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Women in Business – with Head of HR Wasanthi Stephen


Q: How has First Capital addressed the loss of women employees at mid-career in Sri Lanka?

A: At First Capital, new parents – mothers specifically, now have the benefit of taking more paid time off than at any other in the investment industry.
Employees of the organization are offered the benefit of extending their paid maternity from the 15-weeks prescribed by the Shop and Office Act to 24 weeks, while fathers can take up to two weeks. Additionally, mothers are given the allowance of a two-hour feeding break in-line with Sri Lankan standards.
This is a huge step considering First Capital’s employees consists of a staff ratio of 43% Female to 57% Male. We have certain departments which are solely managed by female employees and our Management Committee consists of 35% of female representation.
In an industry that is fast paced such as the capital market, the decision to give additional time off for new parents tries to address many issues including but not limited to work-life balance and the lack of female representation at the top levels.
The beginning of 2019 saw three members of our management committee take maternity leave simultaneously, but through careful planning, flexibility and accessibility offered to them, they were able to take the additional leave while still ensuring business continuity.
This is what we aspire to be at First Capital, setting industry standards in all that we do, not limited to our role as investment institution operating in Sri Lanka, but in the fields such as Human Resource Management as well. In the last few years we have adopted several initiatives that are aimed at encouraging work-life-balance. These are policies and procedures that are inspired by our dynamic Board of Directors and are driven through the whole organization.
For example, in addition to the parental leave policies, the company practices several other initiatives that encourage a more comfortable and inclusive work culture. One such procedure is the ‘dress down’ policy introduced to the company – which enables staff members to work in smart casual attire which is an unusual move in the Sri Lankan Banking and Finance Industry.
First Capital also observes flexible work hours, as well as the possibility of working from home when required. We also have health and wellbeing programmes, leisure activities to encourage collaboration at all levels and by conducting periodic surveys to understand different aspects of the company we make the necessary changes needed to ensure its continuous improvement. These are only a few of the practices that make life at First Capital employee centric and assure women can continue to grow professionally to their full potential.

Q: Do you believe that women are being supported to maximise their potential?

A: I think we are on the right path. It is encouraging to see companies such as ours introducing flexible working hours, work from home facilities, part time job opportunities as well. It’s nice to see that some employers now provide daycare facilities within the organization.

Specially in a Sri Lankan context, the expectations that are placed on working mothers adds a lot of pressure with the multiple responsibilities that they shoulder. Through the introduction of a dynamic working culture that facilitates flexibility and work-life balance, First Capital aspires to gives all our employees the opportunity to reach their full potential.

We have many activities throughout the year where we engage with employees as well as with their families. We also have “kids at work day” where parents can bring their kids to work and let them enjoy many activities that are organized specially for them, whilst experiencing the office environment and being a part of their parents work day.

Q: How crucial is it for women to assert themselves as valuable members of the business world?

The stereotypical odds that are stacked up against women are that we negotiate poorly, lack confidence, are too risk-averse, or don’t put in the requisite hours at work due commitment they have in a family environment. Then again women are identified as more caring, cooperative, or mission driven. But whether framed as a barrier or a benefit, these beliefs hold women back.

The solution is to fix the conditions that undermine women and reinforce gender stereotypes. Therefore, unless and until corporations make a conscious effort to level the playing field, and until there is a shift in thinking there will always be a preference for one gender over the other.

Q: What is your vision for businesswomen in Sri Lanka?

A: To achieve a just and equal status in all levels and areas of society where decisions are taken in true partnership with men – based on mutual respect – for a more balanced and peaceful livelihood.