Enhancing women’s leadership in sustainable business planning

Female entrepreneurs in sustainability

Female entrepreneurs are increasingly dominating the sustainability space. According to GreenBiz, 58 percent of sustainability executives in big companies are women. They are active agents of change that are determined to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. 

While there are lots of challenges in the face of female leadership, this has not slowed women’s success in prioritising and advancing the sustainability agenda in businesses across the globe. Continue reading to learn more about women’s leadership in regard to sustainable business planning.

What does it mean to be a female entrepreneurs and a sustainability leader?

It’s well known there are gender disparities in entrepreneurship. These largely stem from deeply enshrined socioeconomic, legal, and culturally discriminatory gender practices and norms. Investing in female entrepreneurs, leaders, thought leaders, and change makers is an intelligent practice for achieving environmental and social objectives. 

If we are to appropriately tackle the climate crisis, we must tap into all human potential, and this includes women. They are already taking the lead when it comes to sustainability. These women are creating solutions and building businesses which tackle the climate crisis. 

In addition, they are being employed by companies to head sustainability departments and help businesses make the necessary, just transition. Sustainable leadership surrounds adopting a responsible approach to the way in which we lead and taking the time to consider the wider impact of our actions on the planet and society. 

This can mean thinking about our wider stakeholder group and the natural systems we are operating in and their limitations. Female leadership is inclusive, shares information and power, and encourages participation with the people they are leading. Most importantly, this kind of leadership generates higher levels of empathy and thinks about the ‘human’ side of individuals. 

Women’s participation in environmental decision-making has been hugely important for climate action and gender equality. Women on corporate boards in companies consistently prioritise ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues such as sustainability and climate change. Additionally, women globally are establishing powerful networks to fight environmental degradation and climate-related inequalities. Studies and research have found there is a strong link between corporate SDG commitments and female leaders. The Network for Business Sustainability found several reasons for this. 

The first reason they suspect female executives increase a company’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals is that they have stronger ethical standards. Research has discovered females are less happy to go along with unethical practices. Due to the issues women face regarding equality in our society, they, too, are more likely to consider issues of justice. It’s important to note here that most environmental problems have ethical issues.

For instance, the fast fashion industry is notorious for its issues regarding workers’ rights and social justice. Additionally, climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals are closely connected to a stakeholder perspective. In other words, engaging stakeholders can be challenging, but female executives seem to be more preferable among stakeholders. 

This could come down to society’s expectations of females. In other words, they are more likely to implement sustainability practices while being more receptive to change. Women also improve a company’s decision-making. Research has found when women enter the C-Suite and top management teams, the business becomes more oriented towards change and, as a result, more innovative. All of the above benefits are absolute requirements when it comes to incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals into business strategy to go green.

Contributions and challenges of a female sustainability leader

According to Climate Champions, women rate higher than men on most competencies. Some of these include taking the initiative, learning agility, inspiring and motivating others, and building relationships. Additionally, displaying high integrity and honesty, championing change, making decisions, and communicating powerfully. 

These are all vital competencies when it comes to making an enterprise more sustainable and forward-thinking. Businesses must respond to the climate crisis and navigate the many consequences and risks that arise from climate change. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, particularly in the developing world.

Research has found women are happier to take a lower paying job that has an impact and are more likely to take company action when it comes to sustainability. Therefore, incorporating more women business leaders on corporate boards is an excellent way to tackle environmental problems. According to a LinkedIn article, for every additional woman added to a corporate board, the possibility of a business being sued for climate offences is reduced by 1.5 percent. 

Greening a business does not just assist with liability issues; it can also help to increase profits. Women have an important role to play in 21st-century climate action. The landmark Paris Agreement was brokered and designed under the influence and leadership of several women. These include France’s climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana and the UN Climate Change Chief, Christiana Figueres.

Since the birth of the Agreement, the Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, has also encouraged millions to step up and act and has pushed the climate issue up the political agenda. Simultaneously, women are increasingly at the front of growing investor and corporate climate action movement. There are also many other incredible women working behind the scenes on policy and campaigns within communities and businesses.

Female leaders and entrepreneurs still face challenges. Evidence finds banks often discriminate against them, and gender bias remains a prominent issue within firms. Female entrepreneurs also face other disadvantages in relation to getting into leadership positions. In order to enhance women’s leadership in sustainable business planning, we need to address gender disparity in climate entrepreneurship. There are many ways to do this. In particular, driving recruiting of women in green and tech sectors and appointing more women to boards.

Why businesses need female entrepreneurs to lead on SDGs

It is clear women are key to implementing sustainability in business. There is an apparent connection between women’s leadership and sustainable business planning to ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. According to The Business Commission, women have the six leadership qualities that are needed to advance progress. 

These include innovation, transparency, collaboration, environmental management, social inclusiveness, and long-term thinking. Moreover, they want to address environmental and social challenges. They are more concerned about global issues and want to work in the impact space to try and solve them. Businesses need leaders of all kinds. To champion sustainability, leaders must be motivated by purpose, which many female leaders are.

The Business Commission’s report ‘Better Leadership, Better World: Women Leading for the Global Goals’ describes women’s leadership as a secret sauce that could propel today’s business into a new era. Considering what female climate activists and indigenous tribe members have achieved across the globe, imagine what women could achieve if they lead companies. Women’s leadership champions a long-term perspective and puts profit on equal footing with positive environmental and social impacts. 

Having more women on boards or top leadership teams boosts firms’ performance, according to a range of studies. The biggest benefit of female board directors is the number of additional skills and diversity they add to their roles. Furthermore, women leaders do not just enhance the financial performance of organisations, they also de-risk businesses. As we know, de-risking is vital for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Firms with a higher proportion of women on their boards also tend to invest more in innovation, according to a report and be more innovative as a result. 

This is also vital when it comes to tackling climate change, as we have to change and adapt, and innovation is the key to doing this. Numerous studies find that when women are placed in leadership roles in businesses, society, and governance, climate action is boosted, and carbon dioxide emissions decrease. This is more than just hitting the nail on the social element in ESG and getting more diversity in a business. Women’s leadership in business has proved invaluable in relation to human rights, renewable energy advances, climate policy, water protection, indigenous rights, and much more.

However, this is not to suggest that only women can lead in pursuing the global Goals, but they are crucial drivers of change. If we are to achieve the ambitious climate goals by the 2030 deadline, we require all leaders within the private sector to embed the leadership skills and value to unlock environmentally-friendly business opportunities at scale and speed. We can no longer sit back and wait for the world to become more sustainable, fair, and inclusive. The responsibility rests on all of our shoulders.


Just like small and medium enterprises, women are true drivers of change and an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to adapting to and mitigating the climate crisis. Research has found women are committed to impact and want to solve environmental and social challenges. In addition, they bring new skills to a board that boosts financial profit and improves the productivity of a company. For this reason, we need to enhance women’s leadership and ensure there is a higher proportion of women on boards. This will be crucial to pushing the sustainability case in business.

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