iSAW sees gender equality as catalyst for accelerating ESG

Business leaders need to adopt new mindsets, says new study on ESG

Companies are still struggling to address gender inequality. The new report “Gender Equality: A Catalyst for Accelerating ESG and Beyond” from iSAW, an international Strategic Accelerator for Women, has examined how gender equality is a key catalyst for accelerating ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) commitments. 

The study is deliberately provocative and has identified several key ESG and business benefits for organisations that embrace gender equality, the barriers to achieving them, and a ‘multiplier effect’ model that will leverage change within their organisation.

The study’s main findings are as follows: Gender equality must be integrated into all aspects of the ESG framework. Gender equality is not just a part of ESG but a key catalyst for its acceleration. Governance is where this gender equality-induced acceleration opportunity most easily creates momentum for achieving a sustainable set of broader ESG and strategic outcomes.

This virtuous relationship between governance and gender equality is currently the most dominant. When women are present in senior management and on boards, they influence key decisions, internal control systems and other governance activities. 

Low progress

It is important to note that this research is critical to the current pace of progress, as the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2022 projects that it will take an average of 132 years to achieve gender equality worldwide.

This figure combines four different indicators of gender equality progress, with one of the most radical indicators, women’s economic participation, estimating that it will take 151 years (the global average) to achieve equality.

iSAW and Ascent do not accept this timetable and are committed to increasing women’s equality in the workplace. They believe that companies can make a difference and that the 132 years can be reduced if leaders accelerate women’s equality in the workplace.

New challenge

The new challenge is to advance women’s economic equality in 20 years. This roadmap focuses on one aspect of this business value, namely ESG, and the need to refocus leaders’ mindsets and behaviours on this issue. The decisions taken to date, largely dominated by men, have left the wider aspects of sustainable business severely degraded.

To achieve this 10-fold acceleration, business leaders need to change their behaviour and act on the value of greater gender equality, not only as social responsibility but also as a lever for sustainably better business outcomes, including meeting their ESG commitments.

These include climate change, the growing wealth gap, environmental degradation, resource constraints, social inequality, and geopolitical tensions that have challenged many of our global systems (energy, food, economic stability, etc.).

In terms of benefits, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, there is considerable untapped economic value, which has estimated that an additional $28 trillion in GDP would be unlocked over ten years if the full potential of gender equality was achieved. This is equivalent to doubling women’s likely contribution to global GDP under the status quo scenario. Achieving global gender equity is not about redistributing existing economic resources but about creating additional economic value from which all people can benefit.

The more gender balance there is at the top, the more the dominant leadership culture and behaviours will positively impact decisions about the broader dimensions of ESG, for example, by setting new environmental standards, strengthening partnerships with social stakeholders and increasing levels of trust with these stakeholders. 

Over time, further iterations of this virtuous cycle led to blocking actions. The company became more visibly motivated and started to invest more deliberately in integrating ESG outcomes into its strategic decision-making processes. This virtuous spiral is catalysed and supported by the shift to greater gender diversity and equality.

Ebtehal Alrawaily, iSAW International, said: “Gender equality is not a target to accomplish or a number to mark, but instead it’s a mindset to create and a lifestyle to live by.” 

Joyce Aiko McCulloch, Ai Inclusion, DE&I Consulting, CEO, explained: “The positive symbiotic relationship between ESG goals and gender equality goals is undeniable. ESG and equality benefit all genders and require the engagement of all genders to make it a reality. This report goes beyond the analysis to promote tangible actions to make this a reality. It is possible one action at a time to create our new reality.” 

Dr Lysette Davis, Honors Instructor and Project Oversight International Educator, PhD, University of Arizona W.A. Franke Honors College, added: “This work is significant because when gender equality seems impossible, we need real tangible steps to make change through collaborative efforts. If we do the work, then gender equality can be real. We need all of us. We can do this.”

Regan Bakke, Honors Student at University of Arizona W.A. Franke Honors College, continued: “I learned that the inclusion of women is a businesses’ superpower. I focused on the environmental aspect of ESG in businesses, and from that research, it is clear sustainability cannot be achieved without women at the forefront of businesses. 

They are the leaders of climate movements, and they statistically suffer from climate-driven hazards more than their opposing gender. With a woman’s perspective, a business can only make more knowledgeable and successful decisions on how to become a sustainable face in this world.”  

Claire Hamlin, ESG and DEI Head and Partner, Q5 Consulting, pursued: “Many businesses are now realising the intrinsic link between our big societal challenges and our big existential ones (such as the climate crisis)!

“I’m proud to have been part of this research that provides a great framework through which business leaders can start to understand the true impact of gender diversity and how this can be an accelerator of progress against sustainability.

“The challenge of sustainability transformation is huge, yet the opportunity to tackle gender equality whilst achieving progress on ESG targets is clear. I would strongly encourage you to read the report!”

Nancy Speidel, iSAW International, said: “The ESG Gender Equality report uses a futuristic approach that reinforces the urgent need to accelerate gender equality on a global scale.

“Gender Equality is not a stand-alone item in ‘S’; it is linked to and is an enabler for every component of ESG. The ESG Gender Equality report demonstrates how business can take action and accelerate both ESG and Gender Equality.” 

Saar Ben-Attar, Ascent-Growth Partners, concluded: “It is the new generation that is challenging us to create diverse, innovative, purpose-full organisations. Without them, reaching gender equality within two decades could not be envisioned, let alone accomplished.” 

The full report can be accessed here.

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