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Top Sri Lanka women executives voice reservations on director quota

ECONOMYNEXT – Senior women executives of several Sri Lanka firms said they had reservations on a positive discrimination quota proposed by the finance ministry to break a glass ceiling in boards of directors.

"A quota does not do justice for women," John Keells Holdings Group Human Resources & Legal, Sustainability President Dilani Alagaratnam said.

"They (women) should be in boards due to their contributions to the company, because they are doing a job, and not because of ticking a box," she said.

She was speaking at an International Finance Corporation (IFC) forum focusing on women at work.

In a scratch poll on a mobile app at the forum, 55.4 percent opposed the minimum quota with 56 votes counted. Only about a quarter of the attendees appeared to be make.

Jetwing Chairperson Shiromal Cooray agreed with the majority.

"Women should be in boards through their own ability and not through a quota," she said.

Top officials from MAS Holdings, Sanasa Development Bank and Fairway Holdings also agreed with Cooray and Alagaratnam.

In the 2019 budget, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who has tried to break laws discriminating against women has proposed a rule to increase women representation in listed companies.

"Whilst constituting over 50 percent of the population, the presence of women in senior positions in business is very limited," Samaraweera said during the budget.

"This has come about due to, numerous social structural and business practices, that result in the exclusion of women from important decision-making roles in society," he said.

Listed firms will be required to introduce a voluntary target of 30 percent of women in director boards, and the regulation will be enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

SEC Chairman Ranel Wijesinha said firms should look at overall female participation.

" “I do not encourage ensuring compliance with a percentage or quota for women representation on boards, in a static sense, but rather in a dynamic sense," he said in a statement.

“Aware and progressive corporates should not simply invite women to boards alone, to be passively compliant, but rather should be proactive perhaps via ‘Talent Sourcing, Evaluation and Nominations Committees’ to identify potential candidates for boards," he said.

Wijesinha said the SEC was committed to help implement budget proposals which encourage women in boards.

By end-2022, all listed companies will be required to meet a 20 percent minimum quota, and meet a 30 percent minimum  quota by 2024.

A joint study done by the Colombo Stock Exchange and IFC in 2018 found that only 8.2 percent of board members on listed companies are women.

Women filled only 27.6 percent of management positions in 2017 according to International Labour Organization statistics.

Only 35 percent of working age women take part in Sri Lanka’s labour force, due to family commitments, especially after childbirth, and rampant sexual harassment.

Around 90 percent of women taking public transport are sexually harassed at least once, with only 4 percent reporting such incidents, according to a United Nations Population Fund study.

Women were also paid 64 cents to each rupee a man earns for similar work in 2018, according to the Gender Gap Report 2018.

A recent IFC study of 18 companies found that only 10 percent of boards comprised women, with 17 percent in senior management, 21 percent in middle management and 32 percent at executive level.

Around 61 percent of the employees in the 18 companies were women, skewed by participation of apparel companies. (Colombo/Apr03/2019-SB).