Thursday, 25 September 2014 00:53
The impact of women in senior roles is gaining intensity as access to talent becomes a competitive tool for companies and countries. Though the global debate on women in senior roles has received a great deal of focus, progress in the region and particularly in Sri Lanka, has been patchy. In an effort to inspire aspiring women to take the journey of leadership, highlight the opportunities that exist, and how they can achieve the elusive work-life balance, ACCA (The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) in collaboration with KPMG in Sri Lanka, organised a presentation and panel discussion captioned ‘Women in Leadership’.
The event brought together well known personalities spanning a spectrum of sectors to share their experience and journey of leadership, providing an interesting and unusual lens through which the global discussion on women in senior leadership roles could be viewed.
Moderated by Savithri Rodrigo, the panel featured eminent professionals and leaders comprising Yvette Fernando, Director, Bank Supervision, Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Ayomi Aluwihara Gunawardena, Partner, FJ & G De Saram, Varuni Amunugama Fernando, Jt. Managing Director, Triad Ltd, Dr. Dushi Perera, Head of Critical Care and Anaesthesia, Durdans Hospital, and Ranjani Joseph, Partner – Audit, KPMG in Sri Lanka.
The case for women in senior management
As women constitute half of the workforce, the obvious question is how boards can operate effectively if their recruitment is restricted to only one half of the population. Setting the platform for discussion, keynote speaker Ranjani Joseph presented a comprehensive review of the women workforce, the case for women in senior management and the impact of women in leadership.
As the business landscape undergoes radical changes, there is a greater and more urgent need for different thinking and for business models that challenge and respond to disruptive factors. Set against this, Ranjani Joseph pointed that the benefits of gender diversity present a compelling case for boards to recruit from a much broader talent pool, thereby widening the mix of experience, skills and perspectives when making decisions.
Sharing her experience working at KPMG, Ranjani Joseph stated, “KPMG has played a pivotal role in my personal and professional growth. We know that our ability to successfully sustain a high-performance culture also requires that our people be as diverse as the clients we serve and the communities in which we live and work.”
The impact of women in leadership
For many women, the aim is to build a portfolio career adapted to their domestic responsibilities. When diverse experiences are built upon a strong foundation of specialist business knowledge, the impact of women in senior roles is particularly powerful.
Responding to a question if women lacked the leadership qualities required at the top, Varuni Amunugama Fernando commented that she was not sure if any differences exist between men and women in leadership behaviors. She further stated that men and women have similar aspirations, ambitions and leadership capabilities but the current system exaggerates the minor differences that still exist.
Dr. Dushi Perera pointed that women’s career paths may have a different rhythm in different stages of life. Their decision-making about careers is more complex, involving a number of factors which are often misinterpreted that women don’t aspire to take on top positions.
When asked how organisations should encourage the entry of women to leadership, Ayomi Aluwihara highlighted the need for a flexible working arrangement and a supportive environment. She said that, “Women in fact brought the feminine touch to leadership.”
Yvette Fernando added, “Gender difference was never a barrier for promotions.”
The panel unanimously agreed that the lack of progress on gender parity is not about these women’s motivations, their aspirations, or their leadership capabilities. The issue relates to the achievement of the cultural fit and the adaptability of organisations tohave more diverse leaders. They highlighted the importance for organisations to introduce supporting working environments to embrace the entry of women into senior roles. Yvette Fernando stated, “An inclusive organisation culture backed by a supportive leader will help an organisation retain the best female talent.”
ACCA and KPMG hope to continue their partnership on similar knowledge sharing initiatives, bringing together industry professionals to share their experience and expertise on topics that are of relevance to the Sri Lankan business environment.