Information Technology, Gender Segmentation and the Relocation of Back Office Employment: The Growth of the Teleservices Sector in Ireland
The movement of routine back office activities from the central business districts of metropolitan regions in advanced economies to remote locations is leading to a distinctive global division of labour in office employment. While facilitated by the development of information and communication technologies, this process of relocation is primarily driven by the desire to reduce operating costs, mainly by moving to sources of cheap female workers. This reflects a classic gender segmentation process in patriarchal societies whereby back office work is mainly done by women and, accordingly, involves relatively low levels of remuneration. This provides direct parallels with the offshoring of routine manufacturing work associated with the new international division of labour. Ireland has been to the forefront in acting as a host for internationally-mobile routine office work, initially involving mainly data processing and, more recently, teleservices. As elsewhere, teleservices employment in Ireland is characterized by a combination of female predominance, low pay, difficult working conditions and high turnover rates. However, the Irish teleservices sector is unusual in its foreign language requirement, the high education levels of workers and its concentration in a prosperous metropolitan location. The resultant labour shortages, combined with growing use of Internet-based business-to-consumer transactions, are likely to place the sustainability of the sector under increasing pressure. Plans to upgrade the types of back office functions being located in Ireland may pose further challenges for women workers due to male dominance of the higher-level jobs involved.
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