IFC, CSE ring the bell for gender equality in Sri Lanka  – The Morning

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For the seventh consecutive year, IFC partnered with the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) to “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality”. Celebrated in line with International Women’s Day, the annual global initiative highlights how greater participation of women in the economy can spur sustainable and inclusive growth, shaping a more equal future. 

“The CSE joined this initiative in 2016 as one of the initial stock exchanges, and we believe this is the platform to convene business leaders, investors, and other key parties at the national level to highlight the growing business and economic case for gender equality,” said CSE Chairman Dumith Fernando. “We at the CSE are encouraged to note that more of our listed companies have welcomed the participation of strong, independent women on their boards. This is evident by a steady increase over the years in the number of listed companies with women holding corporate board seats. There are 96 new board positions that have been occupied by women since 2018. Even though we see a positive trend, we are still short of the regional markets. So, all of us, as policymakers in our respective corporates, are vested with the duty to encourage gender equality in our establishments.” 

IFC’s commitment to the initiative is part of its strong focus on gender equality, which includes leveraging relationships with financial institutions to expand access to finance for female entrepreneurs and increase the number of women in leadership roles. 

In Sri Lanka, the female labour force participation rate remains stagnant at around 35%, compared with a steady male participation rate of 74%. Similarly, the average female unemployment rate (7%) remained more than double that of men (3%) between 2011 and 2019. By improving female labour participation, McKinsey Global Institute estimates that Sri Lanka can potentially add $ 20 billion a year to its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025 – increasing economic growth by about 14%.

Accelerating the pace of gender parity could generate financial returns in the private sector, leading to significant economic, environmental, social, and governance gains in emerging markets. 

“Pushing for gender equality today is needed for a sustainable tomorrow. Research – including IFC’s – continues to demonstrate that gender diversity in the boardroom boosts financial performance, promotes better decision-making processes, and improves environment, social, and governance (ESG) practices,” said IFC Country Manager for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Lisa Kaestner. “We need more women business leaders for an inclusive and resilient recovery in the country. I hope that companies and policymakers continue to commit toward accelerating the progress made to date.” 

According to IFC research – under the IFC-DFAT Women in Work programme – the number of women on CSE-listed boards increased from 8.2% in 2018 to 10.1% in 2022 (from 144 to 240). However, this remains well below the global average of 20%. Among the top 30 CSE-listed companies – as highlighted by the IFC report “Realising Sustainability through Diversity: The Case for Gender Diversity Among Sri Lanka’s Business Leadership” – the correlation between increased board diversity and financial performance is clear, with positive trends being reported in line with indicators such as return on total assets and price-to-earnings ratio. 

IFC’s Women on Boards programme in Sri Lanka is part of the broader efforts to increase women’s private sector participation and leadership by promoting the adoption of corporate governance practices among Sri Lankan companies. IFC’s work in this area is supported by the Government of Australia under the IFC-DFAT Women in Work programme. 

“The Women in Work partnership is integral to the Australian Government’s commitment towards advancing opportunities for women and boosting economic growth in Sri Lanka. It is based on global evidence that greater diversity is good for business and the economy,” said Australia’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka David Holly. 

At an event to mark International Women’s Day, there was a panel discussion on the business case for gender diversity on boards. The panellists included Ernst and Young Partner Anoji De Silva, John Keells Holdings PLC Chairman Krishan Balendra, and Hela Clothing Chairman Rasakantha Rasiah. The discussion was moderated by IFC-DFAT Women in Work Programme Manager Sarah Twigg.

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