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Sri Lanka firms to benefit from widening diversity
12 Dec, 2012 06:56:21
Dec 12, 2012 (LBO) - Sri Lankan firms can benefit from being more inclusive, and while comprehensive diversity policies were still rare, many were making a start by promoting equal opportunity and combating sexual harassment, top executives said.
Kasturi Chellaraja Wilson, managing director, Transportation Sector, Hemas Holdings recalled an instance where a new person who joined a team always came up with a contrary position to the annoyance of other members.

She was addressing senior corporate leaders at the LBR LBO CEO forum on the topic of "Business Case for Workplace Diversity & Inclusion."

Later she said, they wondered whether the apparent contrariness of the person was due to unwillingness of other members of the group to listen to different ideas. Now the person is considered valuable contributor of a different ideas, she said.

Sunil Dissanayake, head of human resources Hayleys a group said non-discriminatory HR practices helped keep employees happy.

Dissanayake, who had also worked abroad at international firms like Citibank said when he worked in Dubai, the firm he worked for had no cage of age, marital status, gender, and there was no difference in pay whether expatriates were Asian or Western.

"But there were higher remuneration for UAE nationals because they were difficult to recruit and retain," he said.

When he was working at SriLankan Airlines soon after it was privatized, it was found that overseas offices were full of Sri Lankan nationals.

"The Paris office only had Sri Lankans. It was like Colombo," he said. "They could not speak French."

Over time more local staff who could relate to their customers better had been recruited.

Dissanayake said when a policy against sexual harassment was instituted at one firm; it was found that harassed employees were not complaining fearing negative repercussions.

Outside ombudsmen were then recruited to ensure confidentiality and encourage employees to speak out.

Dilani Alagaratnam President, group head of HR and Legal at John Keells Holdings said especially in Sri Lanka it was difficult to recruit women to the leisure sector due to belief such as that that females who work in hotels would be less marriageable.

The group had taken special measure to make sure female workers felt safe, she said.

Surani Amarasinghe director, human resources, Ceylon Tobacco Company said it was good to measure how diversity policies were working.

Measuring employee turnover, promotions or pay by gender or minority group could give useful insights, she said.

She said it was important to post employment advertisements in places which reached different demographic groups and people with different backgrounds.

Amarasinghe questioned how many firms that advertised in an English newspaper also advertised in a Sinhala newspaper at the same time.

She said employers would be surprised at how many strong candidates would respond when employment ads were placed more widely. The firm also had to have a process to include them after recruitment she said.

She said firms should be careful not to let targets to achieve diversity to exclude qualified candidates from a majority group. Merit should drive recruitment, she said.

Dissanayake said many Sri Lankan firms did not have 'full blown' documented diversity policies and the process was still in its infancy.

But many were starting with equal opportunity policies, sexual harassment process.

Alagaratnam said some countries had legislated diversity in recruitment, which had pushed diversity.

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