Women in Leadership Roles

Are Women in Sri Lanka truly represented in all the spheres of work?

Women in Sri Lanka form approximately 57% of a total estimated population of 21 million. However, out of the total economically active population of 8.5 million persons, only 33.4% are women. Thus, almost 70% of the labour force constitutes economically inactive women.


This is in spite of free education, which means both girls and boys have equal access to education. Skills training available for girls is generally in the area of beauty culture, dressmaking, cookery and hairdressing.


The Constitution of Sri Lanka deems that women are equal citizens entitled to all the privileges that men can avail themselves of.


Article 12 stipulates that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the law. Furthermore, no citizen shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth or any such grounds.


Nonetheless, constitutional guarantees notwithstanding, women in the workplace have not been provided with equal opportunities to achieve leadership positions. While the only limiting factor should be the relevant levels of education, there seems to be a ‘sticky floor syndrome’ operating in many of the economically active areas of work. 


The main agriculture sectors of tea, rubber and coconut employ more women in labour positions as pluckers, tappers and coir workers respectively, while an  insignificant number occupy management positions. The garment sector employs more women workers but fewer women in management positions. Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign exchange earners are migrant workers among whom, women comprise a large percentage, mainly in the form of domestic labour. Here too, negligible numbers represent managerial positions.


No quotas are in force for the recruitment of women to the private or public sectors, nor to politics and parliament. With few exceptions, recruitment of women to positions of management and leadership is still in the realm of tokenism, although over the years more women have enjoyed a wider range of career options than before.

Women in the Sri Lankan Parliament

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks 136 countries on their ability to close the gender gap states that Sri Lanka has widened its gender gap on the Political Empowerment sub index.


Sri Lanka produced not only the world’s first woman Prime Minister in 1960, it also elected the country’s first woman Executive President in 1994. With such a legacy, it is a puzzle as to why there is such abysmally low political participation by Sri Lankan women. This phenomenon goes back to the first Ceylon State Council (1931-1936) in which there were only two women representatives accounting for 3.4% of the total representation. Now, 83 years later, the 14th Sri Lankan Parliament (2010-2016) has only 13 women representatives accounting for just 6% of the 225 Members of Parliament.

Women in Judiciary in Sri Lanka

Of a total of 280 judges in Sri Lanka there are 64 women judges accounting for 23% of the cadre. In the Higher Courts i.e. the Supreme Court – out of 11 judges four are women (36%); in the Court of Appeal – out of 12 judges only two are women (17%); in the High Court of a total of seven judges three are women (43%) and from the balance judges comprising a total of 250 Magistrates, District Judges and Additional District Judges, there are 57 women justices (23%).


This indicates that while the highest percentage of women justices is in the Supreme Court (36%), the lowest is in the Court of Appeal with 17%.


Distribution of Employed population by main industry & gender second quarter 2013 as per the Sri Lanka Labour Force Survey.


Major Industry Group

Sri Lanka (%)




Sri Lanka

















The highest percentage of women is in the service sector accounting for 39.5% of the labour force, while women in agriculture and industry account for 35.3% and 25.1%, respectively.


Though statistics of women in management in Sri Lanka are not available, broad estimates would place the figure below 10% of the total cadre.

What careers are available to Sri Lankan women?

Technically there is no ceiling on the types of careers available to women in Sri Lanka women. These are some of the career paths women are following at present:

  • Medicine – as doctors, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, administrators
  • Law – as lawyers, judges and lecturers in legal studies
  • Education – as teachers, principals, lecturers
  • Aviation – as pilots, air hostesses, and ground staff
  • Banking – as officers and clerical staff
  • Information Technology – as web masters, web designers, graphic designers, information analysts and data entry operators, etc.
  • Media – as actors, models, directors, producers, anchors, hosts, etc. Also in the arena of news media as journalists, editors, photographers etc.
  • Fashion - as designers/ dressmakers
  • Beauty Culture - Beauticians and hairdressers
  • Entrepreneurs – self employed persons in traditional and non-traditional industries at small and medium levels.

Are there any tips on how to survive at the top as a woman?

  • Focus on the vision and mission of the organization

Don’t work in your own little box. Instead, look at the bigger picture – the goals and mission of your organization. Understand the direction the company is taking and be a part of the journey. Learn to become a team player.


  • Find Solutions instead of Problems

Try and identify solutions to any particular problems you may be facing, which will enable your boss to solve such problems effectively. If you are one with the bigger picture you may also be able to support your boss in arriving at solutions which will reduce the stress in the department overall.


  • Expectations and boundaries

Identify your expectations in a realistic manner and communicate same to your boss. Similarly, clearly identify the boundaries beyond which you would not be able to extend yourself. This candid assessment is critical to productivity. If you feel that you are performing below your expectations or you are feeling exploited because you are expected to operate beyond acceptable limits, your productivity levels will drop and eventually impact on the overall deliverables of the organization.


  • Say ‘no’ to exploitation

If you feel that you are being exploited without being remunerated equally, then you should speak up and ask to be compensated for your time and effort.


  • Dignity and respect

You are hired as an employee of an organization and as such, entitled to respect and dignity. Your boss and you may not necessarily enjoy the same perks and privileges but both are employees and are therefore equal at that level. You must give respect and demand respect.


  • Professional behaviour

Be professional in all that you say and do in the workplace.


  • Don’t agree and not deliver

If you cannot undertake a task allocated to you, explain the reasons clearly why you cannot do so. Don’t agree to the task and then fail to deliver.


  • Prepare for a career climb

If you want to climb the ladder of promotions, then learn about the requirements for the post, and obtain the skills and knowledge necessary prior to bidding for the post.


  • Zero tolerance for sexual harassment

Don’t ignore any gestures or words which have sexual connotations that make you uncomfortable. There should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment both by you and the organization.

What is the best work-life balance for career women?

The first principle for all women and hopefully, for men as well, is that family life is just as important as your careers. These are some tips to enable you to strive for a work-life balance which will help you productive in the workplace and a member of a happy family.

Strive to avoid a burnout at the workplace, because the immediate effects of that are felt by your family. So you need to pace yourself out and make time for activities with the people who matter to you. In a highly demanding work environment, many people are expected to put in extra hours at work, without financial compensation, and even when they are at home, they are expected to be ‘on call’.


  • Build in time in your weekly diary to relax with family and friends.
  • Divest yourself of activities and associates who exhaust your energy.
  • If you have to run errands after work, then plan your errands and the route so that you waste minimum time on the road, and can efficiently complete your task.
  • Share and delegate your domestic duties with family members.
  • Allocate time for exercise, reading and playing a sport, during the week or weekend.
  • Take up a hobby preferably one that will deliver good results.
<!-- /15944428/ --> <div id='div-gpt-ad-1604915830963-0'> <script> googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('div-gpt-ad-1604915830963-0'); }); </script> </div>