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Sri Lanka’s Finlays Tea Estates grows female planters

GIRL POWER: Assistant Superintendent Navoda Vijayangani from Alnwick Estate

ECONOMYNEXT – Finlays Tea Estates Sri Lanka (Pvt) Ltd, which runs privatized tea plantations, is nurturing female managers in a bid to fill 30 percent of management positions by 2025, an industry association said.

Tea growing or ‘planting’ has traditionally been a male-dominant activity where foreign direct investors (usually British) turned mountain forests in to coffee and later tea plantations using their own funds, equity from Colombo Brokers Association and borrowed money.

Armies of expatriate labour poured into the growth industry from Southern India, at a time when Sri Lanka had monetary stability under the note issuing bank Oriental Bank Corporation and a series of free banks and then a silver backed currency board.

Women played a key part in plucking tea and other tasks but not usually in management. Junior managers or Assistant Superintends and estate managers (Superintendents and factory managers were usually men.

Finlays and gone on a conscious drive to recruit female managers.

The firm has a target of filling 30 percent of management positions with women by 2025, the Planters’ Association made up of managers said.

Among two females who had now made it to Assistant Superintendents wre Piriyanthi Makeswaranthan and NavodaVijayagani.

Makeswaranthan had grown up in Jaffna had trained in Taekwondo and had won a bronze medal at Inter-University championships and had also won medal in boxing, a sport which she taught herself.

Graduating with a degree in Agricultural Technology from the University of Peradeniya, she had responded to a recruitment advertisement posted by Finlays which encouragned women to apply.

“While I was in University I became fascinated with the potential of agriculture as a business given the most technological advancements we had seen in recent years, but in practice it definitely took me some time to adjust to the culture, processes, and the kind of work that is required at a management level on a tea estate,” she was quoted saying.

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After receiving six months of training at Newburgh Estate under the guidance of Finlays Estate Superintendent Richard Ohlmus, Piriyanthi appointed as Assistant Superintendent at Waldemar Estate.

Riding a motorbike to work every day, she leads a team of 306 male and female workers.

NavodaVijayangani, from Dehiattakandiya was a student at Uwa-Wellassa University where she studied tea technology and value addition.
She was training in tea research when she heard about Finlays looking for female management trainees.

“A big part of why I was so interested in tea is because I love the upcountry environment and the climate,” she was quoted as saying.

“I also always found the science behind commercial tea cultivation to be fascinating. I also knew that it was a field in which women traditionally do not enter, and I felt like I could be one of the first to challenge that perception.”

She now manges a team of 130 persons. (Colombo/Mar11/2021)

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