IFC’s Aarthy Arunasalam works to advance gender equality in Sri Lanka’s private sector. Count Cosmo among her fans. Photo: Amitha Thennakoon/Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka

By Thuy Dinh

When Aarthy Arunasalam received a call from the chief editor of Echelon, one of Sri Lanka’s leading business magazines, she was prepared to pitch IFC’s gender work. To her surprise, the editor wasn’t calling to talk about IFC. Arunasalam was being nominated for Cosmopolitan’s 35 Under 35, a list that recognizes movers and shakers who are making an impact in Sri Lanka.

The recognition was unexpected. As a high-performing and hyper-focused professional, Arunasalam had only one goal: to advance gender equality within the private sector in Sri Lanka.

A Career with Impact at IFC

Arunasalam is an Operations Officer/Employment Lead for IFC’s Women in Work Program in Sri Lanka—a five-year, $10-million program that began in March 2017 in partnership with the government of Australia. Prior to joining IFC, she was a HR business partner for the Water Category in Unilever, managing more than 500 employees across 12 countries. Her original career plan was to become an HR Director of a multinational company by age 30, but the scale of impact she could make in the private sector through IFC inspired the shift.

“It really boils down to the multiple stakeholders I get to influence through my work,” Arunasalam said. “At IFC, I engage with a wide array of clients, employees, consumers, entrepreneurs, distributors, suppliers, and multilaterals on a country or regional scale.”

Her work at IFC helps bridge the gender gap within the private sector, she added.

“Gender equality not only increases the productivity and growth for businesses, it’s also good for the employees and the communities,” Arunasalam said. “There is also a broader economic impact. By bridging the gender gap in Sri Lanka, I’m contributing to increasing the country’s GDP by 20 percent. The volume we’re talking about is huge.”

Through Arunasalam’s work, over 170,000 employees in 15 leading companies across multiple sectors in Sri Lanka are now enjoying more equal and respectful workplaces.

Aarthy Arunasalam at the Together We Can launch event.
Aarthy Arunasalam at the Together We Can launch event.

A Journey with Rippling Effects

Arunasalam’s career at IFC began in 2018, when she applied for a job that her husband described as “designed for you.”

“Almost three years in, I’m so glad to have seized the opportunity to work for IFC,” she said, referring particularly to the SheWorks and Tackling Employer-Supported Childcare initiatives, where she collaborates with leading companies from growth sectors such as banking, garments, IT, and tourism to pave the way for Sri Lanka’s private sector to become more gender-equal.

For Arunasalam, job satisfaction comes from the success stories she hears from clients each day: when a father tells her having access to childcare means his wife doesn’t have to quit her job, or when the first female CEO of a conglomerate was appointed—something that had never happened in Sri Lanka’s history.

That kind of impact—not the Cosmo kind of recognition—is what keeps Arunasalam motivated.

“If you have an idea, you can really bring it to life at IFC. It’s just a matter of convincing internal stakeholders,” Arunasalam added. “And once you pass that phase, the magic starts to happen, and the journey will always continue.”

Published in October 2020

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This story is part of the IFC NextGen campaign, amplifying the voices of young IFC staff and recognizing their significant contributions to the World Bank Group twin goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.

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