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Sunday July 14th, 2024

Ceylon Tobacco Company: Advancing Beyond Diversity

Ceylon Tobacco Company’s (CTC) cohesive vision nurtures inclusivity, diversity, sustainability and talent retention.

CTC’s leadership team is deeply committed to cultivating an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable workplace while giving paramount importance to talent development. Inclusivity stands as a strategic cornerstone, playing a pivotal role in not only attracting and retaining talent but also in nurturing a profound sense of belonging among employees.

These principles are encapsulated within the Employer Value Proposition (EVP), which includes the BAT Ethos: Bold, Fast, Empowered, Diverse and Responsible. These values permeate every facet of CTC’s operations, extending beyond the company’s immediate sphere.

CTC goes further by adhering to a comprehensive inclusive workplace policy that aligns with BAT’s Global Standards. The commitment surpasses providing equal opportunities; it strives to create an equitable environment conducive to the sustainable growth of diverse talent within the organization. Recognizing the significance of allies in this pursuit, CTC actively engages them, understanding that diversity is not only ethically imperative but also a key driver of success in today’s multifaceted business landscape.

Shaping  Purpose-Driven Cultures: Aruni Abeysekera, Talent, Culture &  Inclusion Director

As someone who has played a key role in shaping culture, why should fostering an inclusive culture be a strategic priority?  

Within BAT as a collective, our overarching mission is to generate shared value for all stakeholders. In pursuit of this mission, nurturing an inclusive culture takes centre stage, particularly for its impact on our workforce.

It is essential to recognize that the value of inclusivity has a compelling impact on businesses, it is a strategic prerogative. Statistically, it has been demonstrated that innovative changes are more likely to emerge from groups with a diverse and less homogenous knowledge base. Various research underscores this phenomenon, revealing that companies boasting more diverse management teams tend to enjoy higher revenues attributed to the power of innovation and diverse thinking. 

In today’s Sri Lankan landscape, we find ourselves navigating a dynamic employment market marked by significant migration trends. Consequently, the cultivation of inclusive cultures takes on heightened significance. This endeavour not only attracts the right talent but also serves as a linchpin in talent retention. The role of culture in bolstering employee retention is paramount, as it provides employees with compelling reasons to remain committed. This constitutes a long-term strategic approach, where it is vital that employees feel a deep sense of belonging to a company that mirrors their diversity and approach.

 What are the core values or principles that guide in shaping an organization’s trajectory?
At CTC, our core mission within our Employer Value Proposition (EVP), Be the Change, is to establish an environment that is dynamic, inspiring, and purpose-driven. We’ve encapsulated this into 5 different ethos: Bold, Fast, Empowered, Diverse and Responsible. These pillars serve as the principles that permeate every facet of our work, and we are committed to upholding them with a strong sense of responsibility. In essence, these principles play a pivotal role in shaping the trajectory of any organization.

Furthermore, we are acutely aware of the importance of tailoring our initiatives to be relevant to the distinct characteristics that comprise our workforce. From Generation X to Millennials to Generation Z, we embrace the generational diversity of our employees and recognize the need to align with their unique language and communication styles. Beyond addressing generational differences, we also craft initiatives that embrace different ethnicities and religions. This adaptability ensures that we remain in tune with the evolving needs and preferences of our multi-generational and multi-cultural workforce, fostering an inclusive and harmonious workplace.

The overarching goal is to be a future fit and to proactively prepare ourselves today so that we can address any challenges and opportunities in the future.

What do you suggest promotes an environment of continuous learning with a growth mindset?
Fostering a winning mindset is essential for personal and team success. It means constantly challenging ourselves and our teams to push beyond boundaries, exceed objectives and overcome limitations.

Equipping individuals with the right tools and training is equally vital for growth. In our organization, we offer various learning platforms, such as ‘GRID’, which provides access to curated content on a wide range of topics, ensuring continuous development for everyone.

A core philosophy that I live by is we shouldn’t just celebrate success we should also celebrate the reds and learn from our failures. This is critical for any organization. It is also crucial to monitor progress and provide timely feedback for improvement. At CTC, we take career development seriously, recognizing that it requires a proactive and supportive approach to help individuals reach their full potential. Development plans are tailor-made based on the individual’s ambitions and future aspirations, avoiding the ‘one size fits all’ approach. I also believe that mentorship plays a pivotal role in providing aspiring corporates with real-world insights and invaluable exposure to how to navigate through various complexities, enabling a continuous learning environment. 

