Women in BPO
An industry for every age group, the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector does not discriminate. Instead, the sector is creating opportunities for thousands of men and women in Jamaica.
The sector has been prioritised in the of Jamaica's strategic Vision 2030 plans as one of the primary sectors that can generate economic growth.
Some of the country's most powerful change makers are employed to the industry, contributing significantly to the government's strategic growth plans. Today the Flair features some of the women involved in this critical area in celebration of International Women's Day.
For Tamara Smith, every day is an opportunity to learn something new. Information Technology manager at the Elephant Group, after five years in the industry, Smith glows when she speaks about how she seized the opportunity to excel, and there was room in the inn for those who were positive about change.
"Numerous opportunities abound throughout the BPO sector, and Jamaicans, especially young people, should try and seize the moment," she stated, adding that she loved the fast-paced environment that she works in.
"I love the fact that this is a sector with prospects for growth, which is filled with great young minds and brilliant ideas."
She added that while there is a perception that leadership positions are dominated by men, the reality is that there are opportunities for upward mobility regardless of gender.
She blames a general misunderstanding as to how the BPO sector operates, noting that most people think call-centre workers are all agents "which is so far from the truth".
Smith, who has seven employees under her wing, said that the country should continue to go all in on the BPO sector, noting that it is a great career move that will lead to economic stability and a rewarding future.
A mere four years in the BPO sector, and Julaire Hall's career has made such a positive trajectory. She lauds the industry for giving her the opportunity to interact with youths.
Hall is the manager of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ).
As she has evolved, her functions have expanded, and so has the industry. "I have acquired new skills and interacted with a lot of people. As a young professional, it makes me happy to know that my job allows me the opportunity to interact with youth through our Youth Engagement Sessions participating in career-oriented events."
Hall, who plays a double role at the Montego Bay Freezone, as she is also site manager of the BPIAJ's Contact Centre Incubator, argued that the BPO sector is now officially an engine of economic growth and also a main recruiter of young talent.
"The BPO industry allows youth without previous work experience an opportunity to get that experience and learn various skills on the job," she explained.
Proud of her work environment, Hall tries to dispel the misconceptions that the BPO was a sweatshop job and that persons involved in it are underpaid.
"That is not true. The industry offers competitive base salary and persons have the opportunity to earn more based on performance, in addition to lunch and transportation subsidies/arrangements, and health insurance."
She said the industry provides endless opportunities for young persons who would otherwise have had difficulty in finding a job straight out of high school or even after college.
"Once you have excellent communications skills, willingness to learn, and are hardworking, focused, and positive towards your work, you find that you will exceed in your department, across departments or even at another company," she added.
Alma Palmer credits her success in the BPO sector to overcoming adversities, putting in the time, and getting the job done.
The director of operations resource at Market Track says she has worked 24 and 36 hours straight at times to accomplish her goals.
Palmer has worked as data entry clerk, telemarketer and receptionist in the industry, and a secretary, before the wind beneath her wings changed course.
In fact, she climbed the ranks at Market Track, serving as production assistant, then facilities manager, before moving into the position of resource manager then director of operations resource in charge of human resources, facilities and payroll.
"If I was not challenged to be better, I'm not sure if I would still be in the sector," Palmer tells Flair, revealing that she gets bored easily and has no place for stagnancy.
Singing high praises of the industry, Palmer admits that there was a time when the BPO was stereotyped as the worst industry, especially the garment sector. "People used to think only uneducated persons worked here. You use it as a training ground then move on to something better."
However, now she encourages people to enter the industry because there is not only growth and sustainability, but it is also one of, if not the largest sector, providing employment in the island currently.
"You have to be patient. You can't come today and expect to be placed in an elevated position immediately. You have to put in the work. You have to be honest, have integrity, and be willing to go the extra mile. You also have to keep yourself relevant - you can't just come with a high school diploma, and that's the extent of your knowledge. You have to be continually elevating yourself - I now have my MBA."
Most of all, she said humility and respect to others is pivotal. "I am very competitive, but someone else's purpose doesn't affect me, a puzzle has different parts, so we need each other to be complete."
"Jamaicans who embrace change, challenge, innovation and technology, will love the BPO sector," said Takara Ramsay, Global Lead, Voice of the Customer at Vista Print.
Ramsay joined the BPO sector as an agent in 2001, and said that the industry is one of the few where your job can change while your role remains the same.
"With various accounts, that is, different companies operating within one BPO organisation, you can be a technician, customer-service representative and collection agent all with the same company," she explained.
