New Report Shows Women’s Leadership Can Unlock Major Opportunities Linked to Sustainable Economy

Photo © Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development

Gender equality in the workplace is key to unlocking significant business growth, and driving positive social and environmental impacts, according to Better Leadership, Better World: Women Leading for the Global Goals, released ahead of International Women’s Day

London (5 March 2018) – Women’s leadership in business is critical to driving significant economic opportunities and driving better performance, as well as broader, long-term benefits for society and the environment, according a new report released by WomenRising2030, an initiative launched by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission. Better Leadership, Better World: Women Leading for the Global Goals, argues that, gender equality in the workplace can help unlock more than US$12 trillion in new market value linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (or Global Goals).

“We are at a tipping point when it comes to equality in the workplace,” said Marisa Drew, CEO of Credit Suisse’s Impact Advisory and Finance Department who is featured in the report. “Business benefits when all employees have a shared vision of the future – one that is fairer, more inclusive and sustainable. This report provides the business case for gender-balanced leadership to help propel these conversations in boardrooms and across the workplace.”

In 2017, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission showed in its flagship report, Better Business, Better World, there is a compelling financial incentive for pursuing sustainable business models: unlocking more than US$12 trillion per year and up to 380 million jobs by 2030. This new report, “Better Leadership, Better World: Women Leading for the Global Goals,”showsthat women leaders are accelerators, helping companies unlock this ‘economic prize’ associated with pursuing the Global Goals – 17 objectives to end hunger, poverty, and inequality, and effectively tackle climate change and resource degradation by 2030.

"Women’s leadership cannot be a ‘nice-to-have’ for business. Companies that continue to have male-dominated leadership will miss out on business opportunities unlocked by gender-balanced teams,” said Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and member of the Business Commission. “At the current pace, it will take 217 years to achieve gender equality – and that’s bad news for economy and society. We at Unilever understand the importance of gender-balanced leadership and investments across our value chains. Women’s leadership makes good business sense."  

Better Leadership, Better World identifies six leadership competencies critical to successfully developing business opportunities in line with the Global Goals: long-term thinking, innovation, collaboration, transparency, environmental management, and social inclusiveness. Research highlighted in the report underscores that women in business can play a critical role in deploying these six competencies within more gender-balanced leadership teams.

A number of studies support this argument, showing there are compelling financial incentives for companies to achieve gender balance across all levels. One study found If women were to participate in the economy identically to men, they could add as much as US$28 trillion to global annual gross domestic product by 2025. There is also evidence that businesses with more women in high-level management positions, particularly on directorial boards, are better able to shift their business’s focus from maximising short-term profit to achieving longer-term growth goals. Research shows that women leaders also tend to be collaborative and skilled at balancing multiple stakeholders’ interests to reach decisions that benefit all parties. Companies with more women on their boards are more likely to invest in renewable power generation, low-carbon products, and energy efficiency.

In addition to highlighting relevant research, the report features interviews with 25 senior women leaders from across diverse industries, including AXA, Credit Suisse, Mars, Symantec, Telenor, Thomson Reuters, and Unilever, as well as from major civil society organisations, including the African Development Bank, Ceres, the International Trade Union Confederation, the UN Global Compact, and Women’s World Banking. 

Both technology and investment have been identified as drivers of the Global Goals, and industries where women’s leadership could help further accelerate achievement of the goals.

“We used to think that leading with purpose was a nice to have, however, today this has become a must have,” said Cecily Joseph, Vice President, Corporate Responsibility, Symantec Corporation.Technology innovation is moving at lightning speed, and at the same time there is an underutilized opportunity to drive value for business and society. Female technology leaders can apply their unique and individual strengths to capitalize on this, creating businesses that outpace the competition and a world we can all be proud to be a part of.”

"There is incredible value in investing in women’s leadership, which is a priority for my company,” said Vineet Rai, founder Aavishkar-Intellecap Group, a leading impact investor based in India. “With the growth of gender-lens investing and expansion of the number of investments that promote women’s leadership globally, there is a positive shift happening in the investment world that cannot be ignored.”  

The lack of women’s leadership is a global business issue. Women occupy just 15 percent of board seats worldwide. In the US, women account for an abysmal 5 percent of all CEOs among S&P 500 companies. And in the UK, the situation is worse: In 2016, there were more men named David (eight) than women (six) CEOs in the FTSE 1000. In the 1,557 largest listed companies in 20 Asia-Pacific countries, measured by market value, women account for just 12.4 percent of board seats. In Africa, women hold 14.4 per cent of board seats at the 300 largest listed companies. In 2016, one study of 1,259 listed companies in Latin American and Caribbean countries showed that on average 8.5 percent of board members were women.   

There are promising signs that the winds are starting to shift. In January of this year, the world’s biggest asset manager, BlackRock, sent a letter to Russell 1000 companies with fewer than two women directors – an estimated 367 companies – asking them to justify how the lack of gender diversity on their boards aligned with their long-term strategies and to report on their efforts to address this gender imbalance. At the same time, the UN announced it had achieved gender balance across senior management.

“Meaningful change can happen,” said Gail Klintworth, champion of WomenRising2030 and Business Transformation Director of the Business Commission. “First, we need to speak in a language that consistently highlights the positive impacts for individual companies when there is gender-balanced leadership. Second, we need to break out of the echo chamber. Business needs to have more open dialogue with both men and women to challenge the status quo, and companies need to prioritise these conversations at every level.”

This report is a call to action for more companies to integrate the Global Goals into their core business strategies, value the leadership competencies critical to achieving the goals, build gender-balanced leadership teams, and promote gender equality throughout their value chains.


About WomenRising2030

WomenRising2030, inspired by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, believes that to deliver progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, business must invest in women’s leadership. Research shows that, when women lead, the economy, society and the environment benefit. The WomenRising2030 Initiative aims to inspire women in business to understand the power they have to make a difference in the world, and to push for change and a chance to lead, and for our male colleagues to join us. 

About the Business & Sustainable Development Commission

The Business & Sustainable Development Commission was a two-year initiative launched in 2016 to make a compelling case for companies to align with the Global Goals. Its flagship report, Better Business, Better World, shows how sustainable business models could unlock more than US$12 trillion in new market value and create up to 380 million jobs by 2030. The Business Commission’s members include leaders from business, finance, civil society, labour, and international organisations. Its legacy lives on through initiatives inspired by recommendations from Better Business, Better World: the Food and Land Use Coalition, the Blended Finance Taskforce, the World Benchmarking Alliance and WomenRising2030. To view our reports, visit