EFC hosts webinar on equal opportunities for women | Sunday Observer

EFC hosts webinar on equal opportunities for women

28 March, 2021

The Training and Certifications Unit of the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon (EFC) recently organised a webinar under the banner, ‘Women in Leadership: Working towards equal opportunities amid Covid-19 challenges.’ 

The webinar which was aligned with the International Women’s Day, enabled a platform to discuss the efforts taken locally and internationally to shape a ‘more equal future’ for women leaders in the private sector while facing Covid-19 challenges. 

The panel comprised Senior Program Officer, International Training Centre of the ILO in Turin, Jeanne Schmitt, Head of HR, Standard Chartered Bank, Ransi Dharmasiriwardhana, Independent Consultant, Multi Sectoral Global Business Development, Ramya Weerakoon, and Attorney-at-Law and former Assistant Director General and Head of Training, EFC, Ayomi Fernando.

Jean Schmitt said gender diversity helps businesses to thrive. Citing the ILO’s report, ‘The business case for change  (2019)’, she said that inclusive policies and an inclusive business culture have a positive impact on productivity, ability to attract and retain talent, creativity, innovation and openness and the company’s reputation. The share of women in management is proportionate to a country’s income, the report revealed.

“Only 22% of all CEO positions are occupied by women,” said the ILO expert. The share of women CEOs decreases proportionate to the size of the enterprise. “Only 16% of women CEOs occupy large sized companies while 20% of them are found in medium-sized companies and 26% in small enterprises.”

While ‘glass walls’ and ‘glass ceilings’ hinder women from moving into higher levels of decision making and upper-level positions, their visibility, empowerment and leadership is even more crucial in the present digital age, remarked Schmitt. In moving forward and creating a public debate in championing a more gender-balanced workforce, employer organisations can play a crucial role, she said.

Sharing the success story of Standard Chartered Bank in realising a ‘culture of equal opportunity and inclusion’, its HR Head, Ransi Dharmasiriwardhana said, “Diversity and inclusion is very much a part of our DNA and it is not just a HR initiative for us, but much more than that.”  

She said her organisation is conscious of overcoming roadblocks such as biases and self-limiting beliefs and priorities.

Ramya Weerakoon said, “In a culture of honour and inclusion, there is nothing which you cannot achieve.” Sharing her personal journey of surviving and thriving in gender-based industries with tools such as navigating unconscious bias, developing a language of competence and focusing and strategising on how to balance work and life. 

The shift in work-life balance with increased and unrestricted demands on time, domestic violence, fear and anxiety take an enormous toll on women. The senior professional who called for various proactive interventions to mitigate the burden. 

Ayomi Fernando said unconscious bias which results from negative messaging can prevent many women from reaching their true potential. This is reflected across the board, said the lawyer cum senior trainer who cited a recent global survey which revealed that in every country researched, men and women are less comfortable about women being CEOs. 

“Free education of invests in our girls and when we look at our university output, we see many young women ahead of their male counterparts, but sadly after a while a good number of them take the back seat which is a huge loss,” said Fernando. Calling for proper information to be made available for girls to select their future careers, she also stressed on the need to open them to wider career options.