Closing the Gender Gap: Empowering Women in Sri Lanka’s Workforce


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Closing the gender gap. Based on the presentation made by Prof. Arosha Adikaram, Chair of the HR Department, University of Colombo, Head of the Panel of Judges – Satynmag AICPA&CIMA Women Friendly Workplace Awards 2023 at the Awards presentation on 21st July 2023.

Sri Lanka boasts a diverse population with women comprising 52% of its people. However, despite their significant presence, the country has been witnessing a concerning trend in the decreasing labor force participation of women. As of now, the majority of the economically inactive population are females, accounting for 73.5%. This includes students, those engaged in household activities, retired individuals, the disabled, and the untapped potential labor force. Addressing this persistent issue of low female labor force participation, high unemployment, and gender inequalities in the workplace is not just a moral and social imperative, but also a critical economic challenge.

Challenges Faced by Women in the Sri Lankan Workforce

Marriage and Motherhood Impact Women’s Employment

Studies have shown that marriage substantially lowers a woman’s odds of being employed by 26% when compared to unmarried women. Additionally, having children younger than the age of 5 reduces women’s labor market participation by 7.4% when compared to women without young children. Surprisingly, the same factors have no significant effect on men, who are twice as likely as women to be employed in Sri Lanka.

Closing the Gender Gap and Economic Implications

The impact of the gender gap on the Sri Lankan economy cannot be overlooked. If gender parity were achieved, the country could witness an income gain of 21% by 2065. It is estimated that Sri Lanka could add a substantial 14% ($20 billion) to its annual GDP by 2025 by increasing female labor force participation, promoting more paid hours for women, and encouraging their involvement in higher-productivity sectors. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) further suggests that closing the gender gap in the workforce could potentially raise the country’s GDP by up to 20% in the long run.

gender gap

Promoting Women-Friendly Workplaces

Addressing gender inequality in the workplace requires more than just the existence of right policies and programs; it necessitates the removal of unseen barriers and fostering equality and equity for all. Companies and organizations can contribute to creating women-friendly workplaces by taking specific actions:

1. Understanding and Addressing Issues: Employers must demonstrate a true understanding of the challenges women face at work and develop creative means to address them.

2. Equity and Inclusion: Recognize that women have different circumstances, needs, and vulnerabilities that should be considered and addressed in the workplace.

3. Women Empowerment Programs: Implement programs that empower and support women in their professional growth and development.

4. Family Support: Provide additional maternity leave, special leave, and childcare facilities to support working mothers.

5. Pay Equality: Ensure equal pay policies and practices, including salary benchmarks, to eliminate gender-based pay disparities.

6. Diversity and Inclusion: Form a dedicated Diversity and Inclusion team to foster a gender-balanced work environment.

Good Practices in Women-Friendly Workplaces

Last year, we witnessed commendable practices in creating women-friendly workplaces, including having a well-defined plan, implementing women-friendly policies and procedures, offering women empowerment programs, and providing various support mechanisms for female employees.

Closing the gender gap is a real time issue.This year, companies are taking it a step further by holding top management accountable for delivering gender-balanced results, promoting women in male-dominated professions, and providing specialized support for single mothers. Flexibility in work arrangements, reskilling programs, and mentorship for women returning to work are also gaining traction.

Future Outlook and Continuous Improvement for Closing the Gender Gap

As we move forward, it is crucial to monitor and measure the effectiveness of these initiatives. Continuous improvement is essential to adapt to changing circumstances and to ensure that progress is sustained in closing the gender gap in Sri Lanka’s workforce. Closing the gender gap is a priority for us all.

Empowering women in Sri Lanka’s workforce is not just a matter of equality; it is a strategic imperative that has far-reaching implications on the country’s economic growth and development. By addressing the challenges faced by women, promoting women-friendly workplaces, and fostering an inclusive environment, Sri Lanka can unlock the full potential of its female workforce and pave the way for a more prosperous and equitable society.