable? I’m not sure this required much research to figure out, but okay.
When I compared male and female call centre agents’ compliance with the language prescriptions, an interesting pattern emerged: it was invariably the female agents who complied more. This was the case for both the Scottish and the Danish women.
Women are more agreeable than men, on average, so tend to do well in customer service roles. Who knew?
Why would female agents comply more than their male colleagues with the linguistic prescriptions?
Because their natural behaviours are more in line with what their managers are asking them to do? Apparently not:
There is evidence from child development and schooling research that girls are rewarded for complying with the rules and sanctioned more severely than boys for breaking them – such as messing around or shouting out in class.
Women working in call-centres are more agreeable than men because when they were at school they were cowed into submission by sexist teachers. Like many profound revelations, it’s obvious once pointed out.
It is conceivable that these socialised differences carry over into the workplace. These differences then show up particularly clearly in highly regimented workplaces, where following instructions and meeting targets is how your performance is measured.
Note that none of these differences are natural; they’re purely socialised.
Greater female rule keeping would explain both these phenomena. But while rule compliance is valued and rewarded in schools, by the time young women enter the professional arena it may start to work against them.
On the contrary, the plethora of process-driven corporate and government departments seems to have sprung up at precisely the time women entered the professional workplace en masse.
It keeps them in highly regimented jobs with low prestige and little influence.
This will come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in a modern corporation.
Interviews with call centre managers and recruiters suggest that female workers are preferred over males because they stick to the rules.
Women being preferred over men is an example of revolting sexism against women, is it?
Of course, greater female rule compliance is just one among several explanations for why women are disproportionately represented in call centre jobs. Some women may choose themselves to work in call centres. Call centre work is often amenable to flexible working, which makes it attractive to women of child-rearing age. And, of course, there are deep-rooted beliefs in society about the different strengths of each gender. Service jobs require emotional labour, which women are believed to be particularly good at.
And just like that, the premise of the entire article disappears in a puff of smoke. But the author being a senior lecturer in English Language and applied linguistics, from the Open University no less, soldiers on:
Call centres have opened up new opportunities for women in the UK and across the world. However, in the longer term, the over-recruitment of women to the industry could be detrimental to gender equality.
Translation: women deserve better jobs than working in nasty call centres. Because, wimminz.
Call centre jobs are notorious worldwide for their high levels of turnover, absenteeism, employee burnout and emotional exhaustion. Agents are at constant risk of angry outbursts from customers, sexual harassment and outright abuse.
As if men don’t find themselves working dirty, dangerous, poorly-paid, and soul-destroying jobs.
If women are driven into these low-paid and stressful jobs, where they have little influence and low status, talent will be lost.
Just think of all those potential power-skirts wasting away in a cubicle under the colossal weight of a headset.
It also potentially discriminates against men who could and would want to do the job.
Heh! I like this: men shouldn’t be discriminated against for jobs we feminists think are beneath us. For the good jobs, we need quotas and diversity targets.
If we want to have a more diverse workforce and exploit everyone’s talent to its full potential, it is time to start challenging call centre recruitment practices.
And there’s the gender equality movement in a nutshell: we want women to have all the well-paid, cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices; the men can do all the shit we don’t want to.