In a bid to promote boardroom diversity and establish a network of existing and prospective women directors, the Women Corporate Directors Foundation (WCD)—the largest organization of women corporate board members globally—launched its first local chapter in Sri Lanka yesterday.
Supported by IFC, under the IFC-DFAT Women in Work program, this initiative aims to offer a platform for Sri Lankan women board members to share industry expertise while helping the country increase its pipeline of aspiring and qualified female board members.
In Sri Lanka, despite higher education, women are significantly underrepresented in the labor force. Only around one in three women of working age are employed. This gap further widens among senior managers, board members, and business owners. The percentage of women among board members of listed entities in Sri Lanka is also low, compared to South Asian peers such as India (12 percent) and Bangladesh (17 percent). According to IFC’s latest findings, around 9.5 percent of board directors on the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) listed companies are women.
“Despite the low numbers on women on boards, Sri Lanka has a well-accomplished pool of women directors representing a wide spectrum of industries. In this context, as part of WCD’s growing presence in Asia-Pacific, we are delighted to launch our first-ever local chapter in the country,” said Susan Stautberg, WCD CEO and Chairman. “As a WCD member, Sri Lankan women directors will have better access to trends and expertise from global economies, helping strengthen their knowledge when advocating for improved corporate governance practices for businesses.”
A significant and growing body of research points to the business benefits associated with gender diversity on boards and in senior management, including increased financial performance and productivity as well as improved environment, social and governance (ESG) practices. In Sri Lanka, IFC’s research highlighted that the top 30 CSE-listed companies with higher gender diversity perform better in terms of financial measures, including return on equity, return on total assets, and price to earnings ratio.
“Diversity is not just a moral imperative, it also makes perfect business sense,” said Alfonso Garcia Mora, IFC’s Vice President for Asia and Pacific. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that companies with better environment, social and governance (ESG) practices and board diversity have been more resilient in recovery.”
The launch of the Sri Lanka Women Corporate Directors chapter will be a significant step in raising the profile of women board directors who help create value for businesses in the country. The demonstration effect of this competitive advantage of having aspiring women board members or senior managers who are ‘board ready’ is critical to build leadership pipelines for boards.
“Australia has a steadfast commitment to be at the forefront in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. Through this latest initiative under the IFC-DFAT Women in Work program, we hope to continue our push towards enhancing greater equality and diversity in Sri Lanka’s private sector,” said David Holly, Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka. “I believe that the 16 founding members of the Sri Lanka Chapter of Women’s Corporate Directors (WCD) would play a significant role in taking this agenda forward. My congratulations to them.”
The Women Directors Forum of Sri Lanka Institute of Directors (SLID) will play a catalytic role in this initiative as the co-chair of the local WCD chapter. In addition, the Sri Lanka chapter will also be supported by KPMG LLP, one of the largest professional services firms and also the oldest Chartered Accountancy firm in the country.
IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In the fiscal year 2021, IFC committed a record $31.5 billion to private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity as economies grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic