Aarthy, a fiercely determined millennial, is the Employment Lead of the Women in Work programme at the International Finance Corporation (IFC). By sharing success stories and business cases, they pave the way forward for the rest of the private sector companies to bridge the gender gap. This means, fairer and respectful workplaces, more opportunities for women and men; and the business does better too. Sri Lanka can also raise its gross domestic product by as much as 20 per cent.
I remember having clear goals early on in my career and was determined to become the Human Resources Director of a multinational company at the age of 30. Instead, I choose to work in gender advisory because I see the unfairness, where opportunities and resources are accessible or not available to people, simply because of their gender or where they are from. Looking back, I am glad to have seized the opportunity — as it’s just a matter of taking that chance!
There is no single, simple answer to the question of why women’s participation in Sri Lanka’s labour force remains stubbornly low over decades. Research points to reasons such as hidden biases, gender stereotypes, and cultural norms. Lack of family-friendly flexible work options; disrespectful workplace cultures; limited access to leadership opportunities; lack of support for women returning to work after maternity leave; and limited access to career critical training also play a significant role in discouraging women from participating and exploring their full potential in the paid workforce.
The intervention of the private sector is essential for meeting this pressing employment challenge. It is time for companies to understand the value of gender equality for promoting business growth and productivity by implementing policies and processes that make workplaces more supportive of women and men. We also need policymakers to separate gender in economic data so that they can create sustainable legislation— quickly.
It’s a hard topic, but I choose to work on it and there is so much more to be done. Focusing my energy correctly has directed me to accomplish many milestones. I would say, be the absolute best version of yourself — you have no one but yourself to compare with. This mantra has made me simplify and innovate many ideas and opportunities. I believe that together we make gender equality a reality in Sri Lanka.
Photography by Amitha Thennakoon. Art & Direction by Ricky De Silva. Videography by StoryWorks.