Women Top 50 Magazine

VOLUME 04 I ISSUE 01
JANUARY 2021
Retail Price 500.00
@ All rights reserved

ROLE MODELS

DRIVING THE
CHANGE FOR

WHO CAN

INSPIRE
OTHERS

WOMEN

Jayanthi
Dharmasena

Minha Faiz

EMPOWERED

RECOGNIZING

THE EXEMPLARY
ACHIEVEMENTS

OF WOMEN
Sarah Twigg

YOUTH CREATE
OPPORTUNITIES

FOR OTHERS
Tamara Perera

03

T

05 Women Top 50

I

n 2020, WIM Top50 Professional and Career Women
Awards celebrated 10 years of recognizing women’s
achievement in Sri Lanka. Looking back, I realize that,
it was not about just an event, it was about the brands that
I have created by bestowing recognition to over 500 women
serving in different fields, accompanied by a desire to be a
light in this dark world that has made WIM Top50
Awards a success.

In addition, when Top50 Awards celebrated 10 years in
2020, I introduced the New Generation Awards. I
do not believe in being comfortable with where
I am today. I continue to look for a purpose
in life. The New Generation Awards is
aimed at celebrating and recognizing
young talent, achievements and
contribution to this country. This
new awards is different, in that,
I made it gender neutral. On 8th
December 2020 when 25 young
people received recognition for their
achievements I realized that there is
always a positive outcome when you
have the right intention.

Changing
the game

The journey of WIM and WIM Top50
Awards was fraught from failures, grew out of
an experience that led me sometimes through the
deepest and darkest recesses, but through it all its intention
was pure; it was a creation that sprang forth from love and
passion.

When WIM celebrated 10 years in 2019, I launched
Plain-T with Sulo, a Talk Show to change and inspire men
and women. I am not a TV presenter, neither do I believe
that I possess the looks or training to be a TV presenter.
Yet, as a believer in the “Power of Intention”, I launched
the talk show under my name. For the past 2 years I have
interviewed 40 personalities, local and international, in
Sinhala and in English. My intention was to make a change
in the way talk shows generally work, where the focus
is quite often someone popular, an actor, a business
legend or a politician; I wanted to speak with any
woman or man who had the ability to inspire
others and show that perfect imperfections are

I sign off with gratitude to Nilam Samsudeen, who has
been the pillar of WIM’s success, to IFC and DFAT for
partnering for the past 6 years, to all business partners,
friends, WIM members and my family.

Dr. Sulochana Segera
Founder/Chairperson
Women in Management

Plain

Women Top 50 20

what people are made of, still everyone has a story to tell.
With these interviews I am still on a learning curve. Many
of the individuals that I have interviewed had a story, but
most importantly for 90% of them, my talk show was their
first public interview.

Many people wait for the right time
and for a stable environment to initiate
something, but that was not the case
with me. In fact, I will say that it
was the opposite. In my early 30’s I
left a promising career to play the
role of mother and father to my two
children with no financial support.
With no business background, I went
ahead and started my own consulting
company, struggled with home, business
and children. As a young woman it was
one of the most exacting periods of my life.
I believe that I have managed to come this
far because I never waited for the right time and
neither did I have any reservations about my intentions.

with
Sulo

Changing
the game
PAGE

05

Women Top 50 34

Ramya

Plain T
with Sulo
PAGE

20

Weerakoon

Award
Professional Career
Woman of the Year (2012)
and Inspirational Woman
of the Year (2014)

I

Independent
Consultant
Global Business
Development

n 2012 — prior to
winning the ‘Top
50’
Professional
Career Woman of the
Year and the Abhimani
Award as the first Sri
Lankan woman involved
in aircraft marketing —
Ramya Weerakoon was
oblivious to her unique position
in the market when WIM approached
her.

Citation range of
private jets, as well
as the complete
range of multirole
helicopters
manufactured
by
Bell
Helicopter
Textron.

“The joy of winning the
awards completely changed
my perspective of my life and my
career. It enhanced my self-esteem and
gave me tremendous confidence to pursue
greater challenges, which helped me earn
a promotion as Vice President – Business
Development within a very short time,”
said Weerakoon.

At that time, Weerakoon was the only
woman in South Asia to be engaged in
business development, marketing, sales,
and coordination of specialized training
for flight and engineering crew, for the
complete range of fixed and rotary wing
aircraft marketed by her company. She
was responsible for commercial and
military sales and after-market support for
Textron Aviation-manufactured Cessna
trainer aircraft, the twin Turboprop & the

Throughout her career in aviation sales,
Weerakoon prioritized her role as a mentor
to women. She became a vocal champion
of safer and more respectful workplaces,
spearheading policy and

procedural changes that introduced
anti-harassment policies and procedures.
Her efforts garnered another win at the
‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards in 2014 as ‘Inspirational Woman
of the Year.’
“I received many opportunities and
consultancy offers together with exposure
in the media, which created a plethora of
additional advantages and recognition in
the corporate sector,” recalls Weerakoon.
Following a career spanning over 30
years in aerospace, power, and energy
with Infotechs (Pvt) Limited, culminating
in her taking on the mantle of CEO,
Weerakoon retired this year. However,
she will continue her advocacy to create
parity in the workplace as an independent
consultant.

Ramya
Weerakoon
PAGE

34

35 Women Top 50

Women Top 50 23

Women Top 50 06

Women Top 50

Persevering
through Crisis

T

his year’s ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women Awards
comes at an unprecedented time. We have all just lived
through a year like no other with the ongoing global crisis,
triggered by COVID-19, exacting a harsh toll on people and
businesses.
It remains a challenging time for many women and men.

restrictions, women, who typically earn less and hold less secure
jobs than men, are at a risk of losing work and livelihoods. In Sri
Lanka, some of the industries hit the hardest by the pandemic, such
as the garment sector, are primary employers of women.

So as we honor the work of top women in Sri Lanka through the
‘Top 50’ Awards by Women in Management (WIM), in partnership
with IFC, it’s also fitting to acknowledge that in many ways,
women have borne the brunt of the impact from both an economic
and social perspective, eating away decades of hard-won battles in
terms of gender equality.

Women business owners and employees have also often taken
on greater household responsibilities, including for child and elder
care, in the face of school closures and restrictions on mobility.
These factors have combined to result in more women losing their
jobs due to the pandemic than men – global estimates suggest
women’s job loss rates are about 1.8 times higher than men’s. There
has also been a sharp rise in gender-based violence as a result of the
worldwide lockdown and the increased financial pressures faced by
individuals and families.

With plummeting economic activities due to COVID-19

Amena Arif

First a health crisis and then an economic crisis, COVID-19 has
taken a severe toll on many businesses, with enterprises large and
small either cutting jobs or reducing work hours of their employees.
Disruptions caused by lockdowns have also impacted the ability of
businesses to keep operating.

Country Manager
International Finance
Corporation
Sri Lanka & Maldives

As we all look forward to a resilient recovery, there is an
opportunity for the private sector to rebuild their companies with
a focus on gender equality. The women leaders and organizations
that are recognized through the ‘Top 50’ Awards are among those at
the forefront of this recovery effort. We should look to these award
winners as role models and trailblazers for the way ahead.
In addition to co-hosting the awards for the last six years, IFC and
WIM have together created stronger impact in Sri Lanka creating
opportunities for women through the mentorship programs,
training events and more recently, webinar series aimed at skilled
building for stronger careers for women, enabling their progression
from senior management to boards. More than 400 women have
participated in these programs adding to the sustainability of WIM
and broadening its value add.
At IFC, we are helping to address rising inequalities by factoring
gender considerations into our COVID-19 relief and recovery
efforts and supporting private sector companies and investors to do
the same. In Sri Lanka, one of the first countries to draw on support
from IFC’s US$8 billion global COVID-19 fast track financing
facility, we supported one of our longstanding partners to help small
businesses survive and in doing so, helped to preserve jobs. Over
one-third of this support went to businesses owned by women.
Globally, during the last fiscal year, over one-third of IFC’s
advisory portfolio of $1.5 billion was dedicated towards efforts
aimed at closing gender gaps. We work with companies to enhance
the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women. We also
help companies increase women’s access to financial services,
technology, information, and markets.

Persevering
through Crisis
PAGE

Through the Women in Work partnership with the government
of Australia, we are working to close gender gaps in Sri Lanka’s
private sector while improving business performance. The program
is aimed at enhancing the quality of women’s employment in the
private sector, support increased access to financial and nonfinancial
services for women and women-owned businesses, and help
strengthen linkages with women in private sector supply chains.
And by recognizing the important role women leaders play in the
process of closing gender gaps – as role models, trailblazers and
ultimately as individuals who can start to turn the levers of power –
the WIM Top 50 Awards are an important part of this agenda.

06

Introducing diversity, inclusion
and wellbeing to all managers
and employees at the London
Stock Exchange Group in Sri
Lanka is the responsibility of
Bani Chandrasena as Head of
Inclusive Diversity. As a strong
proponent of good practices in
the work place, she believes in
the importance of doing the right
thing and being a role model for
others to follow. Her passion for
gender diversity had enabled her
to take a lead role in establishing
Diversity Collective Lanka, the
women-in-tech association that
aspires for greater visibility for
women in the IT industry. She
spoke with Women Top 50 about
her work and the impetus for
an inclusive culture at LSEG,
which she believes should be the
widespread practice that would
eventually impact the financial
bottom line.

I would
encourage
leaders,
at every opportunity I get,

to focus on getting
the house in order.

BANI
Chandrasena

How can businesses embody diversity
and inclusion and why should they?
Employees are any companies’
greatest asset. If you can get the best
from your employees, this should make
business sense and will impact the
financial bottom line. Creating inclusive
cultures encourages employees to bring
their best to work and do their best.
Employees bringing their A game to
work impacts businesses in more ways
than financial; it impacts employee

engagement which will have a positive
impact on employee retention. This
culture will also encourage more
diversity, which is one of the most
important business indicators globally
today, and research proves diversity does
impact top line and bottom-line.
If diversity matters so much to ensure
performance and success, then how
should organizations identify the
strongest candidates?

I would
encourage
PAGE

23

Top50 Awards
Press Launch

A

n initiative by Women in
Management, the International
Finance Corporation (IFC)—a
member of the World Bank Group—and
the government of Australia

Top50 Awards
Press Launch
PAGE

“When a trailblazer shares the
challenges she faced in her life journey,
it inspires scores of people to step out
of their comfort zones and charter a
course that is beyond the stereotype. As a
result of this, lives are changed, societies
are enlightened and communities
are transformed,” said Dhashma
Karunaratne, the 2019 winner of ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women Award
for Supply Chain and Logistics.

She is (R)
Evolutionary
‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards
Help Change Women’s
Status-Quo in Sri Lanka

inning the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Award gave
me a greater voice at the table to
champion the cause of women at work and
women on boards in corporate Sri Lanka. It
unlocked more opportunities for me to advance
this agenda,” said Aruni Rajakarier, winner of
the 2019 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Award for ‘Inspirational Woman of the
Year.’ In addition to being on several boards
across Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerates,
Rajakarier is the Founder and Director of
SheConsults (Pvt) ltd, an environmental,
social, and corporate governance (ESG)
consultancy firm. A chartered accountant
by profession, Rajakarier heads a variety
of engagements in corporate reporting and
strategy, focusing on integrating ESG criteria
into formal organization performance review
processes.

Aruni

Rajakarier.

Rajakarier
Founder/Director
– Sheconsults
Award:
Inspirational
Woman of the
Year (2019)

In 2019, as the chairperson of Women’s
Empowerment and Leadership Development
Committee — the Institute of Chartered
Accountants of Sri Lanka — she launched the
‘Board Ready Female Members Directory.’
The directory promotes more female
representation across boards in corporate Sri
Lanka, providing a tangible talent pipeline for
succession planning.

“There is so much talent leakage,
particularly from the time women have
children or have ageing or ailing parents as
the unpaid work is largely borne by women.
Consequently, women who are being
supermoms and superwomen are reluctant to
step up to additional positions as they are over
stretched. This was evident when only around
10 percent of all the women who were eligible
to be in the directory stepped up, and we
talked to many women about why they were
not stepping up. This unpleasant truth spoke
volumes of the reality working women face in
our society,” she said. This learning inspired
her to introduce the ‘Gender Reporting
Framework.’ The framework offers guidelines
on collecting and reporting on gender
disaggregated data to increase awareness on
women’s status in corporate leadership in Sri
Lanka.
Rajakarier’s company, SheConsults, offers
solutions to professional women who require
greater flexibility to balance work and home.
It allows them to take on work according to
their capacity without taking a total career
break. With her own experience as a working
parent with four children, Rajakarier is happy
to support other women in similar situations
and demands quality work delivered on time.

“There is a severe hemorrhaging of women
from the paid workforce. This phenomenon is
clear when it comes to succession planning,
with very few qualified for senior leadership
and board positions. Women tend to drop out
mid-career, as societal and cultural power
dynamics trip women up on their way up
the corporate ladder. Therefore, we wanted
to create a list of women who are ready
to take on top leadership,” said

A resolute champion of working women,
Rajakarier continues to engage corporate
management in the conversation to create a
more conducive environment that supports
women. She has her sights set on changing
society’s perception of women, starting with
challenging the portrayal of women in media.

Aruni
Rajakarier
PAGE

Businesses should always make
selections based on assessments which
directly relate to the job. It is good to
also, where possible, to review potential
for future roles and not just the role at
hand. I would not advocate hiring merely
for diversity. It is important though, to be
aware that at interviews and shortlisting,
we all do tend to make biased decisions

Women Top 50 26

Women Top 50 08

W

35

Women Top 50 36
Karunaratne, the Assistant Vice
President for Maritime, Logistics &
Freight at Aitken Spence Maritime, is
one of the many inspiring women who
have been recognized and celebrated
by the ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards over the years.

Over the past two decades,
women’s participation in the nation’s
labor force has stagnated between 30
and 35 percent. This is a significant
low considering the continued progress
of Sri Lankan women in education and
other human development indicators.
According to research, a combination
of factors—socio-cultural norms, high
caregiving responsibilities, restrictive
legislature, and misalignment in skills
and qualification with the job market—
have kept women in Sri Lanka on the
sidelines.

R

the 2014 awards. As WIM marks
the 10th anniversary of honoring Sri
Lankan women, this is IFC’s sixth
consecutive year of co-hosting, and the
third in collaboration with Women in
Work—a partnership between IFC and
the government of Australia.

The awards were launched by
Women in Management (WIM) in
2011, when businesswomen were not
formally recognized in Sri Lanka.
What started as a conference centered
on Colombo, the commercial capital
of Sri Lanka with 25 women and five
awards, has now evolved into an annual
event that recognizes the remarkable
achievements of Sri Lankan women in
their careers, businesses, and everyday
lives.
With over 420 award winners
across the economic spectrum and in a
wide range of professions — banking
and finance, hospitality, media, legal,
logistics and supply chains — the ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards has been a steppingstone for
many women to becoming recognized
leaders in their respective fields,
organizations, and communities.
Sulochana Segera, Founder/
Chairperson of WIM, notes that over
50 percent of award winners have
experienced career advancements,
while over 90 percent of micro,
small, and medium business owners

08
recognized by the awards have
reported increased brand recognition
and market growth.
To further amplify this impact,
the International Finance Corporation
(IFC)—a member of the World Bank
Group—joined hands with WIM for

In response, while recognizing the
value of women’s leadership in Sri
Lanka, the ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards is a testimony
to the progress that can be achieved
when women and men are equal
participants in the economy.
As Sarah Twigg, IFC’s Program
Manager for Women in Work
said, “recognizing the exemplary
achievements of women who have
excelled in their careers or businesses,
overcoming stereotypical barriers,
also brings to the fore important role
models who can inspire others.”
Tanya Wettimuny, the 2016 winner
of the Supply Chain Management
Award, is a fine example of this.
Wettimuny, who went on to start her
own freight and logistics company,
IAS Holdings, and actively promotes
the recruitment and retention of
women in a traditionally maledominated industry. She appointed
the first and only female airport cargo
village manager at the Bandaranaike
International Airport, Sri Lanka’s
main international airport. “Being
recognized for my contributions in
freight and logistics was a deeply
fulfilling experience as it reaffirmed
the work women have been doing in
what is still a male-dominated field,”
she said.

