Shehani Seneviratne, Chief Operating Officer at 99x, explains how an open and inclusive work culture, and a flat organisational structure that empowers people to become leaders without titles, has placed 99x among the Best Workplaces for Women for three consecutive years.
What makes 99x one of the Best Workplaces for Women in Sri Lanka 2021?
We have been proud to be listed as a Best Workplace for Women in Sri Lanka since the inaugural list published in 2019 and this has been possible thanks to our open and inclusive work culture. Ours is not a culture that creates more opportunities for men or women in particular – we take pride in creating equal opportunities for all our people to excel. At 99x, we believe in creating leaders without titles. Our open, flat organisational structure empowers everyone – from an intern to a manager – to challenge and bring about change, and it is uplifting to see how many employees use these opportunities to excel within and even outside their job roles.
Why is this important for your company, and why should other businesses follow your example?
Diversity in workplaces is a lot more than a ‘feel good’ factor. Organisations globally are increasingly reporting on the tangible benefits of having an inclusive workforce. Increased productivity, boosts in innovation and creativity, balanced risk-taking and a better flow of ideas stemming from a variety of perspectives are a few of the many advantages documented. I myself have witnessed this first-hand for many years. Diverse project teams have added great value to our customers and our international clients in fact look for gender balance in teams. The benefits we have seen across the board through diversity, from a more balanced work environment to the continuous positive impact on the triple bottom line, have been tremendous.
Can you take us through the unique initiatives to create an inclusive workplace for women, free of discrimination?
As mentioned above, our focus lies in creating equal opportunities for all. One way we do this is through the creation of personal Blue Oceans. 99x’s corporate strategy and objectives are broken up into structured milestones that any employee can take ownership of outside their core job role, and work towards achieving.
We’ve also implemented simple changes such as having women on all our interview panels. Through practical experience, I have seen that the addition of more women to interview panels is a highly effective tactic, which in the long-run has brought in greater balance to the recruitment process. We follow a top-down approach to hiring women, where our management and leads actively promote diversity. This is supported by a merit-based evaluation process, clear career paths and transparent rewards and recognition.
Further, 99x has appointed a Chief People Officer whose key responsibilities include promoting diversity and employee engagement and ensuring discrimination of any kind does not take root within our organisation.
Can you share data on women representation across 99x, disaggregated for senior management level and above?
In an industry dominated by males locally and globally, we have maintained over 25% women in our total workforce, with the current figure standing at 27%. Our senior management walks the talk, with a 25% composition of women, and middle management comprises 28% of women. Women are well represented in our leadership roles and many of our largest project teams are headed by female leads. It’s uplifting to see women at the forefront of our annual awards ceremony, being recognized for exceeding customer expectations, technology excellence and more.
Can you give us examples of how inclusiveness has brought better results or where women have performed better than men?
Our 360-degree appraisal cycle assesses employees purely on merit and performance. It is a matter of pride for us to see most of our employees, irrespective of gender, continuously strive to reach greater heights within our performance-based culture. Our ecosystem is set up to help our employees create their own brand and profile within the local and global tech space. Multiple platforms and mentorship programmes have been initiated to inspire them to step out of their comfort zone and grow while giving back to the IT community at large through experience and knowledge sharing. Through such efforts, two of our senior female leads hold global Microsoft ‘MVP’ titles in specific technologies.
How is 99x helping change perceptions and breaking stereotypes in empowering women in the tech industry?
We do this by engaging with the tech industry and community at large, to actively bring about the change we want to see. 99x inspires ‘technopreneurship’ among its employees and encourages the pursuit of pet projects through its startup accelerator StartupX Foundry, to execute these ideas and fast-track them to the global marketplace. Two of our most successful tech startups have been co-founded and led by women.
There are several initiatives by industry bodies to further the role of women in the workplace, and we encourage our employees to get involved in them. SLASSCOM’s Women Technopreneur Forum is one such initiative that several women from 99x are involved in, including me as the forum lead. We strive to increase the participation of women in Sri Lanka’s startup ecosystem and to offer support in the form of financing, mentoring, skills development and more, to existing female entrepreneurs.
We also understand that it’s not enough to create an equal playing field within our own workplace and realise the need to inspire the future generation. To this end, 99x’s women conduct in-depth one-to-one mentoring sessions with undergraduates and tech sessions at universities throughout the year. Our university relationships initiative, led by a female software engineer, empowered over 4,000 undergraduates in 2020 alone.