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Women in Sustainability Leadership

heale, miriam, allen & yorkIs leadership still “gendered?” According to the Guardian in a recent article published about Women in Sustainability, “the ‘leader equals man’ days are long gone,” despite the fact that the same article goes on to say that in a recent Pioneers of Sustainability report the six top trailblazers were all men.

In our experience at Allen & York, Sustainability Recruitment Consultancy, we see a wealth of women working within sustainability, many of whom are leaders in their field. However, when we cross examined almost 600 sustainability leaders from our network, we also found that the numbers at Director Level were disproportionately low; only 19% were women and 81% were men. Our figures also show that 39% of ‘middle’ managers are women and 61% men. So does this suggest that there is a glass ceiling in sustainability?

The figures are very similar to those published more broadly across UK business. The latest data from the Professional Boards Forum’s BoardWatch shows that women made up 20.4% of FTSE 100 directors on January 9 2014. Although these figures are initially disappointing, they do indicate an upward trend with an increase from 17.4% last May and 12.5% three years ago and although we are making slower progress than we might like, we see huge potential for women in leadership positions within sustainability in the future;

“In my experience (19 years within sustainable recruitment), I see a wealth of talented women within sustainability at all levels. I suspect one of the reasons for the lower representation of women at Director Level is the relatively youthful status of the sustainability industry. When we first started recruiting within sustainability in the early 90s the market was dominated by male engineers moving across to environmental disciplines. More recently, sustainability has evolved into a more complex and varied discipline and many men and women are now rising through the ranks, to attain senior positions. I anticipate many more Director level roles being taken by women in the near future as the industry continues to mature.” Paul Gosling, MD UK & Europe at Allen & York

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One thought on “Women in Sustainability Leadership

  1. It is fantastic that companies like Allen & York are helping fill the many sustainability leader positions now opening up, and I love that this topic continues to be discussed. As you note – in the article I wrote for the Guardian in October of 2013, I DO say the days of all male leaders are long gone – and note that that is true even though the “Pioneers in Sustainability” report mentioned all men. My point was: just because women aren’t enough the “seen” norm, yet, (so people may not yet be able to have their names come to mind quickly), they are out there doing incredible work and will be much more “seen” the next time a survey like that is conducted (I am convinced!).

    The more we all write and share stories about them, the more they are lauded and speak at conferences, (and the more companies like yours place them) the more women leaders in sustainability will be among those men and women known simply as THE corporate leaders in sustainability.

    As far as I can see – we are on a roll with that trend now.

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