She is
(R)Evolutionary
PAGE

26

Putting the Spotlight on the
National Stage
Moving the awards beyond
Colombo, allowed more Sri Lankan
women to share in the limelight. The

ecipient of the of ‘Gold Award
for Human Resources’ at the
2015 ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards, Deshika
Rodrigo’s life has seen many changes
since the recognition. After an
illustrious tenure as the Head of Human
Resources at the Standard Chartered
Bank Sri Lanka, Rodrigo has leveraged
her longstanding career in HR and
banking, as well as the accolades she
has won along the way, for a dynamic
second act. Juggling triple roles as an
HR consultant, business coach, and an
advocate for women’s empowerment,
Rodrigo is using her international and
local experience to educate, train, and
mentor the next generation of leaders,
especially women.

Deshika
Rodrigo

Having the award
behind my name,
definitely gives me that
extra impetus to keep
striving forward,”
she said.
“Winning the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Award and having
that recognition as someone passionate
about addressing gender related issues,
has definitely added credence to my
present roles. I speak at multiple
forums to various corporate audiences
on the challenges faced by women in
the workplace and how companies
can better support their staff. Having
the award behind my name, definitely
gives me that extra impetus to keep
striving forward,” she said.

A contributor to local
newspapers, Rodrigo writes
on gender parity for working
women and is working on a book
that chronicles the challenges
overcome by working women in
Sri Lanka.

A contributor to local newspapers,
Rodrigo writes on gender parity for
working women and is working on a
book that chronicles the challenges
overcome by working women in Sri
Lanka.

best practices, and support each other
through mentorship and networking
opportunities.

“As a single working mother, being
able to have an independent income
enabled me to give my children the
best education and opportunities in life.
Economic freedom meant that I could
make the choices that were right for me,”
said Rodrigo. As an empty nester with
two kids in college, Rodrigo started the
Tara Women’s Empowerment Network,
where working women meet, share

“Sri Lanka still has a long way
to go when it comes to achieving
gender diversity at the workplace. But
companies are now realizing that for
sustainable, equitable growth, diversity
is a must. The corporate consciousness
is now awake to the possibility of crosscutting gender parity and the healthy
business results that will inevitably
follow,” said Rodrigo optimistically.

Deshika
Rodrigo
Executive Coach,
Outplacement
Specialist, HR
Consultant and
Motivational Speaker

PAGE

36

Award: Human
Resources–Gold
(2015)

09 Women Top 50

37 Women Top 50

Women Top 50 29

Girls should be seen and

not heard

C

oming from a school system which espoused
that “girls should be seen and not heard”, I am
surprised that I am writing as the Chair of the
Judges awarding “Top 50 Women in Management”!.
Yes, times have changed indeed , and today women
are empowered more and more to compete and excel
in areas hitherto unheard of for women.
This award program which is a collaboration of
WIM, IFC and Australian Aid is very special as it
encompasses all areas and social strata of our society.
From a firebrand young activist to a silent warrior
doing good to a neglected section of our society, to
a clever marketing strategist taking a brand to the
world, and a savvy corporate CEO, who has reached
the pinnacle through sheer hardwork and competence,

The TOP 50 WIM awards recognizes and rewards
them all. Yes, it is indeed a very inclusive and diverse
list of awardees, all carefully evaluated and awarded,
purely on their merit.
On behalf of the rest of the judges I wish to thank
the 3 organizations for organizing this program and
sustaining it for the past 10 years . We wish all the
recipients our heartiest congratulations and sincere
best wishes for future success. We enjoyed reading of
your achievements so far and look forward to seeing
you progress in the years ahead.

W

ith over 30 years in the
mobile/telco
industry,
Sandra De Zoysa is Sri
Lanka’s only certified Customer
Experience Professional. Having
won many accolades for Sri Lanka
on the international stage, De
Zoysa shares that her 2016 ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women
Award in Marketing was the first
local recognition she received for
her contribution to the industry.

Girls should be
seen and
not heard

“WIM was the first to
recognize my work locally. I’m
grateful that someone took the
time and effort to seek out women
who are making strides in their
industries. WIM was the catalyst
in bringing awareness into my
field of customer experience in Sri
Lanka, and many others have taken
note after this,” said De Zoysa
the recipient of three international
awards, of which, Constellation
Research’s Ambient Experience
50 (AX50) award in 2020 — an
exclusive list recognizing global
leaders in customer experience —
is the latest.

SHIROMAL COORAY

PAGE

As the Vice President of
the Sri Lanka Association for
Software and Services Companies
(SLASSCOM),
the
national
chamber for the Sri Lankan IT/
BPM industry, De Zoysa has
been a pioneer in a man’s world.
SLASSCOM forecasts that the
industry will achieve $5 billion in
exports by 2025, creating 200,000
direct jobs and launching 1,000
start-ups. “If you leave 50 percent
of the population out of the game,
that means you are 50 percent less
likely to reach your full potential.
Only by getting more women to
join the industry and take their
seat at the table, would we be able
to achieve our target of becoming
a five-billion-dollar industry by

2025,” said De Zoysa, who is
widely believed to be next year’s
SLASSCOM Chairperson and the
first woman chair for the Chamber.
As an executive committee
member, De Zoysa has been at
the forefront of SLASSCOM’s
many
initiatives
aimed
at
increasing the number of female
Information Technology (IT)
graduates, fulfilling the criteria
of diversity in potential partners,
building
community-wide
awareness of career opportunities
for women in IT and Business
Process Management (BPM).
The Women Technopreneurs
initiative is one such enterprise
targeted at supporting women techentrepreneurs and women-led startups, especially in the rural sector.

Sandra De
Zoysa
Award: Marketing –

09

Gold (2016)

Her contributions to the
industry gained wide
attention when she won the
‘Gold Award for Banking and
Finance’ in 2017 at the ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards. “The ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards was the
first time I was recognized
outside the bank, where my
services were acknowledged
by a third party.

Sandra De
Zoysa
PAGE

Group Chief Customer Officer –

Dialog Axiata PLC

Thank you and God Bless you!

Top50 Awards - Chair of Panel of Judges 2020
Chairman & Managing Director - Jetwing Travels (Pvt) Ltd
Chairman - Jetwing Hotels Ltd

The Group Chief Customer
Officer at Dialog Axiata PLC,
one of Sri Lanka’s largest
telecommunications
service
providers and the country’s largest
mobile network operator, De Zoysa
manages a team of over 1,000
people and works with multiple
stakeholders across the country.

29

I

n 1989, when Shashi Kandambi
Jassim graduated from high
school, Sri Lanka was in a state
of civil unrest. Universities were shut
down, depriving Kandambi Jassim
the opportunity to pursue higher
education. Determined, she decided to
join Sampath Bank to gain professional
qualifications and industry experience.
With a career of over 30 years with
the Bank, Kandambi Jassim has served
across departments and contributed her
time to serving the larger industry as
an active member of the Association
of Professional Bankers — Sri Lanka
(APBSL), which has the broadest
representation of banking professionals
in the country. She went on to serve
on the Board of APBSL as the President
and spearheaded many training
programs and conventions aimed at
capacity building and skill development
for young bankers.
Her contributions to the industry

gained
wide
attention when she
won the ‘Gold Award
for Banking and Finance’ in
2017 at the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards. “The
‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards was the first time I was
recognized outside the bank, where my
services were acknowledged by a third
party. It was a huge boost for morale,
and I received a lot of appreciation from
the industry as well,” said Kandambi
Jassim.

positions in banking. When I was
younger, I used to look up to my seniors
and aspire to be like them. Today’s
young women have more and more
women role models to look up to as
they navigate their careers,” she said.
Going forward, Kandambi Jassim
plans to use her knowledge to help
women entrepreneurs start and scale-up
micro, small, and medium businesses.
“With my years of banking experience,
I understand the issues in finance,
management, and HR that confront an
entrepreneur. I’m also keenly aware of
the barriers for women entrepreneurs in
gaining access to capital markets and
my goal is to form an organization that
will help skilled women entrepreneurs
bridge these gaps.”

Kandambi Jassim continues to
be at the top of her game. Promoted
to Senior Deputy General
Manager Corporate Banking
at Sampath Bank, she
shares her experiences
and knowledge with
young
aspiring
bankers, speaking
at
various
industry
and
national panels.
“I have been
approached by
many young
women who
are
looking
to overcome
challenges and
reach leadership

Shashi
Kandambi Jassim

Senior Deputy
General Manager
Sampath Bank
Award: Banking and Finance
Gold (2017)

Shashi
Kandambi
Jassim
PAGE

37

11 Women Top 50

Top50 Professional & Career Women Awards

Women Top 50 30

Panel of Judges 2020

Nadija Tambiah,

Executive Vice President of John
Keells Group,

Shiromal Cooray,

H.E. David John Holly,

Chair of Panel of Judges
2020Chairman & Managing
Director of Jetwing Travels,

High Commissioner of Australia
to Sri Lanka,

Nisthar Casim,

Editor of Daily Finance Times,

Dr. Rohantha Athukorala,
CEO of Clootrack
Sri Lanka/Maldives & Pakistan,

Rohan Maskorala,

CEO of Shippers Academy
Colombo (Pvt) Ltd.

Kumar Samarasinghe
Marketing Consultant

Thamari Senanyake,

Associate Director Corporate of
Regulatory Affairs & Consumer Care
Fontera Brands Lanka (Pvt) Ltd,

Jayanthi Dharmasena,

Managing Director of Hayleys
Agriculture Holdings Ltd, Kumara
Samarasinghe, Marketing Consultant,

Sarah Twig

Program Manager, Women in Work
International Finance Corporation

Top50 Professional
& Career Women
Awards Panel of
Judges 2020
PAGE

11

Women Top 50 38

W

ith over 25 years of engineering and
project management experience
in energy and environmental
engineering, Sharmila Ragunathan was a
shoo-in for ‘Career Role Model of the Year’
at the 2019 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards. An electronics engineer with
an MBA from the University of Colombo,
Ragunathan has had many firsts in her life.
She started her career as a management
trainee — one among a small group of
women engineers — at Hayleys PLC. Among
others, Ragunathan implemented Sri Lanka’s
largest township water supply project and
secured the nation’s first build-operatetransfer (BOT) project in water/wastewater
management. Continuing her tenure with the
Hayleys Group, Ragunathan currently sits on
the Board of Haycarb PLC and is the Director
of Puritas (Pvt) Ltd, Haycarb’s environmental
engineering arm.

Sharmila
Ragunathan

Recalling her days as a female engineer
in Sri Lanka in 1996, Ragunathan said,
“During those early years when I turned up at
an Engineering Consultant’s office, I would
have a visibly irritated gentleman telling me
that he thought an “engineer” was coming to
see him!” At the time, Ragunathan was one
of a handful of women working in a maledominated field.

Executive
Director &
Director of
Environmental
Engineering –
Haycarb PLC

Ragunathan also recalls the ‘not-solaughable challenges’ of navigating highprofile public-private partnerships as a Sri
Lankan Tamil woman, amid a war-torn
economy. She thanks her employer for
providing a discrimination-free environment
where she could pursue her passion for
sustainable energy and environment.

Award: Career
Role Model of
the Year (2019)

Speaking about the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards, Ragunathan
noted, “It was overwhelming to see how
many young women, especially within my
organization, connected with the award. I felt
that it gave them a space where they could
visualize their goals and connect with a career
they valued. Some even reached out to me
to share how it inspired and boosted their
confidence.”

Sharmila
Ragunathan
PAGE

Ragunathan continues her trailblazing
work, as she focuses on manufacturing 100
percent locally produced Oxypura facemasks.
She aims to take the brand to a global platform
while serving communities — affected by
chronic kidney disease — through ‘Puritas
Sath Diyawara,’ now Hayleys Group’s
Corporate Social Responsibility platform.

30

A

mother of two, Dilhani Iresha
De Silva transformed her onewoman sewing business into a
thriving enterprise, selling handloom
products to tourists. When she won
the ‘Upcoming Woman Entrepreneur
Award’ in 2016, De Silva’s DHD
Handlooms employed four women,
who worked on four machines out
of her living room, bringing in a
monthly profit of approximately Rs
40,000 ($217).
The awards catapulted her to
the spotlight, garnering much media
attention both nationally and globally.
This enabled De Silva to secure a
greater number of international
buyers. Today, she runs a 12-woman
operation, with six machines, and
is putting the final touches to a
factory space. Prior to COVID-19
pandemic, during the tourist season
in her hometown of Galle, DHD
Handlooms brings in a monthly
profit of approximately Rs 300,000
($1,630), a 650 percent increase from
her previous monthly earnings.
“The ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards was the
first recognition I received for my
business. It was like a seal of approval

Women Top 50 12

Ten years on, De Silva’s DHD
Handlooms has ventured
into the export market,
boasting a loyal national and
international customer base.
Through diversification and
innovation, DHD Handlooms
has stayed ahead of the
curve — introducing new
and exciting color palettes
and producing everything
from clothes to soft toys.

that attracted more international and
local buyers. We were able to grow
and scale the business because of
this. I received many other regional
and national level awards after the
recognition from WIM.”
When De Silva made the difficult
choice to pass on a teaching transfer
in favor of being a stay-at-home
mom to her two young sons, she did
not expect to become a successful
entrepreneur. Ten years on, De Silva’s
DHD Handlooms has ventured into
the export market, boasting a loyal
national and international customer
base.
Through
diversification
and innovation, DHD Handlooms

has stayed ahead of the curve —
introducing new and exciting color
palettes and producing everything
from clothes to soft toys.
“The ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards gave me the
exposure to grow bigger and expand
my export share. I was able to earn
more and hire more women from my
village. My ultimate goal is to make
DHD Handlooms a household name
and become a female entrepreneur of
global recognition,” De Silva added.

Dilhani Iresha
De Silva

A

12

Tania
Polonnowita
Wettimuny

trailblazer in a male-dominated industry,
Tania Polonnowita Wettimuny has shattered
the glass ceiling and is helping other women
do the same.

Lessons from
an illustrious
corporate career

“Being recognized for my contributions in the
freight and logistics industry was a deeply fulfilling
experience as it reaffirmed the work women have
been doing in what is still a male-dominated field,”
said Wettimuny, the recipient of the ‘Gold Award
in the Supply Chain Management’ category at the
2016 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards.
At the time of the award, Wettimuny was the
Managing Director and local partner of Hellmann
Worldwide Logistics (Pvt) Ltd, a German-based
logistics company currently ranked 10th in the
world in freight forwarding and logistics.
Wettimuny counts over 25 years in the industry.
Starting as a management trainee, she worked
her way up the ranks. Finally, she started her own
business under the name of IAS Holdings (Pvt) Ltd,
which comprises two multi-national joint ventures
worth US$ 4.8 billion and US$ 2 billion, respectively.
In 2015, she was nominated as Chairperson
of the Sri Lanka Logistics & Freight Forwarders
Association, which is the apex body of the freight
and logistics industry in Sri Lanka. She served
for two terms and was the first woman to lead
an association of such high caliber in the freight
industry of the Indian sub-continent.

Tania Polonnowita

Wettimuny

Entrepreneur, Group Managing
Director – IAS Holdings
Awards: Supply Chain
Management–Gold (2016)

PAGE

31

Women Top 50 32
Women Top 50 16

Message from the Women
Top50 Conference Chair

I

t was a great pleasure to take part in TOP 50
Conference as Chairperson specially to demonstrate
the resilience and agility of Women In Management
during a crisis period through meticulous planning
and executing key events in the WIM annual calendar.
By nature and nurture, women are determined and
courageous so this event itself displayed the strong
traits women possess, further through this conference
Women In Management “ Women in Management had
in-depth’ in-depth conversations on stage to discuss
challenges encountered by both career and business
women/men during a crisis. Over 22 eminent speakers
discussed remedies, strategies and success stories
through their intensive experience and exposure to
shape our thinking and behaviour for the next phase of
our journey to create value to our economy and to lead
an exemplary manner during a crisis

and grateful for all our partners IFC & DFAT and
stakeholders for the collaboration especially amidst
a crisis that continued with a purposeful cause to
contribute to greater success of the TOP 50 Conference
presented by Women In Management. We strongly
believe rich content and insights definitely inspired
many irrespective of gender to be an elite performer in
their respective industry at the same time by organizing
very first virtual conference members of Women In
Management also gained novel set of experience.

