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The Female Quotient

Get more women into positions of leadership and innovation to achieve climate goals

Published 5 December 2023 in The Female Quotient • 5 min read


The transition to a greener future needs to happen fast. What does that have to do with gender diversity?  

Innovation is needed at breakneck speed across sectors if we are to meet our now-clear sustainability goals. We know the why (we have the data, and it’s not good), so now it’s about the how: the transition. 

One of the recurring leitmotifs of the COP28 discussions is how we are going to translate ideas into action. Organizations understand that sustainability is important, but many are caught in the mire of working out how to practice it.  

On day one of COP28, half a billion USD was committed but it was a backward approach; we are trying to undo the harm done. We need to look forward, meaning money must go into innovation. How fast we can bring the new tech and the data needed for the transition to those who can mobilize it will determine our success in hitting our targets.  

Much of that money needs to go into women’s hands, not least because they have a greater sensitivity to the green cause and are more likely to invest in social impact. For the same reason, more women also need to be in more leading positions, including on boards. 

This was a major message transmitted by both male and female global leaders at Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge, which ran alongside COP28 in Dubai. 

With women on boards, ‘capital gets committed’ 

Research shows that the more women you have on boards, the more ESG there is. This is partly also because women tend to be more driven by purpose. And that translates into cash flow. 

As thought leaders working with organizations, business schools have a major role to play in finding ways to invest this capital in strategic ways. 

“We have long talked about the moral case but now we have a business case. The more women on the board the better for climate investment: capital gets committed and – importantly – gets followed through. But we often have the same women on board – the ‘usual suspects’ – so we do have work to do there,” says IMD Professor of Finance Salvatore Cantale.

He added that now is the moment for women in these roles to take risks. “After all, our options have been narrowed so much.” 

Research also shows there is a direct correlation between innovation and diversity, meaning getting more women into innovation is only going to help achieve climate change goals. We should also proactively recruit more women into procurement roles.  

In STEM, in particular, women often drop out. Organizations can take concrete steps to try to mitigate this, such as implementing anti-harassment policies and supporting those with childcare needs. 

Company mindset starts with individuals 

Inclusive companies are created by inclusive mindsets. So how can we change mindsets so that individuals are more inclusive in their thinking? 

Research shows that the more women you have on boards, the more ESG there is. This is partly also because women tend to be more driven by purpose. And that translates into cash flow

“All of us have our biases, and that’s okay, as long as we are aware of them,” says Natalia Olynec, IMD’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “Let’s embrace our biases, and also choose them. But let’s select ones that are productive. For instance, I would like to choose to have a bias for younger generations because climate change is no longer a problem of the future. The youth will feel the effects and in particular women and girls.” 

“As executive educators, we have a lot of power, and also responsibility, to shape mindsets. IMD tracks the number of female protagonists in their examples of female business cases to ensure a gender balance and to make sure they are mirroring what organizations want to see in the world.” 

Working with role play with MBA students and senior executives is one innovative way IMD simulated the COP negotiations. “Living it, experiencing it, and feeling it in your own body and the feeling impact there is so important,” says Olynec. 

“I believe the ripple effects of lifelong learning and embracing our own biases can be incredibly powerful as we try to incorporate gender perspectives into environmental learning.” 

At Deloitte, a culture of calling out unconscious biases as they happen is encouraged. Meanwhile, on a national level, India is changing mindsets by putting funding into primary-level inclusivity and some firms partake in a “take your mother-in-law to work day”. Women are good drivers of change: of hardwiring solutions into daily practices. “So long as we empower more women, but also create more diversity, we will make better and more resilient decisions,” says Cantale. 

It’s a question of democratizing, not only on the innovation and investment side but at the very top of organizations. 

The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge at COP28 in Dubai created a forum to discuss the work women are doing worldwide to shape climate policies, and to showcase the significant impact of diversity, equity, and inclusion in meeting target goals. 

Moira Forbes

Executive Vice President, Forbes

Ann Rosenberg

Senior Sustainability and Climate Advisor

Anders Rodenberg

CEO, Denominator

Dr. Anino Emuwa

Founder, Avandis Consulting and 100 Women@Davos

Carolina Minio Paluello

CEO, Arabesque AI

Salvatore Cantale

Professor, IMD

Janna Salokangas

Co-Founder, Mia (Mission Impact Academy)

Derrick Feldmann

Managing Director, ISG Research Advisor

Manal Shaikh

Editor in Chief, The Climate Tribe

Natalia Olynec, Head of Sustainability at IMD

Natalia Olynec

Chief Sustainability Officer, International Institute for Management Development (IMD)

Lasse Borris Sørensen

CEO and Leading Sustainable Projects Expert, Plan A

Dr Nitya Mohan Khemka

Director Global South Partnerships, PATH

Kathy Alsegaf

Global Chief Sustainability Officer, Deloitte


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