Juggling work and home, differential pay scales, maternity leave, and possible discrimination are some of the many challenges faced by women at workplaces. But one of the main issues women face is more basic — getting a safe ride home. With the ever-changing market system, foreign clients and competition have made odd hours a way of life; and women too have to keep up if they want to contribute to the workforce.
For many women, technology has opened up (along with job opportunities) a more secure commute home, and IT-backed systems with real-time tracking are proving to be ways to reduce the worry during late night travel. “We have leveraged technology to help our women employees. Over 40% of our workforce consists of women. Many of them have to work during North American or European business hours, and transport is one of the main concerns their families have about the job,” says Prabhakar Munuswamy, Head-IT (Application Development), Access Healthcare, a BPO that employs 1,400 women. The company has tied-up with MovinSync, a transport solution startup to track and send alerts and also has a team for overseeing transport security.
Systems such as ensuring a woman employee is not the first pickup or the last drop and an escort in case she is travelling alone are now being used by most big IT companies. Monitoring the ride and detecting any change enroute too are part of most safety policies.
“In my office, any woman employee who leaves after 9pm has to take the office cab and be accompanied by a security guard. The credentials of the guard are checked, and the security personnel also check if I have reached home,” says Sowmya R, an employee of a private MNC. “If you don’t want company transport, you need to get permission from the manager, and even in this case, a small alarm device is given to you to alert people in the surroundings in case of emergency,” she says.
Prevention is better than cure, stresses Deepesh Agarwal, co-founder of the startup MovinSync, which provides software solutions for employee transport. Using the data of different employees and timings, the company provides a centralised system of identifying efficient routes, factoring in the employee details . For women’s pick-ups, extra security measures like driving directions and a ‘click to call’ facility is used, so that the driver does not know the employee’s cellphone number.
“The woman has to punch in a pin number as soon as she gets into a cab, so that the team knows exactly who is travelling in which cab. The cabs with women, especially ones who are alone, are prioritised. Alerts come up whenever there is any irregularity in route or delay,” Deepesh says. Besides this, there is also an alarm button that the women can use to contact the office.
While these measures can help women feel safer at these jobs, some women face difficulties with people not cooperating with the system and making informal deals. “Company cabs are usually safe because they are tracked, but sometimes the driver requests us not to take an escort, so that they can get home earlier, or asks a male employee to say that he was the last drop to avoid an escort,” says Niranchana T, an IT employee.
Some companies also urge employees to leave office early after the spate of incidents of abuse. “While the rule doesn’t explicitly say women, that’s the intention,” says Deepa, an employee of a prominent software company.
Smaller companies believe that it should be the responsibility of the city and the law to ensure safety, to have a truly equal society. “Safety cannot be an impediment to your work. Our startup has 50% women, and we all strongly believe in empowering women. But we are a new company, so most of our employees come by bus, train or their private vehicle. If it is late, we try to pair employees to travel together,” says Ashwini Asokan, co-founder of an Artificial Intelligence startup, Mad Street Den.
Although Chennai is a safe city, travelling late by public transport comes with difficulties, and Ashwini cites an incident when an employee was harassed at a local railway station by an official in charge.
“Everything cannot be left to private companies. Because it does not just end with providing a cab or forcing women to leave early. Informal interactions and an outing after work with colleagues are also important for employee growth. Some women want to leave early but some of them want to work late by choice. But there are artificial constraints that prevent them from doing so,” she asserts.