Shanika Ranaweera

Women Top50 Conference Chair 2020

On this occasion, we are very much delighted

Message from
the WomenTop50
Conference Chair
PAGE

16

Message from the New
Generation Awards Chair
I am truly privileged and honoured to have been chosen
as the Award Chair of the New Generation Awards 2020 – the
inaugural edition of an exclusive celebration of Sri Lankan
youth.
As a successful global brand, “Women Top50”, which
represents Sri Lankan women in the global stage, has identified
and recognized more than 500 women leaders in the past 10
years through the “Top50 WIM Awards”. WIM is a brand to
reckon with as a trendsetter and its many admirable initiatives,
especially in recognising talent and bringing it to the spotlight,
while also making a positive impact to the nation and the
economy, and the initiative to recognise youth is an extension of
WIM’s ingenuity. It is indeed significant that the National Youth
Services Council stepped forward to join hands with WIM for a
synergetic private-public partnership to recognise young talent.
The New Generation Awards 2020 was held on 08th
December 2020 at Regent Country Club – Malabe with the
objective of casting the spotlight on extraordinary young
leadership by recognising contribution to their communities,
to the nation and to the world at large in a range of sectors.
Following an extensive process of screening, our panel of
judges found 24 young achievers, representing both genders and
ethnicities from all the provinces.
The journey that has begun with the New Generation Awards
will not end here. WIM has already mapped out a strategy
to launch a new chapter for youth leaders and to direct them
towards continuous development.
As a member who joined Women in Management at its
inception, being recognized as the “Member of the Year” for the
first time at the Top50 Professional and Career Women Awards 2016, being an Executive Committee Member for 04 years and

Women Top 50

D

Karunaratne

When Karunaratne was awarded
the ‘Supply Chain and Logistics Gold
Assistant
Award’ at the ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Vice President
Career Women Awards in 2019, she
already had a proven track record. As
Maritime, Logistics
the Commercial Marketing Manager
& Freight – Aitken
at South Asia Gateway Terminals
(Pvt) Ltd (SAGT), she had contributed
Spence
to double-digit growth over three
consecutive years. By then, she had also
convinced the business to introduce targeted
internship and mentorship programs to increase
recruitment and retention of women.

Award
Supply Chain and
Logistics–Gold
(2019)

Since December 2019, Karunaratne has been the
Assistant Vice President of Maritime, Logistics &
Freight at Aitken Spence Maritime. “Winning the ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career Women Award definitely
empowered me to position myself as a suitable candidate
to this role and expand my experience in the supply chain
industry,” said Karunaratne.

PAGE

A strong proponent of the business benefits of diverse
and inclusive workplaces, Karunaratne is a mainstay
in many panels and forums. She has been featured in
the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
(SAARC) Business Leaders’ Conclave, IFC SheWorks
Sri Lanka partnership, Asia Women’s Rugby 7s Captains
Forum, DP World, and AP Moller Maersk Group. She
continues to leverage the recognition from the ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women Awards in her work to
create gender parity in workplaces, provide mentorship,
and actively develop talent pipelines for women in
maritime and logistics in Sri Lanka.

Chairing an award ceremony of this magnitude was a massive
undertaking, especially during the most challenging period of
recent human history. Yet, I considered it as a great opportunity
to have been part of recognising young personalities aspiring
to be future leaders, while associating with industry experts,
not forgetting the support I received from my fellow organizing
committee members - which was truly amazing - in order to
reach our common vision.
The invisible pillar of strength behind all this was Dr.
Sulochana Segera, an individual always passionate about
providing equal opportunities to all, someone who is able to
recognise underlying talents and sets the platform to showcase
those to the world. With her guidance and the team effort of the
WIM team, I believe that the WIM Global Brand will achieve
success in all future endeavours and I invite everybody to
collaborate with us for a successful journey.

Kushlani Perera

Awards Chair - Inaugural Edition
New Generation Awards 2020

passionate
about youth

Dhashma
Karunaratne

She continues to leverage the recognition
from the ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards in her work to create gender
parity in workplaces, provide mentorship, and
actively develop talent pipelines for women in
maritime and logistics in Sri Lanka.
“When I won the ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards, it was a significant achievement for me,
as it was an endorsement of my years of contribution to
the Port of Colombo and my team’s and mentees’
hard work and commitment towards performance
excellence. Notable awards like this play an
integral role in transforming lives and inspires
scores of people who day in day out make
tremendous effort to impact a team; a business,
an industry; an economy, a community; a
nation,” said Karunaratne, who was also Chair
of Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT),
the women’s forum of the Chartered Institute of
Logistics and Transport. Karunaratne served for
two terms, mentoring many women in her capacity
as an industry leader.

serving as the Honorary Secretary of WIM for the last 03 years,
I am extremely proud to witness the success and the qualitative
improvement that WIM has achieved over a period of time. I
vouch for the fact that WIM membership has given me priceless
experiences, precious opportunities and unlimited exposure
throughout my career and personal life, which I am sincerely
thankful for.

I am

46

Dhashma

hashma Karunaratne is a trailblazer in the maledominated field of maritime logistics in Sri Lanka
where women make up a mere three percent of
employees.

empowerment,

Dhashma
Karunarathne

32

skills needed to navigate through the
challenges caused by the pandemic.
Sessions
ranged
from
sharing
experiences from women leaders
who have led organizations through
COVID-19 to coping with work from
home, balancing work, family, employer
and employee expectations.
The conference commenced on
1st December with Hemas Holdings
Group CEO, Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson,
sharing her extensive knowledge on the
theme ‘The paradox of leadership after
COVID-19.’ With a touch of personal

stories and experiences, Kasturi talked
about her journey sharing insights on
how situational leadership should be
adopted. According to her, “you have to
slow down and start the race again when

there is a transformation happening.”
This was followed by a panel
discussion on ‘Lessons from the
lockdown:
Navigating
leadership
techniques
during
COVID-19,’
moderated by Summaiya Macan
Markar, Head of Legal and Compliance
at Allianz Insurance Lanka Ltd. . The
insightful session featured Amena Arif,
IFC Country Manager for Sri Lanka and
Maldives, Shehara Jayawardena, Joint
Managing Director McLarens Group, ,
Yasas Hewage, Director/Co-founder of
Dafedil Academy of Business, , Shermila

33 Women Top 50

Women Top50
Virtual
Conference 2020
PAGE

17

T

he award for ‘Emerging
Leader of the Year’ in 2016
at the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards marked a
turning point in Ranmal Ekanayake’s
career. As the CEO of Sri Lanka’s
leading design school, Academy of
Designs (AOD), which is affiliated with
Northumbria University UK, Ekanayake
was a well-known leader in the education
field.
The award inspired Ekanayake to push
the envelope further. “After winning the
award, I started to think differently and was
more confident to venture into a completely new
industry. When I got the opportunity to join Sri
Lanka’s largest e-commerce network — Kapruka.
com — as their Vice President, I was ready for
the challenge,” said Ekanayake, reflecting on how
the award gave her the confidence to embrace a new
challenge in a brand- new industry.

Throughout her career, empowering women has been
a passion for Ekanayake. She worked hard to ensure there
was a pipeline of talented future leaders among the women
on her teams, and proudly recalls the many successful former
mentees who are now capable leaders. She also provides
guidance to rural women in business development, helping
them generate income and support livelihoods and well-being.
“The ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women Awards
generated a lot of local media attention and helped me gain
recognition for my career in the corporate arena,” said
Ekanayake. Today, as the Vice President of Kapruka, she
supports small and medium entrepreneurs develop their
businesses and thrive in the e-commerce sphere. The program
has achieved several goals, including increasing the number
of women entrepreneurs in rural areas, assisting them in
launching their online businesses, and supporting their
household and community.

Throughout her career,
empowering women has been
a passion for Ekanayake. She
worked hard to ensure there
was a pipeline of talented future
leaders among the women on
her teams, and proudly recalls the
many successful former mentees
who are now capable leaders.

Women Top 50 51

I never compare myself

Ranmal
Ekanayake

Vice
President
Grass
hoppers.lk

WIM
Award:
Emerging
Leader of the
Year
(2016)

Ranmal
Ekanayake
PAGE

33

Message from the
New Generation
Awards Chair
PAGE

with others,

but, I work really hard.

As the General Manager – Digital
User Experience Design & Channel
Adoption at Dialog Axiata,
Waruni Algama has had a long
and exemplary tenure of more
than two decades under a single
employer, to whom contentment,
loyalty and integrity and service
had been the drivers that
modelled her to the top. Waruni
spoke extensively about the
creativity and ingenuity required
by an effective digital knowledge
manager to create a unique user
experience. Communication and
collaboration are critical skills of
leadership in a good designer
of user experience said Waruni
who spoke on the importance
of change in telecom to be up
on with the changes therein to
intensify the best user experience
in the digital sphere.

40

I am
passionate
about youth
empowerment,
PAGE

17 Women Top 50

Women Top50 Virtual
Women Top50 Virtual
Conference 2020
Conference 2020
Wrapped Up with Insights on
Leading through Crisis

The lockdown and social distancing
measures in place has had a significant
toll on business operations as well as
on employees. This year’s conference
focused on leadership techniques and

38

Award:
Upcoming Woman
Entrepreneur
Award (2016)

31 Women Top 50

PAGE

T

PAGE

Founder – DHD
Handloom

Women Top 50 40

Attorney-at-Law Dilani
Alagaratnam’s final assignment
with her long-term
employer, John Keells
Holdings was as
President Group
HR, Legal,
ERM, CSR and
Sustainability.
In this interview
with Women Top
50, Dilani recounted
her corporate journey
that began when
diversity at Board level
was minimum, going on to
outline the dynamics of the
altered workplace setting of
today, the issue of gender paygap, skill choices of the emerging
workforce, and the influence of the
local and global political landscape
on business.

he four day deliberations of
the Women Top50 conference
2020 organized by Women in
Management (WIM), in partnership
with IFC, a member of the World Bank
Group, and the Australian Government
successfully concluded on a high note.
Under the theme ‘Leading Through
Crisis,’ this year’s conference, held for
the third consecutive year, was hosted
as a virtual forum, adapting to the new
norm. The conference held during
the first week of December focused
on sharing knowledge on navigating
through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dilhani Iresha
De Silva

45

I never compare
myself with others,
but, I work really
hard.
PAGE

51

Women Top 50 04

05 Women Top 50

I

n 2020, WIM Top50 Professional and Career Women
Awards celebrated 10 years of recognizing women’s
achievement in Sri Lanka. Looking back, I realize that,
it was not about just an event, it was about the brands that
I have created by bestowing recognition to over 500 women
serving in different fields, accompanied by a desire to be a
light in this dark world that has made WIM Top50
Awards a success.
Many people wait for the right time
and for a stable environment to initiate
something, but that was not the case
with me. In fact, I will say that it
was the opposite. In my early 30’s I
left a promising career to play the
role of mother and father to my two
children with no financial support.
With no business background, I went
ahead and started my own consulting
company, struggled with home, business
and children. As a young woman it was
one of the most exacting periods of my life.
I believe that I have managed to come this
far because I never waited for the right time and
neither did I have any reservations about my intentions.

what people are made of, still everyone has a story to tell.
With these interviews I am still on a learning curve. Many
of the individuals that I have interviewed had a story, but
most importantly for 90% of them, my talk show was their
first public interview.
In addition, when Top50 Awards celebrated 10 years in
2020, I introduced the New Generation Awards. I
do not believe in being comfortable with where
I am today. I continue to look for a purpose
in life. The New Generation Awards is
aimed at celebrating and recognizing
young talent, achievements and
contribution to this country. This
new awards is different, in that,
I made it gender neutral. On 8th
December 2020 when 25 young
people received recognition for their
achievements I realized that there is
always a positive outcome when you
have the right intention.

Changing
the game

When WIM celebrated 10 years in 2019, I launched
Plain-T with Sulo, a Talk Show to change and inspire men
and women. I am not a TV presenter, neither do I believe
that I possess the looks or training to be a TV presenter.
Yet, as a believer in the “Power of Intention”, I launched
the talk show under my name. For the past 2 years I have
interviewed 40 personalities, local and international, in
Sinhala and in English. My intention was to make a change
in the way talk shows generally work, where the focus
is quite often someone popular, an actor, a business
legend or a politician; I wanted to speak with any
woman or man who had the ability to inspire
others and show that perfect imperfections are

The journey of WIM and WIM Top50
Awards was fraught from failures, grew out of
an experience that led me sometimes through the
deepest and darkest recesses, but through it all its intention
was pure; it was a creation that sprang forth from love and
passion.
I sign off with gratitude to Nilam Samsudeen, who has
been the pillar of WIM’s success, to IFC and DFAT for
partnering for the past 6 years, to all business partners,
friends, WIM members and my family.

Dr. Sulochana Segera
Founder/Chairperson
Women in Management

Women Top 50 06

T

his year’s ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women Awards
comes at an unprecedented time. We have all just lived
through a year like no other with the ongoing global crisis,
triggered by COVID-19, exacting a harsh toll on people and
businesses.
It remains a challenging time for many women and men.
So as we honor the work of top women in Sri Lanka through the
‘Top 50’ Awards by Women in Management (WIM), in partnership
with IFC, it’s also fitting to acknowledge that in many ways,
women have borne the brunt of the impact from both an economic
and social perspective, eating away decades of hard-won battles in
terms of gender equality.
With plummeting economic activities due to COVID-19

Amena Arif

Country Manager
International Finance
Corporation
Sri Lanka & Maldives

Persevering
through Crisis
restrictions, women, who typically earn less and hold less secure
jobs than men, are at a risk of losing work and livelihoods. In Sri
Lanka, some of the industries hit the hardest by the pandemic, such
as the garment sector, are primary employers of women.
Women business owners and employees have also often taken
on greater household responsibilities, including for child and elder
care, in the face of school closures and restrictions on mobility.
These factors have combined to result in more women losing their
jobs due to the pandemic than men – global estimates suggest
women’s job loss rates are about 1.8 times higher than men’s. There
has also been a sharp rise in gender-based violence as a result of the
worldwide lockdown and the increased financial pressures faced by
individuals and families.
First a health crisis and then an economic crisis, COVID-19 has
taken a severe toll on many businesses, with enterprises large and
small either cutting jobs or reducing work hours of their employees.
Disruptions caused by lockdowns have also impacted the ability of
businesses to keep operating.
As we all look forward to a resilient recovery, there is an
opportunity for the private sector to rebuild their companies with
a focus on gender equality. The women leaders and organizations
that are recognized through the ‘Top 50’ Awards are among those at
the forefront of this recovery effort. We should look to these award
winners as role models and trailblazers for the way ahead.
In addition to co-hosting the awards for the last six years, IFC and
WIM have together created stronger impact in Sri Lanka creating
opportunities for women through the mentorship programs,
training events and more recently, webinar series aimed at skilled
building for stronger careers for women, enabling their progression
from senior management to boards. More than 400 women have
participated in these programs adding to the sustainability of WIM
and broadening its value add.
At IFC, we are helping to address rising inequalities by factoring
gender considerations into our COVID-19 relief and recovery
efforts and supporting private sector companies and investors to do
the same. In Sri Lanka, one of the first countries to draw on support
from IFC’s US$8 billion global COVID-19 fast track financing
facility, we supported one of our longstanding partners to help small
businesses survive and in doing so, helped to preserve jobs. Over
one-third of this support went to businesses owned by women.
Globally, during the last fiscal year, over one-third of IFC’s
advisory portfolio of $1.5 billion was dedicated towards efforts
aimed at closing gender gaps. We work with companies to enhance
the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women. We also
help companies increase women’s access to financial services,
technology, information, and markets.
Through the Women in Work partnership with the government
of Australia, we are working to close gender gaps in Sri Lanka’s
private sector while improving business performance. The program
is aimed at enhancing the quality of women’s employment in the
private sector, support increased access to financial and nonfinancial
services for women and women-owned businesses, and help
strengthen linkages with women in private sector supply chains.
And by recognizing the important role women leaders play in the
process of closing gender gaps – as role models, trailblazers and
ultimately as individuals who can start to turn the levers of power –
the WIM Top 50 Awards are an important part of this agenda.

