The Race is On for Women Ride-hailing Customers in Sri Lanka

4 min readDec 7, 2020


By Henriette Kolb and William Sonneborn

Few industries have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic more than the transport industry. Both the public and private sector, including ride-hailing, are looking for solutions that will ensure a sustainable future. To ensure a resilient recovery from the pandemic and the opportunity to thrive, it is essential for companies not only to create safe travel options, but also to attract customers who haven’t previously used tech-based transport.

A new International Finance Corporation (IFC) study conducted with the Sri Lankan ride-hailing company, PickMe, and IFC’s development partner, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), suggests that ride-hailing platforms should look to an important, but often underserved market: women. The report finds that annual revenues could increase by over a quarter if differences between women and men in the percentage of riders and frequency rides were closed. We found that while existing women riders in Sri Lanka are more likely than men to depend on ride-hailing to cover basic transport needs, they take fewer trips overall because they are less likely to join the workforce or go out at night.

These barriers are not easily overcome. However, IFC is increasingly seeing a “race to the top” as companies across the industry invest in solutions that bring women riders and drivers into the market.

PickMe, has established a dedicated team with the mandate to recruit, retain, and support women drivers- a key to attracting women riders. PickMe reported that many women register to drive, but end up dropping out and found that having a personal touch, through the dedicated team, builds the personal connections that enable women to stay on the platform over time.

Recently, the PickMe platform has gone a step further by rolling out products designed to support women. For instance, the app adjusted its rider-driver matching algorithm so that if a man and a woman driver were to be equidistant from a potential courier pick-up, the woman driver would receive the trip. The company also piloted a “Lady First” option where women riders had the option to select a woman driver. Coupled with solutions like a 24-hour hotline, PickMe hopes to attract more women, who remain widely underrepresented in ride-sharing and in transport work more broadly, to join the sector.

Other effective approaches include working with employers to develop transport partnerships and continuously innovating on safety and security measures.

Solutions like these can also have strong social high impact in markets like Sri Lanka, where limited access to transport has been consistently linked to low female labor force participation rates. In surveys, 64 percent of women PickMe riders said that they can access more or better jobs thanks to ride-hailing; and 88 percent said ride-hailing gives them access to new places. This finding reinforces IFC’s previous research in six countries showing that women with access to ride-hailing reported increased mobility- even for women who were affluent or had multiple transport options.

As markets around the world face the challenge of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, a call has gone out for a resilient recovery to ensure that our economies grow back stronger, greener, and more equal than the ones we had before -The private sector can, and should, play a key role in addressing the recent rise in gender inequality. Safe, affordable, and accessible transportation is a central element of that recovery. By designing for women, ride-hailing can drive change for the better.

To learn more about women and ride-hailing join IFC’s roundtable with PickMe, Uber, and Bolt on December 9 or check out the following resources:

· Women and Ride-hailing in Sri Lanka (Report)

· Driving toward equality: Women, ride-hailing, and the sharing economy (Report)

· Gender-segregated transport in ride-hailing: Navigating the debate (Report)

· Will women return to ride-hailing after the coronavirus pandemic? (Blog)

· Five things a global study on ride-hailing tells us about women and the sharing economy (Blog)

Henriette Kolb is Manager, Gender and Economic Inclusion Group at the International Finance Corporation

William Sonneborn is Senior Director, Disruptive Technologies and Funds at the International Finance Corporation




IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets.