Why Women are the Answer to Achieving Sustainability

Irene Boychuck
Irene Boychuck

Gender diversity is often seen as a problem to solve when, really, it’s the answer to some of our most pressing challenges. And one of the greatest imperatives facing society and businesses today is unarguably sustainability.

Businesses are beginning to take a more proactive approach to managing environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) to address sustainability at their operations and drive long-term value but there’s always more that can be done — or done better. The latest EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer shows Canadian companies are now recognizing the link between social purpose and economic value and beginning to implement strategies to measure and report on value to their people, customers and communities. More than 90% of Canadian respondents to the survey said they’ve put social benefit measurement and reporting in place, or plan to have it in place within the next 12 months.

What’s more, there’s growing acknowledgment that financial performance isn’t the only measure of value today. The Embankment Project for Inclusive Capitalism (EPIC) issued a call for businesses to think about creating or protecting value beyond just the financial yardstick. The reason? Stakeholders—from employees to customers and investors — are increasingly focused on intangibles like intellectual property, brand and sustainability. How companies respond to climate change can influence performance. And with more emphasis and attention of ESG efforts, companies can’t afford to overlook untapped resources right in front of them. Women can, and must, play a critical role in how organizations tackle ESG to thrive in the future.

Like every other broader societal issue, equal participation and leadership of women is critical to creating meaningful change. A report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, created to make the business case for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), makes the compelling case for women to lead efforts to meet those goals. The study found that women business leaders are particularly well-positioned and well-qualified to take the reins of SDG initiatives.

That’s because women possess unique leadership qualities, including their tendency to embrace collaboration and social inclusiveness. Women leaders want to address social and environmental challenges and have shown a proclivity to act on those issues. They’re motivated by purpose and actually seek out jobs that will allow them the opportunity to bring about change.

And there’s a bottom line benefit for companies putting women on the frontlines of these efforts. The financial boon that comes to organizations with women in their C-suites, paired with putting female leaders in charge of ESG, is a savvy one-two punch for any business.

It’s one thing to talk about bringing more women to the table to forward ESG efforts and another to make it happen. The power of diversity and inclusion won’t come to life without a culture of belonging. That’s when everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work — and when you see the real potential of diversity of thought. Ensuring women are represented in the workforce is critically important, but so is making sure they feel heard, respected and valued for their differences.

It’s a day of reckoning for businesses as investors, employees and stakeholders increasingly demand they embrace sustainability. Is your business valuing the leadership qualities that can help it achieve its ESG goals? If not, look around — there’s very likely a woman at your organization who possesses the qualities you need and the desire to lead the charge towards sustainability.

Irene Boychuk, FCPA FCA
EY Canada Assurance Partner and Saskatchewan Diversity & Inclusiveness leader with Women. fast Forward
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