07 Women Top 50

A message
from the acting
Australian High
Commissioner

Amanda Jewell
Acting High Commissioner
Australian High
Commission
Colombo, Sri Lanka

Australia is proud to
be supporting the Top 50
Professional
and
Career
Women
Awards
2020
thorough our Women in Work
program. The awards have been
recognising and celebrating Sri
Lankan women leaders for their
contributions to sustainable and
inclusive economic growth in the
country for the past 10 years. Awards
such as these, within the country,
corporations and communities have
led to more inspiring stories of Sri
Lankan women entering the workforce
and global market. This year it is even
more important to encourage women
to enter, and continue, in the workforce
during COVID-19 as they face additional
care responsibilities and safety concerns.
The recognition and the value
attached to these awards is important
to encourage more women to take up
leadership positions. Among the awards
“Male Champion of Change” is an important
category in recognising men who support
and stand by women on the way to the top.
Australia’s own Male Champions of Change
initiative encourages male leaders to come
together to break down social and cultural
norms and create momentum towards greater
inclusion and diversity.

With only one in three women participating
in Sri Lanka’s formal labour force, increasing
their participation becomes vital for inclusive
economic growth and towards COVID-19 economic
recovery. Research shows that increasing women’s
participation in the economy boosts sustainable
economic growth in the country. In anticipation of
achieving this goal, the Department of Foreign Affairs
and Trade (DFAT) and the International Finance
Corporation (IFC) collaborate on the Women in Work
program, that seeks to increase the number of private
sector players who adopt gender-smart business solutions
and, as a result, report improvements in their performance.
Greater diversity and inclusion in Sri Lanka will, in the
long-term, lead to inclusive economic growth in Sri Lanka.
Happy 10th Anniversary Top 50 Professional and Career
Women Awards!

Women Top 50 08

Top50 Awards
Press Launch

09 Women Top 50

Girls should be seen and

not heard

C

oming from a school system which espoused
that “girls should be seen and not heard”, I am
surprised that I am writing as the Chair of the
Judges awarding “Top 50 Women in Management”!.
Yes, times have changed indeed , and today women
are empowered more and more to compete and excel
in areas hitherto unheard of for women.
This award program which is a collaboration of
WIM, IFC and Australian Aid is very special as it
encompasses all areas and social strata of our society.
From a firebrand young activist to a silent warrior
doing good to a neglected section of our society, to
a clever marketing strategist taking a brand to the
world, and a savvy corporate CEO, who has reached
the pinnacle through sheer hardwork and competence,

The TOP 50 WIM awards recognizes and rewards
them all. Yes, it is indeed a very inclusive and diverse
list of awardees, all carefully evaluated and awarded,
purely on their merit.
On behalf of the rest of the judges I wish to thank
the 3 organizations for organizing this program and
sustaining it for the past 10 years . We wish all the
recipients our heartiest congratulations and sincere
best wishes for future success. We enjoyed reading of
your achievements so far and look forward to seeing
you progress in the years ahead.
Thank you and God Bless you!

SHIROMAL COORAY

Top50 Awards - Chair of Panel of Judges 2020
Chairman & Managing Director - Jetwing Travels (Pvt) Ltd
Chairman - Jetwing Hotels Ltd

Women Top 50 10

11 Women Top 50

Top50 Professional & Career Women Awards

Panel of Judges 2020

Nadija Tambiah,

Executive Vice President of
John Keells Group,

Shiromal Cooray,

Chair of Panel of Judges
2020Chairman & Managing
Director of Jetwing Travels,

H.E. David John Holly,

High Commissioner of Australia
to Sri Lanka,

Nisthar Casim,

Editor of Daily Finance Times,

Dr. Rohantha Athukorala,
CEO of Clootrack
Sri Lanka/Maldives & Pakistan,

Rohan Maskorala,

CEO of Shippers Academy
Colombo (Pvt) Ltd.

Kumar Samarasinghe
Marketing Consultant

Thamari Senanyake,

Associate Director Corporate of
Regulatory Affairs & Consumer Care
Fontera Brands Lanka (Pvt) Ltd,

Jayanthi Dharmasena,

Managing Director of Hayleys
Agriculture Holdings Ltd, Kumara
Samarasinghe, Marketing Consultant,

Sarah Twig

Program Manager, Women in Work
International Finance Corporation

Women Top 50 12

Attorney-at-Law Dilani
Alagaratnam’s final assignment
with her long-term
employer, John Keells
Holdings was as
President Group
HR, Legal,
ERM, CSR and
Sustainability.
In this interview
with Women Top
50, Dilani recounted
her corporate journey
that began when
diversity at Board level
was minimum, going on to
outline the dynamics of the
altered workplace setting of
today, the issue of gender paygap, skill choices of the emerging
workforce, and the influence of the
local and global political landscape
on business.

13 Women Top 50
This may sound like too familiar a
question, but your experience may
have been different and hence useful
for the readers. What were the
challenges, if any, that you had to face
in your journey to the top at JKH?
I did not have a challenge as such
which was all pervading. I was fortunate
to work in an enabling environment
where fact of being a woman was not
material to any decision, and you were
judged by your work and not by your
gender.
I joined the organisation in 1992.
This was immediately thereafter its first
Sri Lankan chairman was appointed
and also 3 very young persons, of early
30s, appointed appointed to the Board
immediately thereafter, breaking away
from corporate traditions that prevailed
at that time. away from corporate
traditions that prevailed at the time.
One of the 3 was a woman and possibly
the only woman amongst the top 25
companies at that time. In this backdrop
I was fortunate that I joined the company
when the tone had already been set from
the top.
Like anyone, I had challenges
managing my home time and work
time. These demands varied depending
on needs of my own personal life cycle.
However, I never got weighed down by
work as I believed in working smart.
Further, I had a very supportive home
environment where work ethic was
paramount.
Having been in HR and given your
legal credentials, what mechanism do
women use to cope with working in a
male-dominated work environment?
The coping mechanisms can vary
from not letting it bother them, being
realistic that that the composition is not
going to change overnight and therefore
getting on with their jobs and carve out
their own niche; to trying to act like men
to seek perceived inclusion.
Do you think societal expectations
and beliefs about women’s leadership
abilities have evolved for the better
over time?
Yes, definitely. There are so many
role models today we can look up
to and learn from. The exposure to
how things are done globally with the
current unlimited access to information,
globalization, increased travel overseas
by Sri Lankans for work/vacations
have helped in changing the societal

expectations and leadership abilities.
Have you had any mentors, in your
career and personal life, women in
particular?
I have had mentors. Only woman,
who has made a lasting impact is my
mother, who bodes no excuses and lives
by the mantra that everything is in the
realm of possibility.
Researchers have pointed out that one
of the main problems that contributes
to the gender pay gap is occupational
segregation, where men and women
remain concentrated in different jobs
and fields. Based on your experience,
how far is this true for Sri Lanka and
what has been done so far to address
and minimize this trend?
Job worth, which can be assessed
using certain proprietary tools, can and
most likely vary from one job to another.
Therefore, if we leave gender out of it,
every job does not pay the same sum
though every job in a particular setting
theoretically should pay the same. It is
discriminatory practices on the part of an
employer that would skew this.
If one looks at the question why
certain jobs do not have enough men
or women in them, this has its roots
in societal beliefs. These beliefs are
changing, and barriers are breaking
down. Thus, today we have men as
pre-school teachers and women have
moved into working in space stations to
hard core sales, though the numbers, in
comparison, are few.
In Sri Lanka, with equality before the
law and non-discrimination guaranteed
by the Constitution, there is unlikely
to be a gender pay gap in the public
sector. When it comes to the private
sector, the Wages Boards decisions are
not discriminatory and private sector is
bound by them. However, there could
be discriminatory practices adopted at
a white-collar level. Such practices,
though not regulated, are unsustainable.
They lead to employers losing out on the
best talent in the medium to long term.
This would therefore ultimately impact
the business negatively both by way of
reputation and profits.
Though there is opportunity to
discriminate at these levels, good
employers don’t. They adhere to a code
of conduct or principles that clearly
set out non-discrimination as a core
principle. The advent of social media,
and portals like Glassdoor allows people

In Sri Lanka, with equality
before the law and nondiscrimination guaranteed
by the Constitution, there
is unlikely to be a gender
pay gap in the public sector.
When it comes to the
private sector, the Wages
Boards decisions are not
discriminatory and private
sector is bound by them.
However, there could be
discriminatory practices
adopted at a white-collar
level. Such practices,
though not regulated, are
unsustainable. They lead to
employers losing out on the
best talent in the medium
to long term. This would
therefore ultimately impact
the business negatively
both by way of reputation
and profits.

to call out miscreants. Further, the
proposed changes to the labour laws
will make such discrimination difficult
as non-discrimination will become a
justiciable right.
How do you think this male-female
segregation in jobs will change with
the millennials and especially Gen Z
or the iGeneration being exposed to
many choices of independent work
and ‘passion’ driven choices?
These younger generations have
a very global outlook, are exposed to
social media from virtually their birth
and do not see themselves lesser than the
next person. Therefore, I believe that
they will demand non-discrimination
and complete transparency. As the

Women Top 50 14

iGeneration enters
the
workplace
towards
attracting
them,
organisations
will be compelled to
adopt non-discriminatory
practices. It will become
the norm and the gap will
close with time. I reckon that
it will happen faster than it did a
decade ago, when one considers
the current trends.
Political stability is a necessary
condition for an enabling business
environment. The focus in this
regard is always on an incumbent
government. But can the business
community here play a role in helping
achieve sustained political stability
while moving away from cronyism,
which the private sector has also been
accused of and benefited from?
Business community and the civil
society in general can and should
pressure governments to agree on and
stick to certain fundamental overarching
policies which should apply irrespective
of which government is in power. This
minimizes instability in the private
sector as well as the public sector and
allows them to function without too
many costly upheavals or disruptions.
What

businesses

have

wanted

I joined the organisation
in 1992. This was
immediately after its
first Sri Lankan chairman
was appointed and also 3
very young persons, of early
30s, appointed to the Board,
breaking away from corporate
traditions that prevailed at that
time. One of the 3 was a woman and
possibly the only woman amongst
the top 25 companies at that time.
In this backdrop I was fortunate that I
joined the company when the tone had
already been set from the top.

from successive governments is policy
certainty. It would be very difficult for all
businesses to speak with one voice, just
as much as the civil society cannot. It is
an ideal we can pursue but I am unsure
whether we will achieve this utopian
dream. However, businesses could,
through the Chambers they belong to,
put forward their collective thinking.
There are bound to be black sheep and
we should not find fault with the private
sector for acts and omissions of a few.
We love controversies and sometimes
get clouded by them and lose the wood
for the trees.
The diverse collection of obstacles and
potential dangers occurring globally
exposes companies/businesses to risks,
threatening their strategic objectives
and opportunities and affecting their
financial wellbeing. What in your
opinion, given your experience will be
the risks threatening local companies
as a result of local and global trends?
Adage that we live in a global

village, is now being played out very
painfully with the global crisis we are
facing with COVID-19. It brings home
how dependent we are on one another,
whether we are from the global north
or the south, whether we are in a large
metropolis or a remote village tucked
away in a far-flung place. All global
supply chains are connected, and we
are seeing the effects of the “factory
of the world” closing as well as the
reality of the porousness of our political
boundaries.
If we do not assess risks systematically
on a continuous basis and mitigate and
or identify the mitigatory steps that will
come into play on the happening of an
event, to the extent of the risk appetite
of the business, we will be ill prepared to
weather these risks. Every organisation
should have a risk grid which they revisit
and update periodically, to take the
element of surprise out of the equation.

15 Women Top 50

Women Top 50 16

Message from the Women
Top50 Conference Chair

I

t was a great pleasure to take part in TOP 50
Conference as Chairperson specially to demonstrate
the resilience and agility of Women In Management
during a crisis period through meticulous planning
and executing key events in the WIM annual calendar.
By nature and nurture, women are determined and
courageous so this event itself displayed the strong
traits women possess, further through this conference
Women In Management “ Women in Management had
in-depth’ in-depth conversations on stage to discuss
challenges encountered by both career and business
women/men during a crisis. Over 22 eminent speakers
discussed remedies, strategies and success stories
through their intensive experience and exposure to
shape our thinking and behaviour for the next phase of
our journey to create value to our economy and to lead
an exemplary manner during a crisis
On this occasion, we are very much delighted

and grateful for all our partners IFC & DFAT and
stakeholders for the collaboration especially amidst
a crisis that continued with a purposeful cause to
contribute to greater success of the TOP 50 Conference
presented by Women In Management. We strongly
believe rich content and insights definitely inspired
many irrespective of gender to be an elite performer in
their respective industry at the same time by organizing
very first virtual conference members of Women In
Management also gained novel set of experience.

Shanika Ranaweera

Women Top50 Conference Chair 2020

17 Women Top 50

Women Top50 Virtual
Women Top50 Virtual
Conference 2020
Conference 2020
Wrapped Up with Insights on
Leading through Crisis

T

he four day deliberations of
the Women Top50 conference
2020 organized by Women in
Management (WIM), in partnership
with IFC, a member of the World Bank
Group, and the Australian Government
successfully concluded on a high note.
Under the theme ‘Leading Through
Crisis,’ this year’s conference, held for
the third consecutive year, was hosted
as a virtual forum, adapting to the new
norm. The conference held during
the first week of December focused
on sharing knowledge on navigating
through the COVID-19 pandemic.

skills needed to navigate through the
challenges caused by the pandemic.
Sessions
ranged
from
sharing
experiences from women leaders
who have led organizations through
COVID-19 to coping with work from
home, balancing work, family, employer
and employee expectations.

The lockdown and social distancing
measures in place has had a significant
toll on business operations as well as
on employees. This year’s conference
focused on leadership techniques and

stories and experiences, Kasturi talked
about her journey sharing insights on
how situational leadership should be
adopted. According to her, “you have to
slow down and start the race again when

The conference commenced on
1st December with Hemas Holdings
Group CEO, Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson,
sharing her extensive knowledge on the
theme ‘The paradox of leadership after
COVID-19.’ With a touch of personal

there is a transformation happening.”
This was followed by a panel
discussion on ‘Lessons from the
lockdown:
Navigating
leadership
techniques
during
COVID-19,’
moderated by Summaiya Macan
Markar, Head of Legal and Compliance
at Allianz Insurance Lanka Ltd. . The
insightful session featured Amena Arif,
IFC Country Manager for Sri Lanka and
Maldives, Shehara Jayawardena, Joint
Managing Director McLarens Group, ,
Yasas Hewage, Director/Co-founder of
Dafedil Academy of Business, , Shermila

Women Top 50 18

Ragunathan, Director of Haycarb
Environmental Engineering, and Nehi
Singha, Scientist/Academician. The
discussion looked into the different
leadership techniques and methods
adopted by the panel to navigate their
respective organizations and businesses
through difficult times, including crisis
management techniques. The panelists
also spoke on how they needed to
embrace change and accept the new way
of life, and also on the importance of
having the right attitudes to face the very
fluid state presently in place. The session
also looked into various initiatives
taken by the respective organizations
in terms of staff well- being, including
mental health and other corporate social
responsibilities.
The second day of deliberations
kicked off with a focus on private sector
response to COVID-19. Sarah Twigg,
IFC Women in Work Program Manager
and Lopa Rahman, IFC Corporate
Governance Officer, shared global
insights on the importance of building
resilient businesses, specifically small
and medium enterprises (SMEs),
and on how private sector employers
can support employees through the
COVID-19 crisis. Insights from the
IFC tip sheet for company leadership
on crisis response were also discussed,
including IFC’s experiences with clients
that successfully navigated through the
crisis.
Day 2 continued with a panel
discussion on ‘Occupational Health

and Safety Issues,’ moderated by Lopa
Rahman, IFC Corporate Governance
Officer, featuring Sanath Palliyaguru,
Human Resources Manager, Trelleborg
Lanka (Pvt.) Ltd., Chiranthi Cooray,
Chief Transformation Officer, Hatton
National Bank, Ajith Weerasinghe,
CEO, CIC Feeds/Poultry and Bram
Woltjer, IFC Specialist on Occupational
Health and Safety. The session
speakers representing three sectors
- manufacturing, banking and agri
business - highlighted the importance of
ensuring health and safety at work, not
just to protect lives, but also for business
survival. The panelists shared detailed
technical knowledge on preventing
and managing health risks at the work
place, specially targeting occupational
health and safety of human resources,
customers and other stakeholders,
ensuring business continuity that led to
profitability even during this crisis.
The third day of the virtual Top50
conference started with a session on
‘Gender Diversity at the Board: What
skills, knowledge and techniques
do women bring to the board.’ The
panelists of this session included Aroshi
Nanayakkara, Aruni Rajakariar, Minette
Perera, and Lopa Rahman, moderated by
Ranjan De Silva. Deliberations of this
session targeted those who are in midsenior management and members on
boards, with insights on how diversity
can bring added advantages to the board
room, including 20-40 percent higher
return on assets and return on equity.

