By Shehana Dain
Boosting women’s economic empowerment, the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) last week rang the bell for gender equality at the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE).
Aligning its activities with International Women’s Day held yesterday (8) SLID brought in some exceptional women with years of corporate experience to share their thoughts at the CSE trading floor.
With recent research showing gender equality goes beyond the scope of a social requirement and is a key contributor of value creation, the speakers touched on different angles of the inequity dilemma of the decade.
The Chief Guest at the event was World Bank Country Director Sri Lanka and Maldives Francoise Clottes who said that granting exposure for women in the boardroom isn’t just an aspect of adding vibrancy and colour.
“Companies with a higher percentage of women on their boards have lesser problems with governance-related issues, which benefit results in higher investor confidence. So it’s necessarily not a call for equality and not a call for justice; it’s also a call for business efficiency and an asset for the company. It means we need more effective policymaking for gender diversity around the world,” she added.
She also brought an important factor to the table of discussion, saying that for women to be effective they should be compiled with the right set of skills, the capacity to reach out and influence, the extra assertiveness and this sometimes may need a little bit of training.
“Just being different is not going to help; you have to be effective in conveying your difference,” she opined.
However, Clottes pointed out that one should not develop the wrong perception here by expecting women to solve all the problems in the world by being elected to a board.
“They cannot be advocates for change just because they get on the board; the whole board is responsible for it,” she stressed.
According to her, one of the key reasons behind the concerning low participation of women in the workforce despite women excelling academically is the absence of proper legislation.
“There are many gaps in legislation, such as the cost of maternity leave being borne by the firm only, whereas in most countries it’s a part of the social security system. This is a clear obstacle deterring women from entering the job force.”
Also present at the event was Tiruchelvam Partners Senior Partner Ramani Muttettuwagama, who opined: “It’s a matter of great shock and concern given that we’re a highly women-driven economy; women after all form the bulk of forex for us, they’re the bulk of the plantation workers and garment sector. This participation is not pictured in the higher structure of the corporate sector, which is frankly quite shocking.”
“The corporate sector also lags behind the political governance process in terms of leadership in a country where a large number of women have been appointed to the Supreme Court and our public services and academia are dominated by women.”
Meanwhile, CSE Chairman Vajira Kulathilaka said: “Gender equality makes a remarkable impact in organisations today, whether it’s through diversity in boardrooms or creating equal opportunities. It’s important in companies not because it’s the fair and correct thing to do, but also because it will be a key contributor in productivity and value creation. Research shows that equality can boost profit and enhance reputation in an organisation, but we have still a lot to achieve.”
SLID Chairperson Shiromal Cooray pointed out that in 2016 the key areas SLID is focusing on is women on boards and family business. She went on to say that there is a vast array of women who are capable of filling in top positions, however a little bit of fine-tuning should be done. Therefore she urged that women are sent to training programs from institutions such as SLID to get an edge over their counterparts in order to bring in more revenue to the organisation.
Pix by Lasantha Kumara