Hayleys PLC Executive Director and Hayleys Agriculture Holdings Ltd Managing Director, Jayanthi Dharmasena
- We have seen economic instability and even political volatility in this country. But a pandemic of this nature is unprecedented. As a woman in the corporate sector, how do you feel about this pandemic and how are you managing to keep it from affecting your firm/business?
A: Regardless of gender, everyone has been negatively impacted in some way. Over the last year we also faced the challenge of an overnight import ban on fertiliser and agri-chemicals.
We have never seen a 100% switch to organic agri in any country, and we have never seen a pandemic that hit every country in the world so swiftly. It’s difficult to say which has been more disruptive.
Such moments require business leaders to step forward and protect the interests of not just their company, but all stakeholders. In a crisis, there is a natural tendency for many to get overly defensive and despondent. If we allow that to happen, business gets disrupted even further.
So as a leader it is essential to help everyone to stay calm. We had to reassure our people, drawing from our own experiences to find solutions to help them safely continue working.
- Sri Lanka’s corporate sector lacks women representation but this trend was changing in the recent past. However, the pandemic has once again slowed down this process. What do you think should be done to ensure that this does not slow down more women’s entry into corporate hierarchy?
A: The main issue that most women face in their careers is striking a balance between their personal and professional lives. There is nothing wrong with choosing to focus only on your personal commitments, or solely on their careers. But especially with the emergence of virtual platforms, it is also more possible than ever before to do both.
Sometimes it may take a little longer but it doesn’t matter, it’s not a race to the top, it’s a marathon. Ultimately, what matters is how well you have lived, how well you have enjoyed your life, and your time with your loved ones.
- How are you ensuring smooth operations of your firm/business amidst an economic crisis?
A: Everyone in the organisation must take the purpose of the business to heart. For us, at Hayleys Agriculture our purpose is to ensure food security for the nation and to uplift rural livelihoods. To be effective, that purpose has to cascade through the organisation so that everyone understands the importance of what they are working towards. With that purpose clearly defined, our teams know what is required from them so they can act without reservations to do whatever it takes however hard the task is during a crisis, to deliver the purpose with agility.
When we knew that lockdowns were imminent, we were quick to prepare our back-end functions and establish secure data connections. This enabled our teams to maintain extension services by keeping them directly linked with farmers, thereby ensuring thousands of farmers’ livelihoods were sustained.
We also had to maintain prompt collection of short term crops as they were harvested, moved quickly to our processing centres whilst exporting to countries like Japan and across the EU – all within a strict timeline. These are all ways in which we are continuing to live our purpose.
- What kind of support do you expect from the government to encourage more women to enter the corporate sector?
More than entering the corporate sector, we have to solve the question of retaining those women who do join. We see a lot of highly educated women with incredible potential. But for young mothers, there is usually insufficient support when it comes to child care, and eventually, this becomes a pain point.
There is a healthy debate about pushing men to also take greater responsibility in the home. While such measures can certainly help, I feel the main focus should be in establishing systematic support for women – and one solution that would make an incredible difference is to establish crèches where parents can confidently leave their children in the care of responsible professionals while they are at work.