Leading economic change through gender diversity. Sometimes a woman’s touch is what’s needed 

 

‘Men wear the pants but women control the zipper’ — Unknown.

When I, Vicky Ngari-Wilson was asked to speak at the Pre-Women Economic Forum (WEF 2016) in association of ALL Ladies League (ALL) — a prelude to the main event where thousands of women across the globe will find their way to India this May — other than social change I was questioning how to bring my subject area to the table, as I never saw the sustainability frontier as gender specific.

The World Economic Forum recently had gender equality and climate change both at the top of the agenda. Naturally it reopened questions of the correlation between women and social and environmental change. Provoking deeper research for insight, I discovered many inspirational women leading in sustainable change. I asked myself do more women, mean more change?

Studies consistently tell us that having diversity on an executive team results in more creative, dynamic approaches. In support of that, even though I was the only one at the forum that focused on Social Change and Sustainability as a topic, my panel on Innovation and Startups had one other female entrepreneur whose product’s supply chain was mindful of creating jobs at grassroots level in Africa. The other two gentlemen when it came to speaking on the effects of women in their companies — whether subconsciously or not — brought attention to results in problem solving and making a difference on a wider sphere.

I rarely hear of women in mainstream media leading sustainable change other than occasional celebrity endorsements and those in the business sector. This took me back to the uproar two years ago when Weinreb Group released a report on ‘Sustainability Trailblazers’ and all six of the pioneers were mature Caucasian men. Later it was found that the lowest percentage of the voters were women and unfortunately the nominees were even fewer from this group.

Understandably the area of sustainability is still evolving as society tries to define it, and this must happen before it can even be identified as an equal gender industry. Yet it would make sense to determine that this business more than others requires ‘soft’ tactics and characteristics, those that are typically possessed by women. Quite possibly, women are the ones who could break it down in a language we as a society can recognize.

So what is it going to take to drive more women towards the sustainable and social entrepreneur arena?

Of course career opportunities and potential salary are key. However, taking a brief look at the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sector as a generic example, I was not shocked to discover that it showed little difference from the countless studies which proved that women’s salaries are significantly lower in the boardroom. According to Assets Acre 2014 survey, there is an approximate equal split in gender pay at CSR managerial level. Shockingly, women make up more of the junior roles, while directors or heads have a difference of around 20 per cent in favour of men. To add to that, zero women are earning between £180-220k plus, while there are between one and three per cent of men earning those handsome figures. Lines continue to stay blurred when it comes to women growing and declining in this young industry.

Government organisation like DFID, Venture Capitalist and Angel Investors are increasingly looking to invest in innovative social and environmental solutions. Given the 17 sustainable development goals adopted by 150 world leaders, alongside the undercurrent mandate of gender diversity in the board room, I would say it is a time to shine, a time for women who have tangible social and sustainable business ideas to drive economies.

Perhaps leaving the boardroom and taking our pencil skirts and suits into rural parts of the globe to upscale local ideas may create revelation as well as opportunity. Perhaps indigenous cultures where often environmental research and solutions are identified, should be our next boardroom.

The millennial generation are already on their way, questioning the source of what they consume and what causes their work supports. So ‘millennial women’ could be the significant leaders to attract generation Z (born after 2000) and diversify male profiles in this industry towards applying their skills to global change.

Well, based on the age of the ‘trend’ I would certainly rely on my female peers to follow healthier, environmentally friendly beauty initiatives, as for men: a night club owner once said to me, ‘get the girls in and the boys will follow’.

By Vicky Ngari-Wilson

 

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