By Nishel Fernando
Although women could play a vital role in economic development, gender bias in certain male-dominated segments of the country’s corporate sector coupled with government’s lack of interest to implement gender equality polices are hindering the utilization of female talent productively.
“Gender equality can bring an economic change and make a self-reliant society. However, the way women’s contribution in our society is neglected is deplorable,” the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) Chairman and Commercial Bank Deputy Chairman, Preethi Jayawardena lamented.
He made these remarks speaking at the launch event of Women Directors Forum in Colombo last Friday.
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, females account for approximately 38 percent of the total labour force in the country. However, there was a significant wage gap for similar duties carried out by females and males.
In addition, fewer females held leadership positions in the workplace while most were employed as professionals and technical workers.
A recent study conducted by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) revealed that only 8.2 percent or 144 of more than 1500 board directors in listed companies were women as of 2018.
Jayawardena pointed out that some segments of the corporate world which have strong male domination view females in a negative perception when considering them for senior management and top leadership posts.
“There’s a strong boy’s club, some of these boys clubs are stronger than the Royal College Old Boys Club. It’s extremely difficult to break this strong boys club,” he stressed.
He recalled that he faced objections from the nomination committee when he nominated Shiromal Cooray as an independent director for Commercial Bank.
However, he noted that Cooray was able to transform the perception held by the male-dominated industry with her performance as director, which led the other banks to appoint more female directors to their respective boards.
According to an IFC study, Banking, Finance and Insurance had the highest representation of female directors in their boards in 2018.
Jayawardena also noted that the government has shown meek interest in implementing policies which are targeted at empowering females.
“The government’s policies to empower women are at a standstill and somewhat non-serious. Regulations are formulated every now and then. However, when it comes to implementation of these laws, it’s regrettable that no one seems to be serious about them,” he elaborated.
Referring to the IFC study, IFC -South Asia, Corporate Governance Officer, Lopa Rahaman pointed out that listed firms which had more female representation in their boards and senior management, has shown better financial performance compared to firms which had low female representation.
However, she noted that none of the top 30 firms listed on Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) have a female Chairperson while 30 percent of these listed firms have all-male director boards.
According to an IFC survey conducted among 200 board members and senior management, it had been identified the absence of a formal, company-level gender diversity policy as the reason for low representation of females in boards and senior management.
Jayawardena stressed that firms need to increase female representation on a voluntary basis, recognising gender diversification in terms of long-term sustainability, rather than the government imposing gender quotas.
IFC stated that diversity in leadership would lead to better Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards and performances such as better sustainability practices, improved environmental and social performance, more robust disclosures on environmental and social issues, gender-equitable hiring and promotion practices, and family-friendly policies among others.
pix by Kushan pathiraja