Speech by Dr Sulochana Segera - Founder and Chairperson, Women in Management at the Top50 Professional & Career Women Awards

A woman can run a business and a country as well as she can run a family and a home!

Honourable Ministers, Members of Parliament, representatives of the diplomatic corps, invitees, winners, and ladies and gentleman,

Let me start with a quote from Erena Crasmari - “Sometimes it is enough to just take a woman by the hand and help her begin her journey”.

This year’s award ceremony has been one of the most challenging for me and for WIM. Today, we mark 10 years of recognizing and celebrating women under the umbrella of Top50 Professional & Career Women Awards.

As you can see on the screen, there have been so many women recognized by WIM during the past 9 years; 436 Sri Lankan women. And believe me when I say that, I still wonder how we did it, and when we organized these pictures and profiles of past winners we were amazed at where they were when they won the award and how they have soared in their careers today. I think success is not just about reaching the top, but also, remaining and continuing to be an inspirational woman for yourself and for others.

2020 was an impressionable year; a year of reckoning and of many lessons, which we continue to learn as we live through 2021. While we women seek for empowerment, nature has demonstrated that women are the most resilient and courageous gender during the COVID-19 pandemic. Global and national statistics show that women are able to survive under any circumstances, while at the same time taking care of and protecting her loved ones.

When we look at Sri Lanka, even though we have controlled the spread of COVID 19 to a great extent, an achievement that I truly admire, with due respect for all those who have been working hard and continue to do so in the frontlines and at policy and implementation level, I do not hesitate to say that although COVID 19 did not kill many Sri Lankans physically, it has killed the privacy and dignity of Sri Lankans. This is not the fault of politicians or the government; it is how we have been nurtured or brought up. Our culture has changed and therefore, our values have been forgotten. The message that we Sri Lankans can learn from the pandemic is to rethink and revisit the way we were raised and the values with which we were raised and in turn how we should raise our children. The responsibility lies with parents, teachers and religious leaders; definitely not with politicians. If we have value driven voters we can change politicians. So, as Sri Lankans we cannot blame politicians because they are elected by us, not for the country, but to suit our personal agendas. The day we begin to love our country we will elect men and women for our motherland and not a representative who will help us replace our roof or to get our business license and more.

As for our religious leaders, they need to change their values before they preach on women and politicians. I still wonder why religious leaders preach about women when they should be preaching the universal message of love and peace - the common thread in all religions.

Sri Lankan teachers are busy with the so called ‘bright’ and smart students, making their schools prominent and renowned, but give less importance to guiding children with values and life skills. The Education Ministry should change the way they evaluate teachers on syllabus knowledge and ensure they are evaluated on how they guide a child to be a respectable citizen.

We parents are busy transforming our children into professionally qualified adults with good grades than bringing up a happy child. When I conducted a brief research on corporate success stories, I realized individuals who had had a happy childhood had become team leaders who were able to guide teams with respect, whereas those who had good grades, but were not happy growing up as a child had become leaders who focused more on personal leadership and success, than team leadership; these individuals had less self-satisfaction and friends.

I also want to direct your attention to a silent and unspoken issue faced by many women in Sri Lanka; that of online abuse and blackmail. I kindly request the corporate leaders present here tonight, to find a way to educate employees and also check their social media profiles before recruiting them to your organization. Social media users have their corporate designation and company name on their profiles which is the face of your company and its values. It is high time professionals and corporate leaders take their leadership to the digital platform and understand that an organization’s brand rests on its people’s personal brand as well.

So, coming back to the stars of tonight I ask the pertinent question - what is the role of today’s Top50 award winners? To me, this award is an icon to remind you how amazing you are and how much we appreciate and respect your achievement as a woman. Do not let anyone judge you because your success is personal to you and your personality. Do not let people compare you with someone else. Importantly, at the same time, you have a responsibility towards other women and your country, that is, to be a woman who gives a helping hand to another woman. Be a woman who speaks for the country and against the injustice faced by women who have no voice and cannot stand for themselves. I have observed many women who believe their brand may be ruined if they raise their voice or stand up for a cause, hence, they choose to be silent when they see and hear of injustice. While respecting their personal choice, I earnestly ask them to listen to their own conscience and see whether your personal brand will remain intact when you become blind to others’ needs.

Beyond our border, women of Sri Lankan origin are achieving tremendous success in careers and in politics in other countries. As Sri Lankans, we have and are celebrating their achievements. But I deliberate on the question - would they have achieved the same success had they been in Sri Lanka? Their achievements clearly demonstrate that a woman does not lack skills or competencies, rather it is our culture that is not yet ready to accept the fact that a woman can run a business and a country as well as she can run a family and a home.

My 2021 vision for this country is to open a hot kitchen in Colombo for breakfast. I have seen many children and workers skip breakfast due to poverty. I do not have a place, but I am a person who starts with passion and love, so, when I set my mind on a task, I will pursue it with the help of those who have always supported me. The reason for choosing Colombo is because COVID 19 has shown us that people living in Colombo suffer from a weak immune system due to poverty, thereby preventing them from consuming nutritious food. Today, COVID 19 has affected our informal sector harshly. People employed in the informal sector are suffering from hunger and battling health issues. My objective is to provide them with a healthy breakfast at least twice a week. I hope when I put forward this proposal whoever can be part of this initiative will join me.

Finally, I take this opportunity to thank several individuals personally. First, let me thank IFC; I know as per the rules and regulations you are not permitted to organize an event or to attend physically. But, Amena I know you have always believed in me and WIM. You know I will always keep my promises and deliver it as per the required standards. Thank you for that trust. To Lopa, who is now in Bangladesh, thank you for all the support and Sarah, though it is your first time, you supported WIM all the way through. My gratitude to the Australian High Commission, to His Excellency the High Commissioner for Australian in Sri Lanka, the Deputy High Commissioner for Australia; Daniel and Pubudu thank you for all your support and guidance. His Excellency introduced a new concept to the Top50 Awards, which will see all the winners today receiving a Top50 gold pin when they come on stage to receive the award. To the Panel of Judges led by Shiromal and her team - what a year it has been, so much of excitement and arguments before finally choosing the best as the Top50 winners. Thank you so much for your valuable contribution. My gratitude to all the sponsors; to Savani, Caryl and Riza thank you. To my team - thank you; we are without a few team members today who are on self-quarantine. And last but not least, Nilam, Malinda and Malinthi thank you.

Let me finish my speech with a few words to our dear men here today; W stands for Warrior and O stands for Optimist. These are two words that are not there in the word MAN, but included in WOMAN. Therefore, remember, there is no future without a warrior and an optimist. You need us always. Thank you.