Sri Lankan Pharma Boardroom: Women to Watch

Gayathri Ratnayake, Managing Director of Rohto Mentholatum Lanka Private Limited.

In a country powered by over 50% women, we cannot ignore the need for more female representation in management and C-suite roles. This is true to all sectors of the economy, including the Pharmaceutical Industry, where empowering women in decisions about drug research and access to medicines can pave the way to truly equitable healthcare.

As the world celebrates women in March, we spoke to Gayathri Ratnayake, Managing Director of Rohto Mentholatum Lanka Private Limited, who shared her experience of being part of the handful of women that have been able to shatter the glass ceiling in the industry.

An industry veteran, Gayathri passion in the business of Pharma began in Japan 18 years ago when she joined the multi-national company Rohto Pharma. Playing a key role in its International Division, she was entrusted with launching the brand across Southeast Asian markets, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, before coming home to Sri Lanka in 2013.

Since then, she not only forged a successful partnership with international conglomerate, Baurs Healthcare which is also a member of the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI), to expand its product portfolio to the Sri Lankan market, but also manages a team of close to 50 staff, the majority of whom are women.

She believes that if women are given the confidence to take up more leadership roles in leadership positions and be part of the ever-growing job market, Sri Lanka will be able to achieve its full potential in healthcare.

What challenges do you see in achieving diversity in the pharmaceutical industry?

One of the main obstacles faced by women in this sector is the nature of the job. Our industry requires employees to constantly travel and meet with different counterparts, mostly men. Being a woman in an Asian country is a tough task. There are times when women are reluctant to enter this career as there is a fear of sexual harassment or bullying, which should not be the case. It is unfortunate, but even though we live in the 21st century, our society has still not reached a place where women, feel safe. This is not limited to the Pharma sector but across the board. If you look at Sri Lanka, most pharma representatives are males, but what I have seen, countries like Myanmar, Vietnam or Japan maintain close to a 50-50 split.

In a male-dominated industry, how did you manage to achieve a gender-balanced workforce at your company?

At Rohto Pharmaceuticals in Japan, 50% of the workforce is women. Their gender inclusive policies are a standard in all the countries they operate in. My team in Sri Lanka is very energetic and proactive. You will see them in the field doing the same work their male counterparts would do. Although I head the company, I still go out and meet people to keep abreast of what is happening in the market. I advise my team to constantly meet new people and always be alert to what is happening around them. We also ensure that we conduct training programs periodically, so they learn from industry experts as well.

How can we encourage women to move up the corporate ladder?

My motive is to create a working environment where women do not face harassment and a comfortable place to work in. A gender-inclusive workplace is one where everyone feels comfortable and safe.  Next, we need to inspire confidence in women. In our culture where women are assigned the role of a care-giver, most leave the workforce once they become mothers. This should not be the case. As a working mother myself, I believe that we can contribute so much more to our companies and our economy.

What would you say is your leadership style?

I always believe that we should identify and leverage on our employees’ passion for their work. I think that in order to build and develop a company, we need to build a strong and happy team. When the company reaches heights as a leader, our teams should reach the same height too.

As we celebrate women in March, what is your hope for women in the industry?

I do believe that we are able to create more role models in the Pharma sector. Even today, I have observed that there is an urgent need for businesses especially in our industry to adopt strategies that empower female employees. This is important if companies are to achieve sustainable growth and instill the value of leadership amongst its staff. It is also important that Women leaders in this industry need to support and empower other women to reach their full potential.