Breaking Stereotypes, Fuelling Innovation: Richard Taylor,  Operations Director

In your opinion, how is diversity defined and how does it enhance organizational effectiveness?
Diversity in the workplace goes beyond gender and race; it encompasses a multitude of dimensions such as thought, experience and education, which create the space for opposing and varied views. A diverse workforce is not only better equipped to adapt to change but also brings different perspectives, experiences, and capabilities to the table, leading to exceptional results.

We must work harder to achieve gender diversity, particularly in areas where it is most needed such as male-dominated functions like Agriculture and Operations and other field-related roles where we observe the most significant imbalance. However, we should maintain a customized approach and recognize that diversity encompasses a broader spectrum.

Cultivating an inclusive environment not only fosters higher levels of employee engagement and satisfaction but also contributes to talent retention, enhancing organizational effectiveness through a broader skill set and a more adaptive workforce. The key to any organization’s success is expanding its horizons and considering a variety of diversity dimensions.

What is your take on females entering the STEM field in the South Asian Region, and what advice would you give to those interested in this arena?
Women’s participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields is not only essential for diversity but also plays a pivotal role in shaping and accelerating innovation. There is a wide range of career opportunities within STEM that women can pursue.

At BAT and CTC, we are staunch advocates for women entering the STEM field, recognizing the importance of their contributions. While we do observe a reasonable intake of women in STEM in this region, there is a tendency for more to gravitate towards IT rather than fields like engineering and agriculture.

It’s crucial to encourage women to explore and excel in various STEM disciplines, dispelling stereotypes that link intellectual capability to gender. STEM careers offer high earning potential, contributing to women’s economic empowerment and financial independence.

Mentorship, coaching, and training are instrumental in fostering women’s success in STEM.  At CTC, we have women’s networking initiatives that provide curated tools to address the diverse needs of women, enhance awareness, and expand knowledge across various sectors, thereby facilitating their growth and contribution in STEM fields.

From your experience, how do you recommend an organization can excel in delivering sustainability initiatives?
With a rich legacy spanning around 117 years, our commitment at CTC to sustainability and responsibility has evolved and deepened. From community initiatives to measures benefiting our operating environment, we’ve continuously challenged ourselves to be better.

Our sustainability journey, which spans decades, underscores that anyone can make a meaningful impact by starting small. It begins with cultivating a culture that prioritizes sustainability and encourages a mindful mindset. Simple actions, like addressing a leaking tap or raising awareness around it, can have a significant collective effect.

It’s essential to recognize that sustainability isn’t solely the organization’s responsibility; it’s every individual’s responsibility. As leaders, our role is to facilitate and guide others towards adopting this perspective.

Every initiative, regardless of its size, matters. For instance, at CTC, we’ve taken steps such as removing all plastics from our canteen and working on resource conservation by recycling wastewater for gardening purposes.

Once you embark on this journey of change management, it has the potential to grow into something much bigger. This journey has led us to achieve significant milestones, such as becoming the first market in the entire BAT Group to attain Carbon Neutrality Status in scopes 1 & 2, a feat we’ve maintained for two consecutive years. Additionally, being the first company in Sri Lanka to have a site AWS Core Certified demonstrates our commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The ESG Imperative: Zahrah Cader,  Legal and External Affairs Director

Why is it important for organizations to adopt an ESG framework?
CTC has always stood as a beacon of excellence, particularly when it comes to sustainability initiatives. We continuously strive to elevate our sustainability journey and ensure that it is at the forefront of all our endeavours. In this regard, CTC has had an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) framework long before it became a buzzword. Our framework offers a structured approach to systematically integrate sustainability and responsibility into core business practices.
The trajectory of the business community is unmistakably moving towards embracing high ESG standards. Shareholders, consumers, and businesses alike prioritize ESG considerations in their decisions to align with organizations. Given this evolving landscape, ESG measures must become intrinsic to our value chain.