She finds the challenges and changes encountered on the job as most fulfilling.
Moving up the ranks in the last 16 years, Ramsay now manages 24 persons in four countries - the Philippines, Germany, Jamaica, and Tunisia - and encourages others to enter the work that is intellectually stimulating, offers growth potential and is financially rewarding.
"Quite a few organisations offer travel to aid with professional development or knowledge transfer," she tells Flair, while lauding the people in the sector who are true innovators.
"I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting local graduates charting new courses for their respective organisations and accounts," she stated.
Uprooted from her hometown in Kingston when she started working in the industry, Ramsay said she left her family and friends and made a life for herself in the Second City.
Today, she can lay claim to being a true citizen of the world visiting places she once saw only on maps.
She has the opportunity to meet, work with, and live next to people from diverse cultures and recognises that they have more in common than they do differences.
The potential for growth, training and development, have made Jeanne-Marie Dillon's journey in the BPO sector gratifying.
The 16-year veteran, who is currently service delivery manager at Conduent (formerly Xerox), has held several positions in the industry, since her entry fresh out of the University of the West Indies, Mona, where she graduated with a BSc in Economics.
Today, with a Masters in Economic Development Policy and responsibility for 500 employees, Dillon said the opportunities that currently exist in the sector are limitless, once one is willing to put in the hard work and determination to succeed.
"The sector is looking for persons with the right aptitude and attitude. I also think it is a great platform to understand true customer service, and while many persons may not see the industry as their final career, the offerings that the industry provides, will ultimately make one more rounded with high expectations for superior customer service," she stated.
Having practically touched all aspects of the industry, Dillon said she has had the opportunity to travel and interact with clients, leveraging her knowledge in different areas to meet each client's need effectively.
Admitting that the job has its challenges like any other job, she outlines the rewards that comes with hard work.
Optimistic about the prospects, Dillon said Jamaica had just started to skim the tip of the iceberg in the BPO sector. "There is so much more in terms of service offerings that Jamaica can tap into. There is strong job-creation opportunity and revenue-generation potential for our country."
She feels education about the industry and removing the stigma attached to working in this environment is what is necessary.
Career-building opportunities and personal growth tops Global Outsourcing Solutions' team lead supervisor Sophia Campbell, who has worked in the BPO sector for just over 10 years.
Campbell was first employed to Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), which later changed to XEROX for eight and a half years as a data-entry associate. She applied herself to the job and within months of working at Global Outsourcing Solutions, was promoting to managing people.
"On my team, I manage 15 persons, but recently I was given the task of assistant manager, with responsibility for 50," she told Flair.
Capitalising on the opportunities presented to her, Campbell said self-application and putting her best foot forward has helped her trajectory towards the pinnacle of the sector.
There are even opportunities in moving from being a non-performer to becoming a manager, she said, adding that development in the industry includes acquiring requisite skills in proper communication, proper deportment, and honing a professional image.
Her greatest joy, she said, is seeing former non-performers becoming top agents.
Campbell said she has had the chance to travel overseas to meet and develop relationships, while maintaining camaraderie among the company's client. Things such as buying a car, building a house, or schooling one's children are achievable by working in the sector.
"The power lies within an individual as to how much money he/she needs to take home to meet their personal needs. There are incentives and bonuses to gain, health and life insurance, scholarships and grants for children," she asserted.
Samantha Brown started as a medical customer service representative, and after a few months, moved into an operations administrative assistant position at Alliance One.
During that time, she pursued a degree in human resource management.
"I eventually moved into human resources as a generalist and payroll administrator and was subsequently promoted to the position of assistant HR manager, retaining the post of a payroll administrator for the site."
When a position opened in 2013 for the HR manager, she was recommended and accepted the position, which she has held ever since.
Thirteen persons report to her directly, in addition to a team she liaises with daily, who are managers in recruiting, training, security, facilities, and the company's 14 operations department.
After 16 years in the sector, Brown has witnessed its massive growth and impact on the country's economy, especially employment and the rise of supporting sectors such as retail trade and housing.
She describes the sector she works in as one that has wide networking dimensions as it interfaces with both local and international bodies.
To be part of such a driving and growing sector, she said, is more than fulfilling.
As the sector has grown, so has Brown's personal development. "My experience and exposure to the industry over the many years have led me to become the astute business professional I am today. I have learnt a great deal about the industry by working directly with the key players of the site over the years," she said.
One of the greatest impacts Brown said is seeing the happy faces of her staff at the end of a shift, happily heading home with a sense of worth in their lives because they are now employed and are able to make a better life for themselves and their families.