The Independent launches 'Independent Climate'

The data is clear: gender diversity in the workplace is better for the environment

Female leadership in international, national and local climate policy making is vital, so let’s make it happen

When I am posting about equality, diversity and inclusion online, sometimes men (not straw men but real ones) will respond, saying something like, “Why aren’t you focused on the day job?”

Twitter is not always the most supportive place for women’s voices, so here is my answer.

In my 25 years working in financial services I saw individuals and businesses respond to changes in society at different speeds. Gender diversity leads to better outcomes. Organisations that limit themselves to 50 per cent of the available talent will always fail to fully understand their investors, customers and competitors.

Nearly a decade ago, I helped set up the 30% Club and its investor group to increase the number of women in the boardroom. While we celebrate success in this, with a dramatic jump in the last five years, women’s progress to top executive roles is still fragile and slow.

The inclusion of women also leads to stronger outcomes on climate change. Oil companies with higher female representation at board level are more likely to have set decarbonisation strategies. This doesn’t mean having more women leads to lower emissions, but it does point to a positive correlation between gender diversity and improving climate governance.

The impacts of climate change, such as floods, heatwaves or wildfires, disproportionately hit women’s livelihoods. After Hurricane Katrina, women in New Orleans experienced an average loss of earnings of seven per cent the following year, while men experienced a 23 per cent gain, largely due to the importance of male-dominated industries, like construction, after the storm.

Such discrepancies in times of crisis is at odds with the fair and just economic recovery we now seek after the pandemic. People with relevant experiences need to be included in decision making, as this makes for better policy. A significant lack of this looks like a technical error.

But it’s a glitch we can fix. This year, the UK hosts Cop26 in Glasgow and China stages the Convention on Biological Diversity, Cop15, in Kunming. In the run-up to these, we must amplify the voices of the many women who work on the climate change and nature recovery agendas, not just on International Women’s Day, but every day.

We also need to walk the walk ourselves. The Environment Agency is an emergency responder to the most serious climate impacts in England. Through our flood work and regulation we help make the country more resilient to climate shocks. In January, I was out with teams in Greater Manchester as part of the response to Storm Christoph. Our defences stopped tens of thousands of people from being flooded out of their homes.

Ten of our 15 area directors across the country are women. They lead these efforts on the ground. Our board has seven women and five men. I’m not pretending we’ve got diversity sorted, we’re a long way from it, but being a more inclusive organisation that is representative of the communities we serve makes us more efficient.

Melinda Gates and David Malpass recently wrote: “When the 2008 recession hit, few asked how stimulus measures would affect women compared with men. That approach won’t work for the Covid-19 crisis. As leaders face the enormous challenge of rebuilding post-pandemic economies, women must be at the centre of their strategies.”

We need to keep amplifying women’s voices at work, not only because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s consistent with the values we project to the rest of the world, but because the data is clear: organisations that embrace gender diversity get better financial results and environmental outcomes.

As the climate crisis brings a multitude of overlapping impacts in the coming decades we will need to use all of our expertise and strength to be prosperous and resilient. Female leadership in international, national and local climate policy making is vital. That’s why equality, diversity and inclusion isn’t just a part of the day job; it is a core objective.

Emma Howard Boyd is chair of the Environment Agency

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