The penultimate day of the virtual forum
ended with a session on ‘Work from
home during COVID-19,’ featuring
Roshanie Jayasundera Moraes, Portia
Jayamaha, Suresh Shah, and Suzanne
Wooster Prematilaka, moderated by
Dr. Sulochana Segera. The session
gave more of a practical point of view
in dealing with work life balance,
relationships with spouses and children,
with personal experiences from both
men and women and stories from the
panelists. One insight on ‘work from
home’ is the importance of giving each
other the space required and on being
organized.
The WIM Top 50 virtual conference
2020 successfully concluded on a high
note with powerful messages from a
distinguished panel of speakers including
H.E Trine Jøranli Eskedal, Ambassador
of the Kingdom of Norway to Sri
Lanka and Dr Thomas (Tom) Davis,
Acting Deputy High Commissioner,
Australian High Commission in Sri
Lanka. Moderated by Lopa Rahman,
IFC Corporate Governance Officer, the
speakers shared lessons from gender
equality efforts made in their respective
countries, and how that has led to
impactful transformations. In addition,
they shared some of the immediate
responses made to address challenges
during COVID-19 in Sri Lanka, while
their embassies remain committed to the
longer term priorities. The discussion is
now available on Women in Management
facebook page- @SLWIM.

19 Women Top 50

Women Top 50 20

T

Plain

with
Sulo

21

Women Top 50

Women Top 50 22

Women Top 50 23

Introducing diversity, inclusion
and wellbeing to all managers
and employees at the London
Stock Exchange Group in Sri
Lanka is the responsibility of
Bani Chandrasena as Head of
Inclusive Diversity. As a strong
proponent of good practices in
the work place, she believes in
the importance of doing the right
thing and being a role model for
others to follow. Her passion for
gender diversity had enabled her
to take a lead role in establishing
Diversity Collective Lanka, the
women-in-tech association that
aspires for greater visibility for
women in the IT industry. She
spoke with Women Top 50 about
her work and the impetus for
an inclusive culture at LSEG,
which she believes should be the
widespread practice that would
eventually impact the financial
bottom line.

I would
encourage
leaders,
at every opportunity I get,

to focus on getting
the house in order.

BANI
Chandrasena

How can businesses embody diversity
and inclusion and why should they?
Employees are any companies’
greatest asset. If you can get the best
from your employees, this should make
business sense and will impact the
financial bottom line. Creating inclusive
cultures encourages employees to bring
their best to work and do their best.
Employees bringing their A game to
work impacts businesses in more ways
than financial; it impacts employee

engagement which will have a positive
impact on employee retention. This
culture will also encourage more
diversity, which is one of the most
important business indicators globally
today, and research proves diversity does
impact top line and bottom-line.
If diversity matters so much to ensure
performance and success, then how
should organizations identify the
strongest candidates?
Businesses should always make
selections based on assessments which
directly relate to the job. It is good to
also, where possible, to review potential
for future roles and not just the role at
hand. I would not advocate hiring merely
for diversity. It is important though, to be
aware that at interviews and shortlisting,
we all do tend to make biased decisions

Women Top 50 24

unconsciously. My advice would be to
minimise this kind of decision making,
and to ensure that the assessments for
selection are created inclusively.
Diversity also means that it could
either work for the best or against.
How do you ensure that everyone in
such a complex ecosystem transcends
beyond the rhetoric to make it
successful in practice?
I am a strong advocate for inclusion.
I agree that if you focus (too much?) on
diversity it can be abused, and the impact
can be counterproductive. If inclusion is
the way of life (a few behaviours which
are clear and held as the standard for
everyone) in your company, starting with
leadership being held accountable and
giving every employee a voice towards
holding each other accountable against
unconscious bias and discrimination,
I think that is a good start towards an
authentic inclusive culture.
How about compliance by the
leadership - for instance when at a
national level we hear rhetoric that
somewhat promotes exclusivity and
negates the need for diversity and
inclusion - do you think such a mindset can permeate company leaders
and the working environment?
I don’t think we can wait for others
to do the right thing. I would encourage

leaders, at every opportunity I get, to
focus on getting the house in order. This
I mean at an individual level also, i.e.
even if my company or my community
does not behave as inclusively as I would
like it to, it doesn’t mean I sit back and
watch and wait for others to do right. I
have to be ready to behave as inclusively
as I can within my remit and continue to
do the right thing and be a role model
for others to follow. If everyone thought
like that we would be living in a very
different world. As cliché as it sounds change has to begin with oneself.
Do you think Sri Lanka has highperforming talent that could be
attracted and retained?
Sri Lanka has high performing talent
which has even more potential if there is
more empowerment. I am seeing more
and more young talent that have the
right attitude and potential for massive
performance and innovation, but we
really do need to move away from
the micro management culture. This I
think is one way to kill great ideas and
accountability.
What is your role as Head of Inclusive
Diversity in your organization?
What have you done differently to
be acknowledged at the WIM Top
50 Professional and Career Women’s
awards?

I don’t think
we can wait
for others to
do the right
thing. I would
encourage
leaders,
at every
opportunity
I get, to focus
on getting
the house in
order.

25 Women Top 50
My role has two areas of focus;
within the company to introduce
diversity, inclusion and wellbeing to all
managers and employees and influence
our culture. Also to engage with the
industry and country where appropriate,
to influence these good practices and
thinking, so that LSEG is building
a future pipeline that is diverse and
inclusive in Sri Lanka.

I think is a great complement to D&I;
especially mental wellbeing which is
not talked enough about in Sri Lanka.
Why do you think we see more women
in HR than in most other fields?
HR requires a lot of patience and
multi-tasking, which I think is why many
women have been influenced towards
this field and become successful. I think
HR started more as a caring profession
and role in the company, hence why
more women chose and were chosen for
these roles. Today it has become clear
the importance of the strategic focus on
people which has evolved towards the C
suite roles as companies start realising
the importance of the human capital.
With automation I think the complexity
of how to deal with people, millennials
as well as having employees retiring
later and later from work, will become
even more significant and the people
culture and personal development
would be critical roles within HR that
should be of focus.

I believe I was recognised for my
work in the industry that I have been
involved in the last two years. I lead
the SLASSCOM Capacity Forum that
is building new tools for educating our
teachers and youth on better attitudes and
relevant IT that will lead to life success
impacting high skilled employment
in Sri Lanka. Ensuring there is gender
balance in these projects is a priority for
me.
I have also been part of the pioneering
board that created Diversity Collective
Lanka; the women-in-tech association
that is linked to SLASSCOM, ICTA
and the academia with the objective of
raising the visibility of women in the IT
Industry and driving change starting at
school level, while holding a mirror at
our own IT corporates in Sri Lanka.
With today’s greater visibility
into businesses what do you
think customers demand from
organizations, for instance in terms
of the values that an organization
espouses/stands for?
The consumer has a lot more power
and influence today which means even
customers are being held accountable
towards more holistic intent unlike
before. How company actions impact
individuals, such as you and me, the
environment, and the planet is a lot
stronger and has a voice that cannot be
ignored.
What are some of the best practices
for diversity and inclusion in your
workplace?
We are rolling out a flexible
working policy giving all employees an
opportunity to work from home, as well
as amend working hours when needed,
which we believe will improve worklife balance. We have subsidised Crèche
options for fathers as well as mothers
across all our locations. This includes
support for shift working teams. At a
Group EXCO level, gender diversity
has become a KPI - ensuring that we
stay focused to get a better gender

HR requires a lot of
patience and
multi-tasking, which I
think is why many women
have been influenced
towards this field and
become successful. I think
HR started more as a
caring profession and role
in the company, hence
why more women chose
and were chosen for
these roles.

balance at leadership. We are adding
other diversity initiatives in this decade,
which is a journey LSEG is on as we
do need to build the pipeline in order
to see real change in the future. We are
also making wellbeing a priority which

A personal question, how would
you compare balancing career and
childcare as a single parent in Sri
Lanka and the West? What are the
different dynamics, the support
system, etc.?
I think being a single mom was easier
for me because I was in Sri Lanka. The
support system is much stronger and
affordable, I have found, talking with
my colleagues across the world. I have
my parents that were amazing at helping
but not imposing, even my ex-husband
and family has been supportive. Friends
have been a great support network and
there for childcare and of course the
ability to have maids to support you for
childcare. Looking back, I have used all
these options in raising Tevin. I guess it
is true that it takes a village to raise a
child.
While support is stronger, so is
judgment and interference about raising
a child, how to behave as a woman, and
a mother. What has worked for me is to
take the positive and ignore the negative.
When it comes to how I act and behave,
I decide what is right and wrong which
includes how Tevin -my son- is being
raised. While I try to listen and get a
balanced view, I am known to do my
own thing once I make a decision. I
think it has worked out well for me both
professionally and personally and would
not trade any of it.

Women Top 50 26

A

n initiative by Women in
Management, the International
Finance Corporation (IFC)—a
member of the World Bank Group—and
the government of Australia
“When a trailblazer shares the
challenges she faced in her life journey,
it inspires scores of people to step out
of their comfort zones and charter a
course that is beyond the stereotype. As a
result of this, lives are changed, societies
are enlightened and communities
are transformed,” said Dhashma
Karunaratne, the 2019 winner of ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women Award
for Supply Chain and Logistics.

She is (R)
Evolutionary
‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards
Help Change Women’s
Status-Quo in Sri Lanka

Karunaratne, the Assistant Vice
President for Maritime, Logistics &
Freight at Aitken Spence Maritime, is
one of the many inspiring women who
have been recognized and celebrated
by the ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards over the years.

the 2014 awards. As WIM marks
the 10th anniversary of honoring Sri
Lankan women, this is IFC’s sixth
consecutive year of co-hosting, and the
third in collaboration with Women in
Work—a partnership between IFC and
the government of Australia.

The awards were launched by
Women in Management (WIM) in
2011, when businesswomen were not
formally recognized in Sri Lanka.
What started as a conference centered
on Colombo, the commercial capital
of Sri Lanka with 25 women and five
awards, has now evolved into an annual
event that recognizes the remarkable
achievements of Sri Lankan women in
their careers, businesses, and everyday
lives.

Over the past two decades,
women’s participation in the nation’s
labor force has stagnated between 30
and 35 percent. This is a significant
low considering the continued progress
of Sri Lankan women in education and
other human development indicators.
According to research, a combination
of factors—socio-cultural norms, high
caregiving responsibilities, restrictive
legislature, and misalignment in skills
and qualification with the job market—
have kept women in Sri Lanka on the
sidelines.

With over 420 award winners
across the economic spectrum and in a
wide range of professions — banking
and finance, hospitality, media, legal,
logistics and supply chains — the ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards has been a steppingstone for
many women to becoming recognized
leaders in their respective fields,
organizations, and communities.
Sulochana Segera, Founder/
Chairperson of WIM, notes that over
50 percent of award winners have
experienced career advancements,
while over 90 percent of micro,
small, and medium business owners

recognized by the awards have
reported increased brand recognition
and market growth.
To further amplify this impact,
the International Finance Corporation
(IFC)—a member of the World Bank
Group—joined hands with WIM for

In response, while recognizing the
value of women’s leadership in Sri
Lanka, the ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards is a testimony
to the progress that can be achieved
when women and men are equal
participants in the economy.
As Sarah Twigg, IFC’s Program
Manager for Women in Work
said, “recognizing the exemplary
achievements of women who have
excelled in their careers or businesses,
overcoming stereotypical barriers,
also brings to the fore important role
models who can inspire others.”
Tanya Wettimuny, the 2016 winner
of the Supply Chain Management
Award, is a fine example of this.
Wettimuny, who went on to start her
own freight and logistics company,
IAS Holdings, and actively promotes
the recruitment and retention of
women in a traditionally maledominated industry. She appointed
the first and only female airport cargo
village manager at the Bandaranaike
International Airport, Sri Lanka’s
main international airport. “Being
recognized for my contributions in
freight and logistics was a deeply
fulfilling experience as it reaffirmed
the work women have been doing in
what is still a male-dominated field,”
she said.
Putting the Spotlight on the
National Stage
Moving the awards beyond
Colombo, allowed more Sri Lankan
women to share in the limelight. The

27 Women Top 50
2016 winner of the ‘Upcoming Woman
Entrepreneur Award,’ Dilhani Iresha De
Silva, proprietor of DHD Handlooms, said
the Top50 award was the first recognition
she had ever received. “It was like a seal of
approval that attracted more international
and local buyers. We were able to grow
and scale the business because of the
award,” said De Silva, who was able to
buy two additional machines and hire eight
more women from her village to meet the
growing demand. Usually, and prior to the
impact of COVID-19, DHD Handlooms
had a monthly income of Rs 300,000
($1,630) during the tourist season, a 650
percent increase from the Rs 40,000 ($217)
De Silva’s company was bringing in before
the award.
On expanding the awards beyond
Colombo, Segera said, “We were able to
hold training and awareness sessions at the
divisional secretariat level across the island.
This was vital as many businesswomen in
rural areas did not have the facilities for
capacity building. The application process
of the awards itself served as a learning
ground and a confidence building exercise
for many. The widespread recognition
brought by the awards help normalize
women’s aspirations towards their career
goals.”
Selecting 50 remarkable achievers is
no easy task. Every year, the best in each
category is chosen by a panel of judges
who put together a tough, competitive,
and meticulous process. Kasturi Chellaraja
Wilson, the 2020 Head of Panel of
Judges of the awards and Sri Lanka’s first
female Group CEO of a public-quoted
conglomerate, said, “Prior to being a
judge, I had been a recipient of a Top 50
Professional and Career Women Award,
and the single thing I recall of that event in
2014 was that there are so many amazing
stories of women out there, especially at the
grassroots level. This single impact made
me want to support this body which was
making the effort to connect, impact, and
celebrate women from all walks of life. As
a judge, while the job was never easy, it was
the impact it had on the recipients which
made our time judging worthwhile. I saw
most recipients going back with confidence
and wanting to do more with their lives and
communities.”
Shattering the Glass Ceiling
With the resolute aim of promoting
women’s leadership in Sri Lanka, the
awards have evolved over time. During the
first year, under the partnership between
IFC, WIM, and DFAT, nominations grew

by almost 400 percent, and three more
award categories were added—Best Private
Sector Organization for Gender Equality,
Male Champion of Change, and Women on
Boards.
At IFC’s suggestion, WIM added the
Women on Boards Award category. The aim
was to recognize the relatively few women
who have shattered the glass ceiling.
Minette Perera — Board member of Dilmah
Ceylon Tea Company and the winner of
‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards for Women on Boards in 2019 —
was one of the very first to be accoladed
under this category. She said, “Most of the
companies on which I am a director had
a majority workforce of women, but the
decision makers were mostly men. In board
deliberations, I was able to bring in female
pragmatism, thoughtfulness, and diversity
to the decision-making process. The
recognition through the award highlighted
that professionalism could lead to women
being appointed to male dominated boards
and bring in a female perspective to the
deliberations on many subjects.”
The hard work is paying off. The
latest research by IFC and Colombo Stock
Exchange (CSE) points to a rise in the
number of women board directors. In 2019,
9.6 percent of board directors of CSE listed
companies were women — a significant rise
from 8.5 percent in 2018 and 8.14 percent in
2017.
Steady Partnership
In IFC’s 50 years of operations in Sri
Lanka, WIM has been a longstanding
partner. Beyond the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards, the government
of Australia and IFC’s collaboration with
WIM has created new opportunities for
Sri Lankan women to boost their skills
and access new markets locally and
globally. David Holly, Australian High
Commissioner for Sri Lanka, said that,
“In Sri Lanka, we see our Women in
Work partnership with the IFC, and the
partnership with Women in Management,
as key to advancing opportunities for
women. It is very important for women to
also participate in building a sustainable
economic future for their country.”
IFC’s Women on Boards Training
of Trainers program is an impactful
initiative, which saw the participation of
the WIM founder, award winners, and
council members. Following this, WIM
supported over 500 women entrepreneurs
and professionals to participate in similar
initiatives. This included a two-day WIM

mentorship program and a three-month
mentoring program, where 350 women
entrepreneurs from the north and east of Sri
Lanka were paired up with mentors. Over
60 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women
Award winners shared their expertise
and knowledge as speakers, mentors, and
panelists in these engagements.
Aruni Rajakarier, the 2019 ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women Awards
winner for ‘Inspirational Woman of the
Year,’ and the brain behind the Institute of
Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka’s Board
Ready Female Member Directory, reflected
on the award’s impact on her advocacy
work. “Winning a ‘Top 50’ award gave me
a greater voice at the table to champion the
cause of women at work and women on
boards in corporate Sri Lanka. It unlocked
more opportunities for me to advance this
agenda,” she said.
The WIM network amplifies the
recognition of talented high achievers
throughout the corporate world, also opening
opportunities for women to represent
the country internationally. The awards
have expanded globally with a presence
in Canada and the Maldives, providing
scope for cross-border collaboration and
networking.
As WIM, IFC, and the government
of Australia gear up for the latest edition
of the awards, the priority is to set the
stage for Sri Lankan women and inspire
them to transform the global economy,
so contributing to a more inclusive and
prosperous world.
About IFC
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
fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in
private companies and financial institutions
in developing countries, leveraging the
power of the private sector to end extreme
poverty and boost shared prosperity. For
more information, visit www.ifc.org.
An award that led to a (r)evolutionary
pathway: Stories from 10 past ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women Awards
winners

Women Top 50 28

Women Top 50 29

W

ith over 30 years in the
mobile/telco
industry,
Sandra De Zoysa is Sri
Lanka’s only certified Customer
Experience Professional. Having
won many accolades for Sri Lanka
on the international stage, De
Zoysa shares that her 2016 ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women
Award in Marketing was the first
local recognition she received for
her contribution to the industry.
“WIM was the first to
recognize my work locally. I’m
grateful that someone took the
time and effort to seek out women
who are making strides in their
industries. WIM was the catalyst
in bringing awareness into my
field of customer experience in Sri
Lanka, and many others have taken
note after this,” said De Zoysa
the recipient of three international
awards, of which, Constellation
Research’s Ambient Experience
50 (AX50) award in 2020 — an
exclusive list recognizing global
leaders in customer experience —
is the latest.

