A workplace culture of dignity and respect can positively impact an organization’s triple bottom line. A 2022 study conducted in Sri Lanka by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), that involved 1600+ individuals across 9 companies, found that these businesses lose as much as $1.7 million annually due to violence and harassment in the workplace. Research across the globe has shown that promoting diversity and inclusion simply makes good business sense, and businesses that treat people with respect and dignity are more resilient and sustainable.
To promote the significance of creating safe and respectful workplaces among Sri Lankan businesses, Diversity Collective Lanka (DCLK), in partnership with IFC, has been spearheading a series of workshops that helps organizations build workplaces free from bullying and harassment. The training program equips businesses with global best practices in recognizing and effectively addressing disrespectful behaviors. In addition, throughout 2022, DCLK reached out to several organizations across industries to inform and influence changed behaviors towards inclusive environments.
The critical need for more respectful workplaces
In 2022, the IFC study for Respectful Workplaces found that 3 in 5 employees surveyed experienced workplace bullying or harassment. It was also found that sexual harassment and online violence was the most underreported form of workplace violence, particularly for employees with disabilities, who are 10%-20% more at risk. Such statistics are the tip of the iceberg and highlight how Sri Lankan corporations need to focus on definitive actions to build better workplaces.
Accordingly, DCLK launched its training initiative in March 2022 with a virtual session to understand the needs of Sri Lankan corporations, which was met with enthusiasm by multiple industries. Those undertaking the training will also be provided with a toolkit customized to fit the Sri Lankan context. This includes a Respectful Workplace Policy and Guidelines that organizations can customize to their needs, as well as guidelines on creating awareness among employees. Vice President at DCLK, Bani Chandrasena, was among the key stakeholders in developing this toolkit. Moving forward, DCLK is establishing hotline options for companies to offer the support their employees need when creating positive and respectful workplaces.
The positive impact of DCLK’s training programs
DCLK completed its first Respectful Workplaces program in October 2022, with avid participation from several corporates. These were 10-hour programs that took place over 2 days and were geared toward senior management in critical roles that define company cultures, such as HR, Marketing, and CSR. The program shares investigation and remedial action options that companies can use, followed by the appropriate response to any issues. In 2023, DCLK is looking to organize more programs targeting 100+ participants across 10 companies.
Commenting on the program’s impact, the Head of HR at Pearson Lanka, Inoka Dias, who participated in the first training series, shared, “The Respectful Workplaces Training program sets the foundation to look at bullying and harassment through multiple lenses while being objective and empathetic. The training is geared to embed capability within the workplace to be respectful towards the victim, accused, and observers through a survivor-centered approach. This is a much-needed outlook in modern workplaces. It is necessary to shift from traditional ways of addressing issues to one where contextual, inclusive, and considerate decisions are taken.”
Continuous actions toward building respectful workplaces
Toward its vision of workplaces where employees can work with respect and dignity, DCLK has adopted a 3-step-long-term plan.
The first step was the series of webinars to raise awareness of the need for Respectful Workplaces. These webinars featured prominent corporate leaders, such as the Chairman of HNB, Aruni Gunathileke, the Head of Ceylon Biscuits Ltd, Samitha Perera, and the Head of HR at Virtusa, Sampath Thirimavathane.
The second step is the Respectful Workplaces Training Program and its solutions to help companies build a sustainable and supportive corporate culture. Already DCLK has 4 trainers that underwent the IFC Respectful Workplaces Training of Trainers program delivering these sessions, with plans to roll out 3 more training sessions in the coming months.
Ultimately, these training programs are a positive first step forward by DCLK toward sustainable respectful corporate cultures. As such, the organization is working towards building a community dedicated to continuous learning and developing respectful workplaces. Thus, enabling DCLK and other organizations to support each other with regular meetups, introducing supportive tools, and sharing best practices. Collectively, such efforts would allow all stakeholders to enhance policy implementation in the workplace.
Organizations interested in joining the Respectful Workplaces Training Program by DCLK can reach out to [email protected] to sign up for future programs.