SLIM, as the National Body for Marketing in Sri Lanka, has recognised the importance of encouraging women to come forward and become equal stakeholders in leading the Economy into the future. Following this objective, the Leading Liyo Development Programme was launched in March, 2021 in collaboration with International Women’s Day.
The programme aimed at empowering and guiding women leaders to take on corporate and leadership roles in their respective fields, either locally or on an international scale. The programme commenced on the 7th of August 2021 and concluded with a virtual certification ceremony on the 5th of September 2021, in which Ms. Himalee Madurasinghe, Director/ Country Head of Kantar Sri Lanka was the Guest Speaker and Ms. Debra Mosel, Deputy Mission Director USAID Sri Lanka and Maldives was present as a Special Guest to deliver a congratulatory statement from the Embassy of USA.
Recognising that Sri Lanka could add approximately 20 Billion US dollars to the GDP by 2025 simply by improving gender equality, as shown in a research by McKinsey & Company in 2018, Thilanka Abeywardena, President of SLIM, highlighted the need to motivate the female workforce saying, “SLIM initiated this project to focus on the development of women and enhance their opportunities for a better future.
Women have a lot to offer towards the economy of the country, yet we see educated women leave the workforce due to personal challenges such as childcare. Influencing positive change in the society and workplace to break gender barriers will allow women to go forward on their journey without hesitation while encouraging innovation and leadership.”
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 by WEF, Sri Lanka is at No. 1 in Health and Survival. However, the country is rated at 73 and 88 in Educational attainment and political empowerment respectively, as well as in the position of 126 in economic participation and opportunity. This indicates a serious gap in female involvement in the areas of economy and politics.
Even as Sri Lanka records over 60% of females graduating annually from the university system, it is not reflected in the senior management nor the political system. The Future of Job Survey by the World Economic Forum indicates that this gap is amplified by unconscious bias, lack of work-life balance and lack of role models. Thus it is of paramount importance that women have to be encouraged to remain in the work force through empowerment and by inspiring and guiding them.
In line with their vision to “Lead the Nation’s Efforts towards Economic Prosperity”, SLIM aims at unlocking massive economic opportunity by making a conscious effort in gender equality in both the public and private sector, by taking necessary measures to prevent educated women from leaking out of the pipeline.
SLIM extended the scope of Leading Liyo through mentoring a batch of corporate females to elevate their managerial skills, leadership development skills and knowledge through a proposed blueprint. The initial phase of Leading Liyo was a panel discussion on elevating the thinking of females in the corporate world, while the second phase expanded on this initiative by mentoring fifty women through a well-recognized resource panel, inspiring them to shatter glass ceilings.
These fifty women, selected from both the private and government sectors, were given the opportunity to follow the Leading Liyo Leadership Development Programme (LDP) free of charge as a sustainability initiative in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 05 – Gender Equality.
Dr. Dilhan Jayatilleke, the Project Chairman for Leading Liyo, expressed “It is a great honour to be a part of this initiative focused on empowering women to be the 21st Century Leaders in their respective organizations. Despite the many challenges and obstacles women face in organization culture, ‘Leading Liyo – Leadership Development Programme’ endeavoured to develop and enhance the skills, potential, capabilities and talents, creating a platform for Women Leaders of tomorrow.”
Seven modules were conducted on the programme with qualified mentors speaking on each topic. The topics included but were not limited to leadership and emotional intelligence, work-life balance, challenges to women leadership, international economics for business, climate emergency and sustainability, technology and geopolitical disruption and many others, culminating in the final Experience Sharing Forum featuring Dr. Janaki Kuruppu and Ms. Otara Gunewardene, as they shared their corporate experience.
Leading Liyo had a positive impact on the women who participated, with many coming forward to express their gratitude and indicating how much the programme had inspired them, as reflected in the following testimonials.
- D. C. Gayathri, Assistant Manager (Legal) from Softlogic Finance PLC, explained how it made her understand that “I am just not a woman who works an 8am – 5pm job as a Team Leader. The programme showed me that I have a duty and responsibility to refer global social, economic, geopolitical, technological trends, and be a smart 21st Century Leader.” Thresha Nidarshani Wanaththaiya, Manager of Business Process Improvement at Enterprise Solutions One (Pvt.) Ltd., expressed that, “being a woman with the responsibilities of a mum, wife, daughter, and a corporate leader at the same time is challenging. This program gave me a glimpse of the competencies that a 21st-century woman leader has to perform with a wide arena of knowledge and business cases that provided the importance of work-life balance. It was a truly inspiring program.” Sithumini Anuradha, Assistant Project Manager at the Green Building Council of Sri Lanka, added, “It develops us to making ideas happen. SLIM integrates new concepts and knowledge into each session instead of viewing it as a program.” Shanika Perera Fonseka, Senior Assistant Manager (Human Resources) of Sadaharitha Plantations Ltd., said, “The Leading Liyo-Leadership Development Programme is a commendable initiative by SLIM Sri Lanka, which addresses the need of the hour and grooms hands-on, futuristic and well-informed 21st-century women leaders. I feel truly privileged to have been a part of this great endeavour.”
Speaking to Sanath Senanayake, the CEO/Managing Director of SLIM, on how the Leading Liyo initiative has caused a ripple effect within the organisation itself, he stated, “This initiative to empower Lankan women has created an employee-friendly environment within the organization. It has positively impacted the empowerment of women internally and has encouraged women to come forward to apply for higher positions. Leading Liyo has further created equal respect towards all staff members within the working environment regardless of gender barriers”.
Overall, the Leading Liyo Programme, launched with the objective of working towards bridging the gender gap in the corporate world and promoting gender equality within workplace environments, has motivated women to take on the leadership mantle, breaking workplace gender barriers and creating equal opportunities for career women in an attempt to put businesses on the fast-track to gender parity.