The Group Chief Customer
Officer at Dialog Axiata PLC,
one of Sri Lanka’s largest
telecommunications
service
providers and the country’s largest
mobile network operator, De Zoysa
manages a team of over 1,000
people and works with multiple
stakeholders across the country.
As the Vice President of
the Sri Lanka Association for
Software and Services Companies
(SLASSCOM),
the
national
chamber for the Sri Lankan IT/
BPM industry, De Zoysa has
been a pioneer in a man’s world.
SLASSCOM forecasts that the
industry will achieve $5 billion in
exports by 2025, creating 200,000
direct jobs and launching 1,000
start-ups. “If you leave 50 percent
of the population out of the game,
that means you are 50 percent less
likely to reach your full potential.
Only by getting more women to
join the industry and take their
seat at the table, would we be able
to achieve our target of becoming
a five-billion-dollar industry by

Sandra De
Zoysa
Group Chief Customer Officer –

Dialog Axiata PLC
Award: Marketing –

Gold (2016)

2025,” said De Zoysa, who is
widely believed to be next year’s
SLASSCOM Chairperson and the
first woman chair for the Chamber.
As an executive committee
member, De Zoysa has been at
the forefront of SLASSCOM’s
many
initiatives
aimed
at
increasing the number of female
Information Technology (IT)
graduates, fulfilling the criteria
of diversity in potential partners,
building
community-wide
awareness of career opportunities
for women in IT and Business
Process Management (BPM).
The Women Technopreneurs
initiative is one such enterprise
targeted at supporting women techentrepreneurs and women-led startups, especially in the rural sector.

Women Top 50 30

W

ith over 25 years of engineering and
project management experience
in energy and environmental
engineering, Sharmila Ragunathan was a
shoo-in for ‘Career Role Model of the Year’
at the 2019 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards. An electronics engineer with
an MBA from the University of Colombo,
Ragunathan has had many firsts in her life.
She started her career as a management
trainee — one among a small group of
women engineers — at Hayleys PLC. Among
others, Ragunathan implemented Sri Lanka’s
largest township water supply project and
secured the nation’s first build-operatetransfer (BOT) project in water/wastewater
management. Continuing her tenure with the
Hayleys Group, Ragunathan currently sits on
the Board of Haycarb PLC and is the Director
of Puritas (Pvt) Ltd, Haycarb’s environmental
engineering arm.
Recalling her days as a female engineer
in Sri Lanka in 1996, Ragunathan said,
“During those early years when I turned up at
an Engineering Consultant’s office, I would
have a visibly irritated gentleman telling me
that he thought an “engineer” was coming to
see him!” At the time, Ragunathan was one
of a handful of women working in a maledominated field.
Ragunathan also recalls the ‘not-solaughable challenges’ of navigating highprofile public-private partnerships as a Sri
Lankan Tamil woman, amid a war-torn
economy. She thanks her employer for
providing a discrimination-free environment
where she could pursue her passion for
sustainable energy and environment.
Speaking about the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards, Ragunathan
noted, “It was overwhelming to see how
many young women, especially within my
organization, connected with the award. I felt
that it gave them a space where they could
visualize their goals and connect with a career
they valued. Some even reached out to me
to share how it inspired and boosted their
confidence.”
Ragunathan continues her trailblazing
work, as she focuses on manufacturing 100
percent locally produced Oxypura facemasks.
She aims to take the brand to a global platform
while serving communities — affected by
chronic kidney disease — through ‘Puritas
Sath Diyawara,’ now Hayleys Group’s
Corporate Social Responsibility platform.

Sharmila
Ragunathan
Executive
Director &
Director of
Environmental
Engineering –
Haycarb PLC
Award: Career
Role Model of
the Year (2019)

31 Women Top 50

A

trailblazer in a male-dominated industry,
Tania Polonnowita Wettimuny has shattered
the glass ceiling and is helping other women
do the same.
“Being recognized for my contributions in the
freight and logistics industry was a deeply fulfilling
experience as it reaffirmed the work women have
been doing in what is still a male-dominated field,”
said Wettimuny, the recipient of the ‘Gold Award
in the Supply Chain Management’ category at the
2016 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards.
At the time of the award, Wettimuny was the
Managing Director and local partner of Hellmann
Worldwide Logistics (Pvt) Ltd, a German-based
logistics company currently ranked 10th in the
world in freight forwarding and logistics.
Wettimuny counts over 25 years in the industry.
Starting as a management trainee, she worked
her way up the ranks. Finally, she started her own
business under the name of IAS Holdings (Pvt) Ltd,
which comprises two multi-national joint ventures
worth US$ 4.8 billion and US$ 2 billion, respectively.
In 2015, she was nominated as Chairperson
of the Sri Lanka Logistics & Freight Forwarders
Association, which is the apex body of the freight
and logistics industry in Sri Lanka. She served
for two terms and was the first woman to lead
an association of such high caliber in the freight
industry of the Indian sub-continent.

Tania Polonnowita

Wettimuny

Entrepreneur, Group Managing
Director – IAS Holdings
Awards: Supply Chain
Management–Gold (2016)

Women Top 50 32

D

hashma Karunaratne is a trailblazer in the maledominated field of maritime logistics in Sri Lanka
where women make up a mere three percent of
employees.
When Karunaratne was awarded
the ‘Supply Chain and Logistics Gold
Assistant
Award’ at the ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Vice President
Career Women Awards in 2019, she
already had a proven track record. As
Maritime, Logistics
the Commercial Marketing Manager
& Freight – Aitken
at South Asia Gateway Terminals
(Pvt) Ltd (SAGT), she had contributed
Spence
to double-digit growth over three
consecutive years. By then, she had also
convinced the business to introduce targeted
internship and mentorship programs to increase
recruitment and retention of women.

She continues to leverage the recognition
from the ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards in her work to create gender
parity in workplaces, provide mentorship, and
actively develop talent pipelines for women in
maritime and logistics in Sri Lanka.
“When I won the ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards, it was a significant achievement for me,
as it was an endorsement of my years of contribution to
the Port of Colombo and my team’s and mentees’
hard work and commitment towards performance
excellence. Notable awards like this play an
integral role in transforming lives and inspires
scores of people who day in day out make
tremendous effort to impact a team; a business,
an industry; an economy, a community; a
nation,” said Karunaratne, who was also Chair
of Women in Logistics and Transport (WiLAT),
the women’s forum of the Chartered Institute of
Logistics and Transport. Karunaratne served for
two terms, mentoring many women in her capacity
as an industry leader.

Award
Supply Chain and
Logistics–Gold
(2019)

Since December 2019, Karunaratne has been the
Assistant Vice President of Maritime, Logistics &
Freight at Aitken Spence Maritime. “Winning the ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career Women Award definitely
empowered me to position myself as a suitable candidate
to this role and expand my experience in the supply chain
industry,” said Karunaratne.
A strong proponent of the business benefits of diverse
and inclusive workplaces, Karunaratne is a mainstay
in many panels and forums. She has been featured in
the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
(SAARC) Business Leaders’ Conclave, IFC SheWorks
Sri Lanka partnership, Asia Women’s Rugby 7s Captains
Forum, DP World, and AP Moller Maersk Group. She
continues to leverage the recognition from the ‘Top 50’
Professional and Career Women Awards in her work to
create gender parity in workplaces, provide mentorship,
and actively develop talent pipelines for women in
maritime and logistics in Sri Lanka.

Dhashma

Karunaratne

33 Women Top 50

T

he award for ‘Emerging
Leader of the Year’ in 2016
at the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards marked a
turning point in Ranmal Ekanayake’s
career. As the CEO of Sri Lanka’s
leading design school, Academy of
Designs (AOD), which is affiliated with
Northumbria University UK, Ekanayake
was a well-known leader in the education
field.

Ranmal
Ekanayake

The award inspired Ekanayake to push
the envelope further. “After winning the
award, I started to think differently and was
more confident to venture into a completely new
industry. When I got the opportunity to join Sri
Lanka’s largest e-commerce network — Kapruka.
com — as their Vice President, I was ready for
the challenge,” said Ekanayake, reflecting on how
the award gave her the confidence to embrace a new
challenge in a brand- new industry.
Throughout her career, empowering women has been
a passion for Ekanayake. She worked hard to ensure there
was a pipeline of talented future leaders among the women
on her teams, and proudly recalls the many successful former
mentees who are now capable leaders. She also provides
guidance to rural women in business development, helping
them generate income and support livelihoods and well-being.
“The ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women Awards
generated a lot of local media attention and helped me gain
recognition for my career in the corporate arena,” said
Ekanayake. Today, as the Vice President of Kapruka, she
supports small and medium entrepreneurs develop their
businesses and thrive in the e-commerce sphere. The program
has achieved several goals, including increasing the number
of women entrepreneurs in rural areas, assisting them in
launching their online businesses, and supporting their
household and community.

Throughout her career,
empowering women has been
a passion for Ekanayake. She
worked hard to ensure there
was a pipeline of talented future
leaders among the women on
her teams, and proudly recalls the
many successful former mentees
who are now capable leaders.

Vice
President
Grass
hoppers.lk

WIM
Award:
Emerging
Leader of the
Year
(2016)

Women Top 50 34

Ramya

Weerakoon

Award
Professional Career
Woman of the Year (2012)
and Inspirational Woman
of the Year (2014)

I

Independent
Consultant
Global Business
Development

n 2012 — prior to
winning the ‘Top
50’
Professional
Career Woman of the
Year and the Abhimani
Award as the first Sri
Lankan woman involved
in aircraft marketing —
Ramya Weerakoon was
oblivious to her unique position
in the market when WIM approached
her.

At that time, Weerakoon was the only
woman in South Asia to be engaged in
business development, marketing, sales,
and coordination of specialized training
for flight and engineering crew, for the
complete range of fixed and rotary wing
aircraft marketed by her company. She
was responsible for commercial and
military sales and after-market support for
Textron Aviation-manufactured Cessna
trainer aircraft, the twin Turboprop & the

Citation range of
private jets, as well
as the complete
range of multirole
helicopters
manufactured
by
Bell
Helicopter
Textron.

“The joy of winning the
awards completely changed
my perspective of my life and my
career. It enhanced my self-esteem and
gave me tremendous confidence to pursue
greater challenges, which helped me earn
a promotion as Vice President – Business
Development within a very short time,”
said Weerakoon.
Throughout her career in aviation sales,
Weerakoon prioritized her role as a mentor
to women. She became a vocal champion
of safer and more respectful workplaces,
spearheading policy and

procedural changes that introduced
anti-harassment policies and procedures.
Her efforts garnered another win at the
‘Top 50’ Professional and Career Women
Awards in 2014 as ‘Inspirational Woman
of the Year.’
“I received many opportunities and
consultancy offers together with exposure
in the media, which created a plethora of
additional advantages and recognition in
the corporate sector,” recalls Weerakoon.
Following a career spanning over 30
years in aerospace, power, and energy
with Infotechs (Pvt) Limited, culminating
in her taking on the mantle of CEO,
Weerakoon retired this year. However,
she will continue her advocacy to create
parity in the workplace as an independent
consultant.

35 Women Top 50

W

inning the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Award gave
me a greater voice at the table to
champion the cause of women at work and
women on boards in corporate Sri Lanka. It
unlocked more opportunities for me to advance
this agenda,” said Aruni Rajakarier, winner of
the 2019 ‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Award for ‘Inspirational Woman of the
Year.’ In addition to being on several boards
across Sri Lanka’s largest conglomerates,
Rajakarier is the Founder and Director of
SheConsults (Pvt) ltd, an environmental,
social, and corporate governance (ESG)
consultancy firm. A chartered accountant
by profession, Rajakarier heads a variety
of engagements in corporate reporting and
strategy, focusing on integrating ESG criteria
into formal organization performance review
processes.
In 2019, as the chairperson of Women’s
Empowerment and Leadership Development
Committee — the Institute of Chartered
Accountants of Sri Lanka — she launched the
‘Board Ready Female Members Directory.’
The directory promotes more female
representation across boards in corporate Sri
Lanka, providing a tangible talent pipeline for
succession planning.
“There is a severe hemorrhaging of women
from the paid workforce. This phenomenon is
clear when it comes to succession planning,
with very few qualified for senior leadership
and board positions. Women tend to drop out
mid-career, as societal and cultural power
dynamics trip women up on their way up
the corporate ladder. Therefore, we wanted
to create a list of women who are ready
to take on top leadership,” said

Aruni

Rajakarier
Founder/Director
– Sheconsults
Award:
Inspirational
Woman of the
Year (2019)

Rajakarier.
“There is so much talent leakage,
particularly from the time women have
children or have ageing or ailing parents as
the unpaid work is largely borne by women.
Consequently, women who are being
supermoms and superwomen are reluctant to
step up to additional positions as they are over
stretched. This was evident when only around
10 percent of all the women who were eligible
to be in the directory stepped up, and we
talked to many women about why they were
not stepping up. This unpleasant truth spoke
volumes of the reality working women face in
our society,” she said. This learning inspired
her to introduce the ‘Gender Reporting
Framework.’ The framework offers guidelines
on collecting and reporting on gender
disaggregated data to increase awareness on
women’s status in corporate leadership in Sri
Lanka.
Rajakarier’s company, SheConsults, offers
solutions to professional women who require
greater flexibility to balance work and home.
It allows them to take on work according to
their capacity without taking a total career
break. With her own experience as a working
parent with four children, Rajakarier is happy
to support other women in similar situations
and demands quality work delivered on time.
A resolute champion of working women,
Rajakarier continues to engage corporate
management in the conversation to create a
more conducive environment that supports
women. She has her sights set on changing
society’s perception of women, starting with
challenging the portrayal of women in media.

