‘Women lack financial independence’ | Sunday Observer

‘Women lack financial independence’

Founder and Chairperson Women In Management, Soluchana Sigera
Founder and Chairperson Women In Management, Soluchana Sigera

Gender disparity in economic activities will not be helpful for the country’s growth and women need to be empowered to harness their full potential. As demography is tilted towards women there should be conducive policies in terms of social and labour in encouraging more women to participate in economic activities, Founder and Chairperson Women In Management (WIM), Soluchana Sigera said.

“Women need to be mentored to take up leadership positions especially when it comes to leading the country. They have to be empowered where they lack certain skills such as financial literacy. With the right exposure women, could contribute equally as men to the economy and to this end change of mindset is necessary,” she said in an interview with the Business Observer.

However, the grooming of women should start from school and the country could reap huge economic benefits and take it to the next level of development, she said.

Excerpts:

Q. Give us a brief overview of your organisation.

A. Women in Management (WIM) works to empower Sri Lankan career women and women entrepreneurs by connecting and bonding them by providing leadership and guidance to nurture their knowledge and skills and inspiring them to achieve their goals and to act as conduits to the transformation of the role of women in career and business into a dynamic force.

It works to further the professional development of managerial and entrepreneurial women in established careers, which include managerial responsibilities, through the association of its members, through educational and training opportunities, and through the exchange of knowledge and experiences.

WIM had a very humble beginning 10 years ago. It has acted as a women’s organisation providing a networking platform, branding women and giving an opportunity for them to develop business and promote business beyond Sri Lanka.

WIM has developed products such as WIM tea break and WIM conference which even features international renowned speakers without financial support.

It also conducts the Top 50 conference and Top 50 magazine featuring winners and brands.

WIM has opened chapters internationally including the Maldives and Canada and the Australian chapter will be opened in December. WIM is a Sri Lankan women’s organisation and the chapters are funded by international organisations. Being a Sri Lankan organisation is an advantage when it comes to decision making and customising the decisions.

WIM mostly funds rural women. The organisation is growing professionally and engraving its own brand.

It represents Sri Lankan women’s leadership. It is Sri Lankan oriented and the members are governed by an executive committee similar to other organisations.

Q. What made you to focus on women empowerment?

A. There is a misconception with regard to the word empowerment. It has been made to look equal to charity. Empowerment is not equal to charity. It is necessary to connect empowerment and women together to take out the dependency mindset.

In this regard emotional empowerment is important and is much relevant to Sri Lanka as there are so many issues related to women.

Women empowerment is not providing financial support, but building the women on the inside, depending on the external factors. Here is a one concept - start with self and grow. This is real empowerment. Empowered women are an asset to the country. Their contribution towards socio economic development is huge.

Q. In your opinion, what is the status of Sri Lankan women at present?

A. Women’s contribution to the country before the 1950s was very much higher than at present. Unfortunately, today, I do not know whether the data is correct in this regard. The contribution is measured through the EPF numbers and company registration names and most of the companies though they are owned by women are not registered under their names due to various reasons. Therefore, accurate data on women’s participation cannot be ascertained.

Today, Sri Lankan women are knowledgeable regarding education and career opportunities. However, they lack financial literacy. Proper attention has not been paid to this aspect at present. There is no financial independence. Most women operate on isolated business models and lack social entrepreneurship.

Most women entrepreneurs are manufacturers. Women think they have to be protected. This is fair in someway, but they have to play their role. Society needs to pay more attention to teenagers and safeguard them from risky behaviour. Change of mindset is needed for women from school level to career level to groom the perfect woman. To this end taking up positives and leaving behind negatives is important.

Q. What more is needed to improve women’s contribution in terms of the workforce?

A. Companies should understand that the workforce needs diversity. There should not be a gender difference. However, just because you have a degree that does not mean that you could get a job. It is not your skills at the interview, but your personality. Women need to balance work and life. They should understand and convince their immediate supervisors and home front. Though corporates consider the eight-and-a-half working day as the norm, it should be productivity that should be taken in to account.

Q. We have more women than men in the population. Is this an advantage to the country?

A. No. It is not an advantage. But there should be a balance. There are men who are addicted to alcohol and suicides are also high in men. Therefore, we need to have equal opportunity in going forward. It is not the quantity but the quality. We need quality men coming out of school as well as women. There should be no room for unethical relationships. It is reported that violence against women has increased and we will not be secure in this kind of environment.

Q. What are the areas that women should focus more in terms of their capabilities and multi tasking ability?

A. The multitasking concept is a myth. Just because women produce children and engage in a career, that is not multitasking. We should start investing in skills as equally as in beauty. Women should also engage in training related to businesses and careers to further their knowledge and capabilities. Always seek opportunities to learn. Women should ensure their children are educated. They can share knowledge with them. Networking with high calibre women will ensure that they could get valuable experience.

Q. What regulatory framework should be in place to upgrade women’s well-being?

A. The old laws pertaining to women should be changed. The labour regulations which specifies working hours for women needs to be amended to meet current needs. The legal framework should be made more positive towards women’s lifestyle.

The Constitution clearly says that there should be no gender discrimination and this should be the case in all instances. A lot of organisations conduct awareness programs on legal matters and women should attend these programs. It is important that the government sponsor women empowerment programs and concessions provided to these organisations to train women and upscale women’s skills to come up the career ladder.

Q. What are your suggestions for women’s leadership to steer the economy?

A. The mindset of the Sri Lankans towards women should be changed. It is not the gender that matters. Leadership does not have gender. We can get more women to run our economy. There should be mentoring programs for women. However, when women come up to the leadership position, there are adjustment issues. Women leaders need innovation, creativity, leadership agility to steer the country forward.

Q. How does your organisation recognise women’s contribution to society?

A. Most of the women who contribute to society are not famous. WIM recognises these achievers to inspire them to do more. It is about our passion to empower society. We do not look at the individual or the company, but take the overall picture into account. The recognition given by WIM has gone a long way giving them encouragement to perform and contribute more towards society within the country and outside.

Q. What role should women play in the next five years for the country to reach developed nation status?

A. We have a major role to play. The role is not a number in the population, but for the benefit of the family, society, the country and the economy. Women have to understand that their knowledge is important to contribute to the well-being of the country. We need to look at the possibility of becoming a service oriented nation. It is vital to be a service and technology enabled country to fuel growth.

If women are able to upgrade their technological abilities we do not need to go for informal jobs abroad such as housemaids. The profession of caregivers is a new avenue women could embark upon and this should be given due consideration. Most of all, the business innovation has to come to Sri Lanka to propel growth.

Q. What is the message you would like to give women with regard to family, economy and society?

A. Young women should understand that it is good to have a career. They should have in mind that there should be someone to care about them. It is not advisable to disrupt careers after you marriage, but to continue to progress further as the home economy is important. Women should consider the blue economy and markets.

Your brand should not be the company brand and who you are matters a lot. You cannot gain anything if you think only of yourself. Do not do expect charity from others. Charity should begin when you are young. There will be a time when recognition comes and it should be on your own merit. Start selling your own skills and products to move forward. 

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