II Women, Work, and Family

Ethical-Pastoral Challenges of Call Center Jobs

Jennifer Villagonzalo

Within a global economy, the roles of workers, employees and jobs have changed dramatically. A great deal of today’s businesses are already conducted over the web, thus physical location is no longer a central concern. Particularly in the area of services, tasks are done virtually and do not anymore need to be carried out on-site.

The Philippines, being the third largest English-speaking nation in the world, is a favorite destination for customer contact and business process outsourcing (BPO) services due to its ample supply of English-speaking college graduates with a reputation for excellence in communication skills, interpersonal warmth, customer service orientation and problem solving abilities. It also promises an operational cost advantage over any supplier country in the world, including India.

Outsourcing and offshoring in the Philippines have taken many forms that include call centers,1 back office processing,2 medical transcription, animation and digital content, software development and engineering design services. Of the six, call center has been the leading industry to generate revenue and employment.

More than 50 percent of workers in the call centers are women. In fact, women hold a large percentage of middle to senior management positions. This paper explores the ethical-pastoral challenges posed by call center jobs for Filipino women. For this, the case study approach was deployed. This involved interviewing six women who are working in different call centers in the Philippines, particularly in the Manila area.3 They are AC, Che, Cris, Anning, Jen and Nice.

AC works at Company A whose services include customer care, technical support, up-sell cross-sell programs, and the like. AC handles troubleshooting concerns for mixed clients from the United States. Che works as a customer service representative at Company B that provides customer relationship solutions to clients in a wide range of industry sectors. Cris works as a chargeback advisor at Company C that is a Customer Care Center that handles inbound and outbound calls for US-based retail businesses. She handles disputes about credit cards and other financial issues through email to mostly US clients. Anning is employed at Company D that provides contact center solutions that enable its clients to acquire and manage customers more effectively. She handles troubleshooting issues for her clients. Jen works in Company E that provides a comprehensive range of outsourced voice-based services (in-bound and out-bound) and back office transaction processing solutions in Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and finance and administration. Nice is a customer service representative at Company F that provides offshore business process outsourcing services to US-based clients.

The experiences of the call center agents are analyzed from a postcolonial perspective in the light of the Catholic Social Teaching on work and women’s work in particular. Post colonial feminism holds that racism, ethnocentrism and the long lasting effects of colonialism are inextricably bound up with the unique gendered realities of non-white, non-Western women.4 Kwok Pui Lan adds that the most important contribution of postcolonial feminist theology is the reconceptualization of the relation between theology and empire through the multiple lenses of gender, race, class, sexuality, religion and the like.5

In analyzing the situation of Filipino women workers in call centers, we will give special attention not only to the issue of gender but also ethnicity (culture), race and class. Because of limited space, this paper will simply present the summary of this study.

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