Leveraging our decades of experience, CTC is excelling in the delivery of ESG initiatives. We have positively impacted around 250,000 beneficiaries through our community initiatives. We pride ourselves on our unparalleled benchmark in corporate governance, supporting risk mitigation and ensuring transparency throughout our operations. Going beyond, we also collaborate on initiatives such as ‘Beyond Basics’ where CTC along with other corporates and industry entities drive knowledge-sharing on corporate governance best practices. We also encourage our employees to actively participate in the ESG agenda, from embedding transparency and ethics into their way of work to partaking in various community and environmental initiatives, contributing towards a more sustainable environment.

Organizations must adopt forward-thinking strategies to navigate the challenges of the future. This includes upholding stringent data privacy standards to keep pace with technological advancements and establishing robust controls to address potential risks in hybrid working environments.
In a broader sense, embracing the ESG framework positions organizations favourably to confront long-term challenges while aligning with global norms. It is the responsibility of larger organizations like ours to foster a culture of continuous improvement and responsible corporate citizenship.

Strategically, what is the key enabler of fostering a positive organizational culture that drives a positive social impact?
Establishing the right organizational culture is contingent on driving purposeful initiatives. This culture must be exemplified by the leaders; they must lead by example, setting the tone from the top and thus inspiring and encouraging the entire workforce.

At CTC, we’ve taken numerous initiatives aimed at nurturing a positive organizational culture. One such initiative is our SHINE campaign, designed to cultivate a simplified, healthy, inclusive, nurturing, and engaged culture within our organization. The initiative drives an inclusive, holistic plan throughout the year addressing diverse needs to make our exceptional culture part of any employee’s DNA whilst creating an outstanding workplace for our employees.

Our initiatives span various pillars, including physical well-being, psychological safety, and the promotion of model behaviours at work.

Empowerment is a core ethos that we uphold, transcending all roles within our organization. We endeavour to empower each employee, providing them with the space to contribute their unique perspectives and make a positive impact. This collective effort not only strengthens our culture but also drives our commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

In your journey with CTC, can you share a pivotal moment where you felt the organization’s culture specifically enabled you to take a leap and go beyond your boundaries?
Our organization has consistently championed the idea of “bringing your difference” to the table.
Grounded in our five guiding Ethos, I resonate strongly with the ethos of being bold. Our culture encourages us to continuously challenge ourselves, transcend boundaries, and stay at the forefront of our personal development.

One pivotal moment that significantly impacted both my professional and personal life was when I decided to move to Dubai for a new role, one in which I had no prior experience. It was a monumental leap, especially as I had to relocate my family as well. This experience required me to fully embrace the unknown and take ownership of it.

I am grateful that BAT has provided me with ample flexibility to balance my family and career while also allowing me to pursue my passions. This flexibility has been instrumental in my journey of personal and professional growth.

On Challenges, Celebrations, and Growth: Kavinda Nanayakkara,  Commercial Director

In what ways has a balanced leadership model supported CTC’s commercial strategies?
I have had the privilege of serving as the head of a function in this organization for over five years. I am happy to share that we’ve achieved a 50:50 gender-balanced leadership team in recent times. What’s truly remarkable is that our leadership team isn’t just gender diverse; true to its definition, it is diverse in terms of nationalities, backgrounds, qualifications, and experiences.

This diversity has ushered in a welcome change, profoundly impacting our decision-making processes. We’ve witnessed enhanced problem-solving approaches, creative thinking, and a fresh perspective that has invigorated our approach to challenges.

Our organization, being a crop-to-consumer market, boasts a diverse workforce spanning fields, factories, and offices. This diversity at the leadership level has been instrumental in bringing various styles, perspectives, and problem-solving approaches to the table.

It enables our leadership team to respond adeptly to the needs and preferences of our multifaceted organization. It has allowed us to strategically place people and initiatives in alignment with our long-term vision, ultimately bolstering our organization’s resilience and adaptability.

How has CTC developed an ecosystem to enable females to work in various field-related roles?

The first crucial step in promoting gender diversity is recognizing the need for an environment where women can thrive.

Our function set an ambitious target of achieving female representation in the function by 2023, and I’m pleased to state that we have already surpassed our goal. Our strategy goes beyond numbers; it’s about creating opportunities for women to progress in their careers.

