An Echelon Media Company
Thursday December 1st, 2022

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at John Keells Group

Isuru Gunasekera Chief People Officer of John Keells Group

John Keells Group’s Chief People Officer, Isuru Gunasekera on how the Group has unified its DE&I strategy under the ONE JKH brand and its new parental leave policy.

World over, companies are realising that diversity makes for better governance, for attracting the bright sparks to the organization and burnishing reputations among stakeholders.

Often companies commit to initiatives that improve diversity for reasons that go beyond the bottom-line; they want to be responsible, help solve society’s challenges and generally be leaders.

John Keells, a group of diversified companies, recently announced it will allow men as many days of paternity leave as it was offering its female employees, at the birth or adoption of a child. Already the group was offering new mothers 100 days maternity leave, well above the legal requirement. In an interview John Keells Group’s Chief People Officer, Isuru Gunasekera discussed the new parental leave policy and how the group’s DE&I policies have evolved recently.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) are viewed as an important building block for an organisation’s success today. How does DE&I fit into what shareholders and other stakeholders expect?

Our investors, customers, present and potential team members, and other stakeholders hold us accountable for our ethical, socially responsible business practices, respectful work environment, and safeguarding the environment, in addition to our financial performance. Therefore, in executing our corporate strategy, John Keells takes a triple bottom line approach with a balanced focus on environmental, social, and governance aspects. Diversity, equity and inclusion, are important components of our social and governance framework.

We’ve always valued diversity and made a concerted effort to eliminate workplace discrimination, regardless of an individual’s ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or ability. John Keells has consistently taken a progressive stance when it comes to recognizing diversity in the workplace.

It’s important for us that “Life at JKH” is inclusive, where everyone can be themselves and where respect and trust are fundamental values.

With a focus on increasing the proportion of women in our workforce, empowering women across our value chains, increasing the number of career opportunities for people with disabilities, and ensuring the inclusivity of the LGBTIQ+ community, we consolidated all our DE&I initiatives under the brand ONE JKH in 2020.

John Keells Group has set a goal to increase female participation. Why is it important?

We set a goal in 2021 to increase the proportion of women in our workforce to 40% by 2025/26, with a focus on women participation in leadership and non-traditional roles. At John Keells, we remain a true meritocracy and therefore this is not about positive discrimination; rather, it’s about creating a work environment conducive for women to continue participating in the workforce, thereby establishing larger female talent pools and increasing opportunities for women to further their careers, particularly at mid to leadership positions where we experience a significant leakage in the female talent pipeline.

By acknowledging that greater diversity is critical for balanced decision making and innovation, we intend to recognize and address some of the ingrained biases and discriminations against women in our societies and workplaces, thereby levelling the playing field and fostering a diverse environment whilst also empowering women in our value chains.

Tell us about the ONE JKH parental leave initiative, and what was the thinking behind it?

Whilst we had increased our maternity leave to 100 days for the birth or adoption of a child, we just launched our Parental Leave policy, consolidating the two policies and increasing the 5 days of paternity leave to 100 days as well.

This ensures equity and recognises the value of both parents’ roles in early childcare, while also being a catalyst for a cultural mindset change in the role the father plays during this period.

From a corporate perspective, this removes the stigma attached to maternity leave and eliminates the discrimination women may face during recruitment, promotions and with access to training opportunities. This is important to us as a Group, in light of our goals to achieve gender parity, especially in mid to leadership levels.

Understanding that each family’s circumstances are unique during the birth of their child, further flexibility is available in the transition back to work including agile and part-time work. This flexibility benefits dual-career couples and especially working women outside John Keells, allowing them to return to their respective workplaces with the support of the father, thereby having a wider societal impact on women outside JKH.

How will this new initiative impact the organization in terms of future growth?

We feel that the support given to the family following the birth of their child fosters a further sense of allegiance to the company, thereby increasing loyalty as well. Sri Lanka has a high number of educated women, and the corporate sector needs to continue identifying new ways to attract and retain them in the workforce. We strongly believe that this policy will be a catalyst in achieving that. We hope our actions will motivate more companies here to adopt similar practices, thereby positioning the country as one of the most progressive nations in the region, in this respect