Climate change and gender equality

Anna Triponel

July 29, 2022
Our key takeaway: “Women and other underserved groups are disproportionately impacted by the global climate crisis, but they are also uniquely positioned to lead the fight for sustainability.” Gender equity and environmental sustainability are closely intertwined. Business and political leaders need to work to empower women and address environmental challenges through an intersectional approach to sustainability. They now have clear guidance on how to proceed to empower more women to lead the way in fighting the climate crisis.

Jamie L. Gloor, Eugenia Bajet Mestre, Corinne Post, and Winfried Ruigrok published ‘We Can’t Fight Climate Change Without Fighting for Gender Equity’ (July 2022) in the Harvard Business Review: 

  • “What does gender have to do with environmental sustainability?”: The article delves into how environmental sustainability and gender equity are intertwined. First, the article delves into a report from United Nations (UN) Women which found that women are disproportionately impacted by most if not all of the challenges highlighted in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Examples include: women and girls are often disproportionately affected by natural disasters; they are more likely to be the ones collecting water in the Global South which is becoming harder in light of droughts; they are more likely to live in flood zones in Europe than men; and they are at the receiving end of increases in gender-based violence following natural disasters. Second, many policies and initiatives suffer from “carbon tunnel vision”, whereby they ignore, or even actively harm, women and other underserved groups, by prioritising for instance carbon gains to the detriment of the needs of women. Third, even where these issues are considered alongside each other, they remain isolated. “Despite their clear connections, companies often set separate goals for each sustainability dimension, leading many top executives and board directors to agree that not enough is being done to link social sustainability and diversity with climate goals.”
  • Distinct female leadership advantage: At the same time, “while women are especially vulnerable in this climate crisis, they are also uniquely positioned to act as powerful agents of change.” For instance: “women have smaller carbon footprints than men, more-responsible attitudes towards climate change, and greater interest in protecting the environment.” “Female leaders are already tackling the climate crisis from the grassroots up to the top levels of the corporate world, with studies showing that organizations with more female executives and board members have better performance in terms of both environmental impact and broad corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals.” The article highlights “a distinct female leadership advantage” that has been proven during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that may extend to the climate crisis as well.
  • Six recommendations for leaders to empower more women to lead the way in fighting the climate crisis: The authors highlight six recommendations for leaders, based on their own extensive research and desktop review. First, “Promote women’s representation in climate policy and decision-making”. Second, “Craft narratives that inspire girls and women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.” Third, “Narrow the gender data gap.” Fourth, “Report on your performance for E, S, G…and their intersections.” Fifth, “Normalize men caring about climate.” Sixth, “Self-educate.” The article concludes with a reminder to consider other social categories (e.g. age, race, location, socioeconomic status) and not to treat gender as a binary. In short, “To tackle climate change (as well as the myriad other sustainability challenges that face today’s organizations), leaders must acknowledge the complexity and interconnectedness of these issues — and work to develop integrated solutions that will improve them all.”

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