In terms of female representation in field-related roles, our geographical spread across the nation presents unique challenges. However, our objective is to set high standards, ensuring that everyone feels comfortable and supported. To achieve this, we’ve started investing in infrastructural developments and tried to eliminate basic barriers that women might encounter upon joining.

Moreover, we also prepare women to excel in field roles, empowering them to thrive in all aspects of our organization. We’ve established various platforms and initiatives designed to mentor and empower women, including our leadership development programme known as SparkX. Investing in such training is vital as it supports bridging the gap and unlocking an individual’s full potential.

It is also important to build a culture that emphasizes mutual respect and understanding. The right environment and strong allies will enable an equitable workspace for aspiring women to thrive. We have already embarked on this journey with full dedication and commitment, but we have a long way to go. However, I am certain with the right focus and strategies we will be able to achieve our goals as an organization and as a nation.

What do you believe are some challenges that female leaders in the corporates in Sri Lanka face today? 

Women take on diverse roles, and it’s essential to create an environment where they can seamlessly navigate these multiple responsibilities.

As organizations, we must grasp the unique needs of women, recognizing that flexibility is paramount. Despite females comprising around 50% of our country’s population, we still don’t witness such a significant representation in the workforce. To empower women to thrive, we should implement progressive measures like flexible work hours and forward-thinking policies, such as a progressive maternity policy, as we have adopted in my organization.

Creating the right environment is the foundation for women to shatter glass ceilings. Additionally, we must address unconscious biases and dispel female-specific stereotypes. It’s crucial to understand that this is not solely an HR initiative; it should be woven into the fabric of the entire organization.

Creating the right environment isn’t merely a checkbox item or a trendy phrase. It’s a collective responsibility for all of us. Furthermore, as a nation, we must play a pivotal role in encouraging greater female participation in the workplace. Our commitment to more diverse participation should manifest through concrete actions, not just passive support.

Beyond Equal Opportunities: Towhid Akbar, Finance Director

From your experience what are the elements that should be focused on to create a gender-balanced culture beyond equal opportunities? Globally, in recent years, there hasn’t been much progress in establishing equal opportunities for women in the workplace. However, I believe today there has to be a shift in the perspective and a lot more should be done to support a culture that is inclusive and supports everybody fairly and equally.

The focus has to be on equity, which means creating a tailored environment that supports women across various stages in their lives and careers, as their preferences and requirements may vary with the different stages. Organizations need to acknowledge those unique needs and preferences of the individuals and create the ecosystem for all to thrive. Simultaneously, there also has to be a drive that encourages men to become allies and make people more aware of their unconscious biases to ensure a more inclusive culture.

Why is it important for organizations to maintain a DE&I goal and reallocate resources towards it, amidst various challenges?
As we undergo a transformative phase in our business, it becomes increasingly clear that having a diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive culture are not just ideals but absolute imperatives in realizing our overarching vision, benefitting all stakeholders.

Diversity, encompassing a range of knowledge, skills, experiences, and thinking styles, stands as a cornerstone for innovation. Research has shown that companies with more diverse teams bring in better decision-making and have better financial performance as well. A diverse workforce leads to more opportunities as different and creative viewpoints and ideas are brought to the table. While challenges persist in various forms, we must understand and firmly establish the importance of maintaining the goal of diversity as one of the fundamental pillars for organizational success. Just as we prioritize other key objectives, we must give this the same level of care, attention, and dedication.

In our journey towards cultivating an inclusive culture, we commit to honouring and valuing differences, actively addressing unconscious biases, and nurturing a sense of belongingness among our team members.

In terms of gender diversity, at CTC, we’ve set a tangible target of achieving 40% representation of women in management roles by 2025, and we are well on course to meet this objective. It’s crucial to understand that this target is not a mere checkbox; rather, it serves as a pivotal driver in shaping our organizational culture and ensuring sustainable, long-term change.

I am delighted to announce that our efforts of creating the right environment in this regard have been recognized, and CTC has been honoured as a ‘Women-Friendly Organization’ by the Satyn Awards, a testament to our commitment to gender inclusivity and equality. 

In your opinion, what is a key behaviour that organizations should adopt into their DNA?
With a remarkable legacy spanning around 117 years, CTC has a solid foundation upon which we continue to build and evolve our purpose. A Better Tomorrow for all.”