Women Top 50 36

R

ecipient of the of ‘Gold Award
for Human Resources’ at the
2015 ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards, Deshika
Rodrigo’s life has seen many changes
since the recognition. After an
illustrious tenure as the Head of Human
Resources at the Standard Chartered
Bank Sri Lanka, Rodrigo has leveraged
her longstanding career in HR and
banking, as well as the accolades she
has won along the way, for a dynamic
second act. Juggling triple roles as an
HR consultant, business coach, and an
advocate for women’s empowerment,
Rodrigo is using her international and
local experience to educate, train, and
mentor the next generation of leaders,
especially women.

Having the award
behind my name,
definitely gives me that
extra impetus to keep
striving forward,”
she said.
“Winning the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Award and having
that recognition as someone passionate
about addressing gender related issues,
has definitely added credence to my
present roles. I speak at multiple
forums to various corporate audiences
on the challenges faced by women in
the workplace and how companies
can better support their staff. Having
the award behind my name, definitely
gives me that extra impetus to keep
striving forward,” she said.

A contributor to local
newspapers, Rodrigo writes
on gender parity for working
women and is working on a book
that chronicles the challenges
overcome by working women in
Sri Lanka.

A contributor to local newspapers,
Rodrigo writes on gender parity for
working women and is working on a
book that chronicles the challenges
overcome by working women in Sri
Lanka.

best practices, and support each other
through mentorship and networking
opportunities.

“As a single working mother, being
able to have an independent income
enabled me to give my children the
best education and opportunities in life.
Economic freedom meant that I could
make the choices that were right for me,”
said Rodrigo. As an empty nester with
two kids in college, Rodrigo started the
Tara Women’s Empowerment Network,
where working women meet, share

“Sri Lanka still has a long way
to go when it comes to achieving
gender diversity at the workplace. But
companies are now realizing that for
sustainable, equitable growth, diversity
is a must. The corporate consciousness
is now awake to the possibility of crosscutting gender parity and the healthy
business results that will inevitably
follow,” said Rodrigo optimistically.

Deshika
Rodrigo
Executive Coach,
Outplacement
Specialist, HR
Consultant and
Motivational Speaker
Award: Human
Resources–Gold
(2015)

37 Women Top 50

Her contributions to the
industry gained wide
attention when she won the
‘Gold Award for Banking and
Finance’ in 2017 at the ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards. “The ‘Top
50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards was the
first time I was recognized
outside the bank, where my
services were acknowledged
by a third party.

I

n 1989, when Shashi Kandambi
Jassim graduated from high
school, Sri Lanka was in a state
of civil unrest. Universities were shut
down, depriving Kandambi Jassim
the opportunity to pursue higher
education. Determined, she decided to
join Sampath Bank to gain professional
qualifications and industry experience.
With a career of over 30 years with
the Bank, Kandambi Jassim has served
across departments and contributed her
time to serving the larger industry as
an active member of the Association
of Professional Bankers — Sri Lanka
(APBSL), which has the broadest
representation of banking professionals
in the country. She went on to serve
on the Board of APBSL as the President
and spearheaded many training
programs and conventions aimed at
capacity building and skill development
for young bankers.
Her contributions to the industry

gained
wide
attention when she
won the ‘Gold Award
for Banking and Finance’ in
2017 at the ‘Top 50’ Professional
and Career Women Awards. “The
‘Top 50’ Professional and Career
Women Awards was the first time I was
recognized outside the bank, where my
services were acknowledged by a third
party. It was a huge boost for morale,
and I received a lot of appreciation from
the industry as well,” said Kandambi
Jassim.
Kandambi Jassim continues to
be at the top of her game. Promoted
to Senior Deputy General
Manager Corporate Banking
at Sampath Bank, she
shares her experiences
and knowledge with
young
aspiring
bankers, speaking
at
various
industry
and
national panels.
“I have been
approached by
many young
women who
are
looking
to overcome
challenges and
reach leadership

positions in banking. When I was
younger, I used to look up to my seniors
and aspire to be like them. Today’s
young women have more and more
women role models to look up to as
they navigate their careers,” she said.
Going forward, Kandambi Jassim
plans to use her knowledge to help
women entrepreneurs start and scale-up
micro, small, and medium businesses.
“With my years of banking experience,
I understand the issues in finance,
management, and HR that confront an
entrepreneur. I’m also keenly aware of
the barriers for women entrepreneurs in
gaining access to capital markets and
my goal is to form an organization that
will help skilled women entrepreneurs
bridge these gaps.”

Shashi
Kandambi Jassim

Senior Deputy
General Manager
Sampath Bank
Award: Banking and Finance
Gold (2017)

Women Top 50 38

A

mother of two, Dilhani Iresha
De Silva transformed her onewoman sewing business into a
thriving enterprise, selling handloom
products to tourists. When she won
the ‘Upcoming Woman Entrepreneur
Award’ in 2016, De Silva’s DHD
Handlooms employed four women,
who worked on four machines out
of her living room, bringing in a
monthly profit of approximately Rs
40,000 ($217).
The awards catapulted her to
the spotlight, garnering much media
attention both nationally and globally.
This enabled De Silva to secure a
greater number of international
buyers. Today, she runs a 12-woman
operation, with six machines, and
is putting the final touches to a
factory space. Prior to COVID-19
pandemic, during the tourist season
in her hometown of Galle, DHD
Handlooms brings in a monthly
profit of approximately Rs 300,000
($1,630), a 650 percent increase from
her previous monthly earnings.
“The ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards was the
first recognition I received for my
business. It was like a seal of approval

Ten years on, De Silva’s DHD
Handlooms has ventured
into the export market,
boasting a loyal national and
international customer base.
Through diversification and
innovation, DHD Handlooms
has stayed ahead of the
curve — introducing new
and exciting color palettes
and producing everything
from clothes to soft toys.

that attracted more international and
local buyers. We were able to grow
and scale the business because of
this. I received many other regional
and national level awards after the
recognition from WIM.”
When De Silva made the difficult
choice to pass on a teaching transfer
in favor of being a stay-at-home
mom to her two young sons, she did
not expect to become a successful
entrepreneur. Ten years on, De Silva’s
DHD Handlooms has ventured into
the export market, boasting a loyal
national and international customer
base.
Through
diversification
and innovation, DHD Handlooms

has stayed ahead of the curve —
introducing new and exciting color
palettes and producing everything
from clothes to soft toys.
“The ‘Top 50’ Professional and
Career Women Awards gave me the
exposure to grow bigger and expand
my export share. I was able to earn
more and hire more women from my
village. My ultimate goal is to make
DHD Handlooms a household name
and become a female entrepreneur of
global recognition,” De Silva added.

Dilhani Iresha
De Silva
Founder – DHD
Handloom
Award:
Upcoming Woman
Entrepreneur
Award (2016)

39 Women Top 50

Top women business
leaders in the country
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T: +94776279987
E: kith.perera@aicpa-cima.com

The Association of International Certified Professional Accountants,
powering leaders in accounting and finance around the globe
© 2020 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.
All rights reserved. 2010-74420

Jayanthi Dharmasena,
FCMA, CGMA
Managing Director
Hayleys Agriculture
Holdings Limited

Women Top 50 40

Message from the New
Generation Awards Chair
I am truly privileged and honoured to have been chosen
as the Award Chair of the New Generation Awards 2020 – the
inaugural edition of an exclusive celebration of Sri Lankan
youth.
As a successful global brand, “Women Top50”, which
represents Sri Lankan women in the global stage, has identified
and recognized more than 500 women leaders in the past 10
years through the “Top50 WIM Awards”. WIM is a brand to
reckon with as a trendsetter and its many admirable initiatives,
especially in recognising talent and bringing it to the spotlight,
while also making a positive impact to the nation and the
economy, and the initiative to recognise youth is an extension of
WIM’s ingenuity. It is indeed significant that the National Youth
Services Council stepped forward to join hands with WIM for a
synergetic private-public partnership to recognise young talent.

serving as the Honorary Secretary of WIM for the last 03 years,
I am extremely proud to witness the success and the qualitative
improvement that WIM has achieved over a period of time. I
vouch for the fact that WIM membership has given me priceless
experiences, precious opportunities and unlimited exposure
throughout my career and personal life, which I am sincerely
thankful for.
Chairing an award ceremony of this magnitude was a massive
undertaking, especially during the most challenging period of
recent human history. Yet, I considered it as a great opportunity
to have been part of recognising young personalities aspiring
to be future leaders, while associating with industry experts,
not forgetting the support I received from my fellow organizing
committee members - which was truly amazing - in order to
reach our common vision.

The New Generation Awards 2020 was held on 08th
December 2020 at Regent Country Club – Malabe with the
objective of casting the spotlight on extraordinary young
leadership by recognising contribution to their communities,
to the nation and to the world at large in a range of sectors.
Following an extensive process of screening, our panel of
judges found 24 young achievers, representing both genders and
ethnicities from all the provinces.

The invisible pillar of strength behind all this was Dr.
Sulochana Segera, an individual always passionate about
providing equal opportunities to all, someone who is able to
recognise underlying talents and sets the platform to showcase
those to the world. With her guidance and the team effort of the
WIM team, I believe that the WIM Global Brand will achieve
success in all future endeavours and I invite everybody to
collaborate with us for a successful journey.

The journey that has begun with the New Generation Awards
will not end here. WIM has already mapped out a strategy
to launch a new chapter for youth leaders and to direct them
towards continuous development.

Kushlani Perera

As a member who joined Women in Management at its
inception, being recognized as the “Member of the Year” for the
first time at the Top50 Professional and Career Women Awards 2016, being an Executive Committee Member for 04 years and

Awards Chair - Inaugural Edition
New Generation Awards 2020

41 Women Top 50

eaders of

New
Generation
Awards
2020

omorrow

Women Top 50 42
Women in Management, National
Youth Services Council Launch
Inaugural
and
Inimitable
Opportunity for the Sri Lankan
Youth. – ‘New Generation Award
2020’ under the theme of “Leaders of
Tomorrow”
Colombo, Sri Lanka, August 25, 2020
In the journey of finding hidden
talents of Sri Lankan youth and their
unsung contribution to the nation,
Women in Management (WIM ) who
are known as experts in setting new
trends, came up with a concept for
youth recognition initiative and Sri
Lanka National Youth Services Council
stepped forward to join hands with
WIM on this felicitous cause.
The New Generational Awards
2020 aims to shine a spotlight on extra
ordinary young leadership within the
age group of 16 to 30 years, to support
and recognize positive contribution
to their communities, nation and the
world at large considering sectors such
as careers, entrepreneurship, sports,
social service, innovation, talents, arts,
creative science, social media, etc.,
Nomination Opens from 1st
August to 5th September 2020 and
can be made by visiting www.
womeninmanagementawards.org The
gala award ceremony will be held on
the 24th of November 2020 at ShangriLa Colombo.
This year’s panel of judges,
chaired by Mr. Theshara Jayasinghe
- Chairman National Youth Service
Council together with a diversified
team including Ms. Varuni Amunugama
Fernando - Managing Director Triad
Advertising Limited and the national
TV channel Derana, Ms. Gowri Rajan Director Sun Match Group, Mr. Dinesh
Weerakkody - Chairman ICC, Ms.
Indira Samarasinghe PC - Principal Law
College , Ms. Lopa Rahman – Corporate
Governance Officer, International
Finance Corporation, a member of

World Bank Group and Ms. Shehara De
Silva – Non Executive Director Keells
Food Private Limited.
Head table of the press conference
will be attended by
Theshara Jayasinghe Chairman National Youth Service
Council
Lopa Rahaman Corporate Governance Officer
- Women in Work International
Finance Corporation (member of
World Bank)
Shehara De Silva Non Executive Director Keells Food
Private Limited
Dr. Sulochana Segera –
Founder and Chairperson of Women
in Management
Kushlani Perera –
Award Chairperson and Hony. ExCo
Secretary of Women in Management.
“It’s high time Sri Lanka recognizes
youth leadership and also it’s time for
the youth to take responsibility of their
own future. As a nation we have built
a dependency mindset in youth and it
has resulted with them by depending
on elders and the government for their
future. This is the main reason as to
why WIM initiated NG Awards to build
their own role models for their future,”
says Dr. Sulochana Segera Founder/
Chairperson of WIM as her introduction
to the New Generation Awards.
In the process of this tremendous
journey, the role of National Youth
Services Council explained by Mr.
Theshara Jayasinghe - Chairman
National Youth Service Council saying
“The National Youth Services Council,
as the apex body in Youth Development
in Sri Lanka, deeply appreciates the
interest and commitment displayed by
Women In Management in organizing
New Generation Awards for the youth
of Sri Lanka. The NYSC has partnered
with WIM, enthusiastically extending

43 Women Top 50
Since 2010 Women in Management
(WIM) works to empower Sri
Lankan Career women and women
entrepreneurs by connecting and
bonding them by providing leadership
and guidance in nurturing 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.
www.womeninmanagement.org
www.womeninmanagmentawards.org

support to initiatives of this nature,
founded by non-governmental actors in
recognizing youth talent and contributing
towards Youth Empowerment with
the goal of harnessing the potential of
future leaders.”
Ms. Shehara De Silva - Non
Executive Director Keells Food Private
Limited enlightens the fact on judge’s
measures saying “The future belongs
to our youth. As judges we will strive
to look for exceptionalism and to
ensure that the winners will have the
potentiality to leverage this recognition
as a springboard to build a better,
brighter future for our country and
perhaps the region or the planet..”
Ms. Lopa Rahman - Corporate
Governance Officer, South Asia, IFC,
said “The youth of today are the leaders
of tomorrow, by making effective
use of their talents in innovative and
enterprising ideas, they can create
employment opportunities and enhance
Sri Lanka’s job market, which fits well
with IFC’s development agenda. This
award will help to inspire, motivate and
recognize such individuals. We hope to
celebrate their efforts at the ceremony
to be held later this year.”
About Women in Management –

About National Youth Council Existence of a multi-talented, discipline
and dynamic youth population in
a country is always considered a
treasure which helps development of
the particular country. As such every
country gives a special recognition
for the country’s youth. Sri Lanka
too places utmost importance on the
country’s youth to achieve her ambitious
development targets in social and
economic spheres. Hence, Youth of Sri
Lanka are also having an undertaking
for economic and social upliftment of
the country. It is important to inculcate
self-reliance in youths and directing
them towards winning over those goals.
The National Youth Services Council
in Sri Lanka has been established with
the aim of guiding the Sri Lankan youth
in the proper direction to enable them
to empower themselves to the fullest
potential while contributing to nation’s
prosperity. The Youth Services Council
was established under the Volunteer
National Youth Services Act No. 11 of
the year 1967 and was revised by the
Act No. 52 of 1968. Over the years,
activities of the Youth Council were
expanded beyond volunteerism and
subsequently the scope was revised
again under the Youth Services Council
Act No.69 of 1979 giving the status
of a fully pledged youth development
organization.

Women Top 50 44

Empowering the New Generation
Professional - WIM Youth Team
H.G.S.V.Jayasuriya
Medical Student (final year)
Institute of Indigeneous
Medicine
University of Colombo

Umesha Mandakini
Suraweera.
Ayurveda medical student,
Institute of Indigenous Medicine,
University of Colombo.

K. H. Srimal Dilmika

Harshana Piumal Niriella

Medical Student (final year)
Institute of Indigeneous
Medicine
University of Colombo

Owner & Founder of Health Tech
Solutions and DocLanka.com
Medical Student
Institute of Indigenous Medicine
University of Colombo

Devindi Sandareka

Promodha William

Intern Medical Officer
(BAMS)
University of Colombo

Intern Medical Officer
Lunawa District Ayurveda
Hospital

Dilisha Wijesinghe

K Iresha Udayangani Silva

Intern Medical Officer
Aniyakanda Ayurveda Weda
Medura

Ayurvedic Medical Officer
Proprietor
Seth Ulpatha Ayurveda Weda
Medura

45 Women Top 50

Women Top 50

46

I am

passionate
about youth
empowerment,

Dhashma
Karunarathne

47 Women Top 50
Impressive in every sense of the word,
Dhashma Karunarathne, Assistant Vice
President - Maritime, Logistics and
Freight at Aitken Spence is what many
would describe as the embodiment
of the modern gung-ho female
professional who has weathered
the clichéd glass ceiling to reach the
‘top’. Reflecting on her journey of
many accomplishments that include
awards in recognition of her work,
Dhashma said her success is a result
of team effort, which together with a
demeanour to say yes to challenges
and a drive to learn more at every
opportunity has been rewarding,
together with a team of solid mentors
who give her perspective whenever
she needs it.
As the immediate Chairperson of
WiLAT Sri Lanka what has been your
role in its thrust on mentorship - at
an organizational level and industry
level?
Since its inception WiLAT has crafted
an impactful mentoring program named
IGNITE. It is our flagship program for
the year and our vibrant Ex-Co works
tirelessly to bring this to fruition. The
IGNITE mentoring program has enabled
many young graduates to charter
exciting career journeys. The success
of IGNITE has transcended borders and
today has been adopted worldwide in
numerous country chapters of WiLAT
global. WiLAT Sri Lanka is very proud
of this accomplishment, as we are
impacting lives and altering careers,
at a global level; contributing towards
United Nations’ Sustainability Goal #5
on Gender.
What was the type of mentoring that
you received in your career journey?
When I entered the corporate world
in 1999 I didn’t have the privilege of a
formal mentor-ship. However, I always
gravitated towards job roles, under good
leaders and great teams that stretched
me and developed me. In the last
decade or so I have surrounded myself
with solid mentors such as Gayani
De Alwis, Deshika Rodrigo, Dishan
Wickramaratne, Ted Muttiah and Ronnie
Pieris, who continue to reveal my blind
spots and also help me to augment my
strengths.
Do you really believe that in an

When I entered the corporate world
in 1999 I didn’t have the privilege of a
formal mentor-ship. However, I always
gravitated towards job roles, under
good leaders and great teams that
stretched me and developed me.
organizational environment such as
ours that there is a genuine effort at
mentoring or is it just lip service?
Many companies and associations
are genuinely committed towards
mentoring, an employee when mentored
will unleash one’s potential, and
will result in tremendous value to an
organization/ institute. Yes there’s a
genuine effort, and I have been a witness
to organizations investing in formal and
informal mentorships.
What has the impact been of IGNITE
spearheaded by CILT and the
BacktoWork initiative by WiLAT on
women, especially on empowering
women in the industry?
The impact has been significant, we

have just launched our 6th mentoring
program. The success stories of these
individuals continue to propel the
program further, and each consecutive
year we have many graduates applying
for jobs. An individual who invests time
and makes effort to get good advice and
execute them, reaps a good harvest, just
as the Proverbs teach us.
What role have you played as a
mentor for emerging women leaders
in the industry? And what have you
found as the most discouraging or
critical factor/s that impact women’s
participation negatively/positively in
the industry?
I am passionate about youth
empowerment, as they are tomorrow’s
leaders. It’s the societies biasness that

Women Top 50

48

discourages an individual. Very often
young female talent gets discouraged by
“concerned” members of job interview
panels, who unconsciously put them
off track. However, I have been able to
coach a few ladies to overcome barriers
to entry into highly male dominated
industries and functions such as
commercial, shipping, health and safety
in ports and terminals. Just like kites,
they learn to fly higher by embracing the
wind that blows against them!
As a Management Accountant you
have held diverse roles, such as in
corporate finance, business strategy,
management accounting, compliance
and business development. How
did you transition into logistics and
transport? Is it an area totally external
to the field of accounting and how has
your previous experience helped in
the transition and your subsequent
performance?
Differentiation strategy gives you a
sustainable competitive advantage; even
as an individual. Diverse qualifications
and
continuous
professional
development give you the edge. I am
holding three charters in very different
professions;
namely
Management
Accounting, Human Resources and
Logistics and Transportation. I find my
strong fundamentals in finance to be
my greatest strength. When one sees a

jumble of numbers, I see patterns, corelations and trends. Finance plays an
integral role, for timely decisions and
this transcends to any role or function,
and enables me to contribute towards
value creation.

to your career as a direct result of
winning the Gold award for Supply
Chain and Logistics at the WIM Top
50 Professional and Career Women
Awards? Describe your new career
journey since winning the award.

Do you think Sri Lankan companies
in the logistics space have increased
their technology spending targeting
the adoption of new technologies,
given the challenges that drive the
shipping industry?

Going up the steps to accept my
award, with my family and team
applauding me was indeed a goose
bump moment. I had flashbacks of my
high and low moments as I have had my
share of cuts and bruises. This award
made me realise that my greatest struggle
was within myself. I knew it was time
for me to make a change and charter a
different path. Today I am responsible
for Business Development for the
Aitken Spence Maritime, Logistics and
Freight cluster, a role that inspires me to
go beyond my comfort zones.

Yes, here at Aitken Spence we invest
much on warehouse management,
robotics, block chain and internet of
things. As a pioneer and industry leader,
we have the innate responsibility of
being the trendsetter for the industry,
by embracing technology. In a VUCA
environment, trends can be forecasted
and opportunities exploited, if a
company leverages on technology. Still
there’s much for the local industry to
achieve. I have had the opportunity of
seeing the best of Logistics and Supply
Chain Management in many places, for
example the vehicle booking system of
Hamburg Port ensures minimum waiting
time for truckers at the terminals. Sadly
here in Sri Lanka we are too comfortable
with queues and waiting times. All these
result in cost inefficiencies and negative
impact to the environment.
How would you describe the fillip

You have been described as a strong
proponent for gender empowerment
and family-work-life balance. You
have so much on your plate, which
also includes community work, while
you say that you play the perfect role
of wife, mother and daughter-inlaw. How do you strike a balance?
Is it really possible? Haven’t you
experienced moments when you fell
short of the perfect situation?
To strike a balance is a tall order.
Many priorities compete with each other.
However, I am blessed with fantastic
teams, at home, at work, at church and
even in the industry. Success is a result
of a team effort, a cohesive team’s
commitment to performance excellence
can make something good, great. There
are no heroes and sheroes, there are
great teams that make individuals/
families/companies/industries
look
good. A culmination of this results in a
progressive country! We are individually
strong, but together unbeatable!

49 Women Top 50

Women Top 50 50

Top50 Professional &

Career Women Committee

2020

Waruni Algama
Top50 Awards Chair 2021 General Manager.
Digital user experience design and
channel adoption - Dialog Axiata PLC.

Aparna Tilakaratne

Top50 Awards Deputy Chair
2021 - Chief Law officer Sri Lanka ports Authority

Vijitha Samarakkody
Top50 Awards Committee
Member - Senior Cluster
Manager -Allianz Insurance
Lanka Ltd.

Mayanthi Fernando
Top50 Awards Committee Member - General
Manager -Worldlink Travels (Pvt) Ltd.

Pushpa Samarakkody
Top50 Awards Committee
Member - Chief Executive
Officer -Bacopa Worldwide
(Pvt) Ltd

Swarnamoyee
Chatterjee
Top50 Awards Committee
Member - Project Manager
MSc. (Information Security)
PMP Azure Cloud

Darshanie
Samanthilaka
Top50 Awards Committee
Member - Visiting Lecturer and
freelance Diving supervisor.

Women Top 50 51

I never compare myself

with others,

but, I work really hard.

As the General Manager – Digital
User Experience Design & Channel
Adoption at Dialog Axiata,
Waruni Algama has had a long
and exemplary tenure of more
than two decades under a single
employer, to whom contentment,
loyalty and integrity and service
had been the drivers that
modelled her to the top. Waruni
spoke extensively about the
creativity and ingenuity required
by an effective digital knowledge
manager to create a unique user
experience. Communication and
collaboration are critical skills of
leadership in a good designer
of user experience said Waruni
who spoke on the importance
of change in telecom to be up
on with the changes therein to
intensify the best user experience
in the digital sphere.

Women Top 50 52
What does digital user experience
design mean? Can you elaborate your
role in this regard?

you so far in your career and your
advice to those who are frustrated at
being stagnant?

Today we see how various functions
that were once performed by humans are
being performed by digital tools. With
the company’s digital transformation
strategy, my responsibility is to
understand the users, their mental model
and specific tasks that they are trying to
accomplish and then design the end to
end customer journey when they interact
with various digital channels such as
App, Web, Chat bot, etc. It is a very
challenging role as we have to ensure that
the digital channel is designed in such a
way that it is friendly and convenient
to the user and capable of providing
similar or a better user experience than a
human interaction. Successful adoption
is purely based on a perfect design.

I see myself as a unique individual
compared to others, and I say so based
on several reasons. One is, I am content
with what I get, but have lots of dreams
in life. I never compare myself with
others, but, I work really hard. I never
live in the past, but always remember
my beginning which helped me to rise.
Loyalty and integrity are the two main
values that I uphold and I don’t play just
a role in my work place, but always try
to “be myself”. I always let my superiors
and subordinates, including customers
whom I serve know my human side,
so that I am genuine in all my dealings
with them. I am passionate about serving
people and I grew with the company
whilst accomplishing my dreams. I’m
truly humbled and content about where
I am today and want to give back to the
organization which has helped shape
my career. So my advice to youth is “be
yourself” than being a follower and do
what is right for you to be successful in
career and in life. I must admit that this is
the first time that I am sharing my mantra
for success. All my dealings with human
beings are always wrapped with love, an
acronym defined by me to mean loyalty,
ownership, value other individuals and
empathy. I am sure if anyone follows my
definition of love, he or she could be a
unique individual.

What are the skills that are required
by a good Digital Knowledge Manager
and why?
Creativity, ability to generate,
develop and implement ideas are main
skills that one should possess when it
comes to designing a product or a service.
However, it is also important for someone
to have skills in good communication,
empathy and collaboration when
leading cross functional teams and
agile projects. Collaboration is a critical
skill that a leader should possess when
handling diversified teams. How well
you collaborate with others will have a
great impact on the project’s outcome.
Being able to put yourself in someone
else’s shoes and finding the best solution
is a must for a good user experience
designer. I say this because if you’re
detached from your end users, you fail to
design for their needs and feelings which
can create a bad user experience.
Your career profile is impressive. But
what is most striking is your service
record at Dialog, from 1996 to present
and your phenomenal rise to the top.
When many HR managers complain
of a trend where millennials are in a
hurry to rise up the ladder and are
quick to give up, tell us your mantra
and your experience that has brought

Research has shown that women lag
behind men in the sphere of technology
and technological skills, thereby
creating technological inequalities. Is
this true of Sri Lanka and what trends
have you observed in this regard and
in your opinion what could be the
intervention to change this trend?
The numbers from the ICT workforce
survey shows that female participation
in the ICT industry is at 20% to 30%.
This means Sri Lanka has not reached
its full potential. Unlike those days,
today we can see a considerable amount
of female graduates passing out from
universities and have also shown interest
in developing ICT skills. The issue

General Manager Digital User
Experience Design & Channel
Adoption at Dialog Axiata

Waruni Algama

arises when women choose to work in
the ICT sector continuously, moving up
to senior levels or being entrepreneurs.
The subsequent reduction in women’s
participation is due to marriage, family
commitments and certain policy and
infrastructure issues faced by women
at work. In order to encourage more
women to participate in this industry,
organizations, society and governments
should render their support in certain
ways. We could begin with schools by
providing skills for kids (coding), by
including ICT into the school curriculum
and providing tech devices, while
organizations should adopt best practices
like agile frameworks, adjustable policies
of working hours, introduce work from
home arrangements, and maternity and
paternity leave. Society too should play
a big role in encouraging and creating
awareness among communities in
order to attract more women to join the
industry.
Customer needs and sentiments
change rapidly. With the explosion of
competition what must operators do
to keep pace, while being able to retain
and maintain a customer?
I have become in the service industry
for more than 25 years and witnessed
most of the technological changes such
as analogue to GSM, 2G to 5G, basic
device to smart phone, and physical
and traditional transactions to digital
transformation. I believe that consumer
needs remain unchanged, but due to
the complexity that has become part of
human lives, consumer behaviour too
has become more complex than before.
Today, convenience, simplicity and
speed wrapped in human touch have
become the most demanded features
by the users. These technological
changes have been mostly adopted by
the younger generation, especially by
the millennials and the challenge is to
keep both the aging population and the
youth happy with the service provided
by the operators. Price, product and
technology can always be matched, the
only differentiator being the service.
Operators should focus on differentiated
service offerings to various customer
segments to make them loyal to the
brands and promoting the same with
others.
At the same time, telecom
companies themselves are diversifying
their service portfolios and coming
up with new offerings. Are telecom
companies adequately customer-

53 Women Top 50
centric and quality-driven to provide
the required customer support?
In response to declining ARPU
from legacy, telecom companies are
diversifying their service portfolios to
generate new revenue streams. However,
most companies have identified that the
service differentiation is the core strategy
which could keep them to stay ahead of
competition and struggling to embed
customer-centric and quality-driven
strategies and execution model into their
organizations. Operators are trying to
compete with each other by trying to
provide unmatchable service offerings
to consumers. This has led to an increase
in customer expectations, which has a
huge cost implication to organizations.
Therefore, most companies are following
a segmentation-based approach to
service which helps to deliver on
both customers’ and management’s
expectations by providing the right
level of service for each customer or
customer group based on their value and
needs, whilst maintaining quality at a
reasonable cost.
Are there any practices/activities in
the industry in Sri Lanka that do not
add value, undermines quality and
requires improvement?
The telecom sector in Sri Lanka
is one of the country’s most dynamic
sectors, contributing significantly both
directly and indirectly to investment,
employment, productivity, innovation,
and overall economic growth. Sri Lanka
is in the lead in terms of technology
introduction in the South East Asian
Region. With rapid digital transformation
taking place, I feel some of the policies
and practices are outdated and need
refinement. Further, it is also important
to revisit the Consumer Data Privacy
Law, or else these can be roadblocks to
providing a good customer experience to
consumers during their service journey.
What are the emerging/likely industry
trends in the near future and is Sri
Lanka ready to embrace them?
The 4th Industrial Revolution
comprises technologies such as AI,
Blockchain, Bigdata, Drones, IOT and
Robotics. Technologies are emerging
and therefore it is possible for companies
and startups in Sri Lanka to have equal
success as those in the US and Silicon
Valley.
Digitization has brought many
advantages to human civilization. It has

contributed towards the development,
value addition and enhancement of
people’s lives. For example, the arrival
of the smart phone made the world a
smaller place to an average customer in
terms of accessibility and reach.
A country like Sri Lanka requires
to embrace and start with educating,
creating awareness and placing priority
to these technologies and so far the
business models in Sri Lanka has been
adaptive to digital transformation driven
by global technologies, however, we are
yet to achieve the full potential.
As a professional who professes to
have excellent communication and
organizational skills, how do you use
them in navigating your work on a
day to day basis?
Communication plays a key role in
any business or relationship. I always
communicate with my team and
management and customers when it
comes to goal setting, achievements and
interactions. I am a practitioner and a
follower of many tools and frameworks
available in the market place such as
TTD list, (Things to do) Kanban chart,
Scrum meetings and daily stand ups.

These best practices help me to organize
myself, prioritize my work and improve
my team’s productivity.
What has winning the Gold award
at WIM Professional and Career
Women’s Awards done in terms of
your career? Has your victory been an
inspiration to other women working
with you and under you? What have
you done to encourage your female
colleagues to strive for the same
recognition?
I was humbled and honoured to
receive this award last year and it made
me realize my full potential. The amount
of feedback and the recognition I got
from my organization, colleagues and
subordinates, and family, relatives and
friends was amazing. The WIM award is
something which I dreamt of and when I
was privileged enough to receive it I felt
that it is also my duty to encourage other
women around me to participate. More
than winning an award, participation is
also a challenge as we know most women
do not want to brand themselves even
though they are capable. I have always
been an inspiration to them where I am a
game changer and the first to take up any
challenge and then tag along my female
friends and subordinates with me.
Now that you are a member of WIM
and involved in its activities what is
your take on its role in general for
women and for women in careers and
professions? Given your experience
and wealth of knowledge what would
you bring to the table to make a
difference?
In my opinion, I see WIM as a very
strong brand established not only in
Sri Lanka but also in some other part
of the world. WIM always recognizes
individual efforts and contributions,
and sets the stage to showcase women
leaders to the world. This is indeed a
worthy cause that Dr Sulochana Segera
has initiated for women from all walks
of life and I am happy to be a member
of WIM where I can also contribute.
Further, as a WIM member I too am
given many opportunities to brand
myself. I have always wanted to help
people and make them happy by sharing
my knowledge and experience if it
makes a difference in their lives.

Women Top 50 54

55 Women Top 50

The difference
between success

and failure is a

great team

Women Top 50 56

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