Representation matters: women and climate change is a business leadership issue

By Charlotte Miller

The image of world leaders at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt drew immediate questions as to where the women were. Just seven of the 110 world leaders to attend the first week of the conference were women. This contradiction (the need to talk about gender, but not bringing an equal representation of women into the conversation) is a common theme for gender within the context of climate change, and something which all organisations can and should be addressing themselves.

It is increasingly recognised that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. This is caused and exacerbated by gender inequalities in political, social and economic policies and actions.

Malala Fund’s research estimates that, without action, 12.5 million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries could have their education curtailed due to climate-related events each year. Yet evidence shows that closing gender gaps in education can help countries better adapt to the effects of climate change and decrease the rate and impact of global warming. Therefore, investing in girls’ education will have long-term benefits in tackling the climate crisis.

Without action, 12.5 million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries could have their education curtailed due to climate-related events each year.

Gender (alongside Water) was the theme for proceedings at COP on Monday 14th November, wherein nations discussed the progress of their Gender Action Plans (GAP). Whilst some nations furthered their gender commitments (the US Biden administration launched their Climate Gender Equity Fund) we didn’t see nations go beyond understanding the issue and starting to implement the concrete action which is being called for.

“Climate change and gender inequality are interwoven challenges,” Sima Bahous, UN Women Executive Director reminded us at COP27, “We will not meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, or any other goal, without gender equality and the full contribution of women and girls.” And so the world looks to businesses to mainstream gender-responsive climate action. You can start this today in your business by promoting women’s leadership in board rooms and on the ground, and fundamentally building gender considerations into climate action plans.

So how can businesses proactively ensure they are developing gender-responsive action?

  1. Give more women a seat at the table

The COP27 global leaders image highlights the underrepresentation of women at the top levels of decision-making worldwide. Women and girls account for 51% of the global population but only 21% of government ministers are women. For businesses there is a mildly better outlook in the UK with 39.1% of women on the board of the FTSE100 companies in 2022.

Gender equality will only be achieved when a holistic understanding of the barriers to women is fully understood, and action is taken to remove the barriers.

What can you do?

Try asking these questions to get the conversation to going to understand your own company:

  • What is the board gender mix?
  • What about senior management?
  • Is there a considerable disparity in the gender mix between levels? If so, why?

Your best source of information is going to be your employees. Create a space in which they can provide feedback on challenges and barriers they are facing, and then develop action plans on how to address these.

Remember, your influence travels further than just your own operations. So, make sure you understand these as well. Consider the same questions for your suppliers, customers, investments.

  1. Build social and gender considerations into climate action

2022 has seen a boom in businesses declaring ambitious climate action and goals either through own operations or through climate funds, but women continue to be missed out. Leading businesses are starting to recognise this, and we are seeing growing interest in removing the barriers between climate change action and human rights (including gender considerations).

What can you do?

In the same way businesses use climate experts to provide guidance on driving climate action businesses should bring social experts into the conversation. These experts will be able to provide a gender lens and build effective gender-responsive climate action plans.

  1. Improve the representation of women on the ground

While strategic direction and ambitions are decided in the boardrooms, actions and the implementation of the strategy are happening on the ground. This is another area in which increased representation of women can ensure the nuance of social and cultural barriers to women – and consequences for climate – can be effectively understood and mitigated.

What can you do?

Once the strategic direction of your company has been set and the gender-responsive climate action plan created, consider who will be responsible for delivering this on the ground in consultation and implementation. Whether that be your own, supply chain, or partner organisations you should understand what women’s needs and contributions are and how the projects can respond accordingly. For example, a project that provides women access to renewable energy not only provides them with electricity but also decreases their work burden in caring for their family.

We know that policies and action plans which do not specifically consider women will by default reflect experiences of men, and so we must proactively create gender-responsive climate action plans to tackle the disproportionate impacts being felt by women, and this starts with business now.

At Sancroft we champion a holistic approach to sustainability that takes into account social, environmental, and economic considerations. We have decades of experience helping organisations to understand how expectations are changing in the market and how to drive effective action. To find out how we can help you, please contact