Sri Lanka needs to look at ways to address, the lower female participation in the labour force and the underemployment of the educated women, to get maximum contribution to the national economy, a senior economist said.
“Sri Lanka needs to create more suitable employment opportunities for women,” Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of Institute of Policy Studies said at a recent forum.
“Especially providing flexible working hours, working from home on contract basis are all areas that need to be considered.Giving better skill for women in areas like IT, nursing and the hospitality industry should be looked at too.”
Women represent approximately 57 percent of the total estimated population of 21 million in the Indian Ocean Island, but only 33.4 percent, contributes to the national economy from 8.5 million of economically active population in the county, data showed.
Thus, almost 70 percent of the labour force constitutes economically inactive women.
This is in spite of the fact that in most university courses, including management, law and liberal arts, the numbers of women outnumber men and large proportions of women attend management and accounts training programmes offered by private educational institutes.
“If you look at the undergraduate level the share of females is at 60 percent but this is not reflected in the employment levels or the labour force,” Kelegama said.
“Employment to population ratio is only 30 percent females and labour force participation is around 30 – 35 percent and the unemployment rate in females is 6.6 percent compared to 3.2 percent in males. Now this is a cause for concern and this rate is low compared to some of the other developing countries.”
Women in Management?
In Sri Lanka more women are in labour position as pluckers, tappers and coir workers respectively, in the agriculture, tea, rubber and coconut industries, while an insignificant number occupy management positions data showed.
The garment sector employs more women workers but fewer women in management positions.
Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign exchange earners are migrant workers among whom, women comprise a large percentage, mainly in the form of domestic labour. However a negligible numbers represent managerial positions.
A recent labour force survey in Sri Lanka shows that the highest percentage of women are in the service sector accounting for 39.5 percent of the labour force, while women in agriculture and industry account for 35.3 percent and 25.1 percent, respectively.
Speaking exclusively to LBO about women in management, Sanjeewani De Silva, Head of Corporate Affairs of Standard Chartered Bank of Sri Lanka says a striking phenomenon of recent time has been the extent to which women have increased their share of the labour force in Sri Lanka but far from reaching the ideal ratio.
“The lack of women in management is due to lack of self- confidence and taking that seat at the table. This I feel is because women judge themselves too much and in the process, lose self-confidence. If there is confidence to take that seat in management (without being judgmental) there will be many of them who will excel beyond doubt.”
There are no statistics of women in management in Sri Lanka but broad estimates would place the figure below 10 percent of the total cadre.
Chandi Dharmaratne, Director of Human Resources, Virtusa says the root cause as to why less women are in management roles, is simply because less women are participating in the labour force to begin with.
“If we want to see more women in the workplace we would need to start awareness sessions at a root cause point like prior to when undergrads choose to opt out. Women in leadership positions can inspire undergrads by sharing their stories and advice.”
Once we get more women to join the labour force, Dharmaratne says, we can retain them by creating an inclusive culture with a focus on making the numbers count.
“For e.g. – this can be supported by enabling flexible work hours , offering work from home options, including men in the gender diversity agenda and creating inclusiveness by putting in place transparent communication platforms and processes which truly give both women and men equal opportunity to get to the top”.
The Global Gender Gap report 2013 Sri Lanka says enrolment is almost equal at primary and secondary education levels but by tertiary level more women enroll than men.
Dharmaratne says the numbers indicate that women are opting out of the labour force. “This could be for many reasons – work life balance being one, as despite having a full time job a lion’s share of the household and child caring responsibility comes on to a woman.”
Sometimes, she says insecurity and self-doubt of being successful in this dual role could also lead to them making this decision. (LBO)