At CTC, we place a strong emphasis on transparency in our work culture and offer flexible work policies from flexi days to flexi hours. Every initiative meticulously considers the well-being of our employees, and, I believe, this should be the case for all organisations. We strive to introduce projects that extend beyond the workplace, providing support for their overall well-being, encompassing physical and financial aspects, and not solely focusing on their roles and deliverables.

In addition to focusing on employees’ well-being, agility is also a behaviour that every organization should embrace. The ability to swiftly adapt to changing times is crucial, enabling us to navigate challenges effectively.

An organization’s approach must reflect a commitment to all the stakeholders. I believe this should be key for any organization – do the right thing for our people, communities, and business partners in the right way. 

Inspiration for Diversity & Leadership: Monisha Abraham, Managing Director & CEO

Based on your international experience what trends can be adapted in Sri Lanka to ensure diversity and inclusion in middle to senior-level decision-making positions?The priority should be to ensure a robust talent pool at middle to senior levels. This necessitates a well-structured pipeline, built from the ground up. This foundation is paramount to an organization’s success.

We aspire to create an equitable environment that fosters the sustainable growth of talent in our organization. Our commitment extends beyond equal opportunities, and we also adhere to a comprehensive inclusive workplace policy aligning with BAT’s Global Standards that support in creating the right environment. Engaging allies in this endeavour is also critical, as driving diversity is not just the morally right thing to do but also a key driver of success in today’s multifaceted landscape.

Breaking down barriers should also be a strategic priority at all levels, both within organizations and in society at large. In Sri Lanka, there’s an ongoing effort to promote gender equality and diminish disparities. However, female labour force participation remains relatively low.

Notably, CTC has achieved a 50:50 gender split in its leadership team, a testament to our dedication to gender diversity. However, our commitment transcends gender; our leadership team represents a rich tapestry of diversity, encompassing age, experience, expertise, and nationality. This multifaceted diversity underscores our commitment to thought and experience diversity, ensuring a dynamic and innovative workplace culture.

Having had a diverse set of experiences across different industries and countries, how would you say Sri Lanka is faring in terms of talent development? 

Sri Lanka boasts a high literacy rate and a robust education system. The government has been keen on emphasizing vocational and technical training as well. However, a significant challenge the country faces is the phenomenon known as “Brain Drain,” where talented individuals seek opportunities abroad.
To address this issue, it’s crucial to shift our focus towards talent retention. One potential strategy is to explore avenues for temporarily exporting talent abroad and then incentivizing their return to the country. This approach offers a dual benefit: it provides individuals with international exposure and allows us to leverage their newfound knowledge and experiences.

Private companies, in particular, have a substantial role to play in this endeavour. At CTC, for instance, we send our talent to other markets to impart our best practices and, in turn, learn from them. This exchange ranges from short-term stints to longer assignments, fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth. To date, we have sent out 21 employees for international assignments.

Beyond this, talent swaps—where individuals from different countries switch roles for a specific period—can be a valuable strategy. This enables mutual learning and growth, benefiting both individuals and organizations.
While local companies may not have the same resources as larger corporations, they should consider exploring strategies that capitalize on the advantages of modern technology. In the digital era today, geographical boundaries aren’t necessarily the limitations. From enabling remote working with international teams to establishing cross-country mentorship programmes, many such initiatives can be adapted to provide international exposure. This ultimately creates a pipeline for talent development and retention in the country.

What advice would you offer to aspiring talent aiming for leadership roles, based on your experiences?
Younger generations today have unparalleled access to a wealth of resources, and they must leverage these opportunities. However, it’s essential to complement these resources with perseverance and grit. Success is rarely instantaneous; patience is a key virtue on the path to achievement.
To truly excel, it’s essential to adopt a mindset that goes beyond boundaries and embraces continuous learning. Taking calculated risks is another critical aspect of personal and professional growth. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back; instead, learn to stand up and forge ahead even after setbacks.
Furthermore, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Learning to lean on others for support, guidance, and collaboration can be a powerful asset on your journey.
Lastly, focusing on the development of others is not just an altruistic endeavour but also a means of personal growth. Leadership plays a pivotal role in both personal and professional advancement and nurturing the growth of others can be a rewarding experience that propels you up the ladder of success.