Two partnerships by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has led to over 50 private sector companies in Sri Lanka advancing gender equality as well as working towards the economic inclusion of persons with disabilities and sexual orientation and gender identity minorities.

As part of the ‘Together We Can (TWC)’ partnership, 44 companies with over 30,000 employees participated in a series of online training sessions led by IFC in collaboration with the Federation Chamber of Commerce Sri Lanka (FCCISL), under the IFC Women in Work program in partnership with the Government of Australia. The initiative provided gender intelligence training, workshops, and peer learning opportunities in areas including increasing women in leadership, promotion of women in non-traditional roles, creating respectful and family-friendly workplaces, supporting employee mental health as well as supporting diversity in the value chains.

The TWC partnership, which includes companies representing multiple sectors including banking, finance, food and beverages, healthcare, information technology, manufacturing, services and trading, offered an opportunity for businesses to learn, share knowledge, and act on promoting more inclusive workplaces. Based on the results from 22 companies, the partnership has led to 636 more women in the workforce, a 55 percent increase in the share of women in management, and a 17 percent increase in the share of women on boards. Three-quarters of companies said employees felt safer at work and reported increased employee satisfaction levels, while half of the companies reported productivity improvements.

Initiated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-year partnership also focused on supporting companies to maintain business continuity during times of crisis. Almost three-quarters of TWC companies – 73 percent – reported that the partnership helped sustain business operations amid back-to-back shocks, including Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic crisis.

“With equal representation comes better and greater opportunities. As Sri Lanka gears towards a resilient recovery, having more women fully participating in the economy is central. It’s significant for economic growth and for promoting sustainable development and establishing stable and just societies,” said Alejandro Alvarez de la Campa, IFC Country Manager for Sri Lanka and Maldives. “But advancing gender equality requires collective efforts, and the private sector is a key stakeholder in this pathway. IFC’s Together We Can partnership has shown how closing gender gaps and building respectful workplaces lead to positive business benefits. We hope the companies will continue investing in women as a core business strategy, while also strengthening diversity and inclusion in workplaces.”

At the same time, IFC also supported 12 Sri Lankan companies – under the ‘Together We Can Plus (TWC+)’ partnership – to advance opportunities for people with disabilities and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons. The partnership provided a platform for leading Sri Lankan companies to learn, share knowledge, and make commitments to promote more inclusive workplaces, products, and services. Actions ranged from raising awareness on disability and/or LGBTI inclusion, adapting company policies and procedures on recruitment, partnering with community organizations to build a pipeline for inclusive hiring and addressing the needs of consumers. In doing so, 66 percent of the companies realized positive business impacts. These included increased employee satisfaction, increased employee safety at work, access to new markets, and reduced absenteeism.

“The business and development case for the inclusion of persons with disabilities and LGBTI persons points to significant impacts on corporate culture and performance. Companies that are strategic about reaching and supporting these groups see a direct benefit to their bottom line. All the more reason why the private sector should play an important role in supporting people with disabilities and championing LGBTI inclusion,” said Sarah Twigg, Manager for Women in Work program at IFC. Greater inclusion represents an opportunity to access a diverse workforce, new markets, and investors who place increasing importance on environmental, social, and governance credentials”.

IFC’s work in gender in Sri Lanka stems from the Women in Work partnership with the government of Australia. The six-year partnership is IFC’s largest, standalone country-based gender program and is designed to close gender gaps in Sri Lanka’s private sector while improving business performance. Working with private and public sector stakeholders over the years, the program has helped promote women’s employment, increase access to financial and non-financial services for women and women-owned MSMEs as well as capacity building for women-owned businesses in supply chains.