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Women in sustainability

Citrix’s Michelle Senecal de Fonseca on why we need more women’s voices in the sustainability movement
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Women in sustainability

This article first appeared in our Women: time for action issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 02 July 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

‘Patriarchy, spotlighted by the pandemic, is bad for inclusive climate leadership’ said Katharine Wilkinson, co-founder of the All We Can Save Project, in a recent interview with Time magazine.

Over the last year, the pandemic and the climate crisis have together highlighted the gender inequality that exists within our society. Without a significant upsurge in the representation of women’s voices and efforts at the climate table, the sustainability movement will struggle to succeed.

Crucially, I am not calling for female bias; sustainability and the climate crisis are not gender specific, and the speed of our action is more important than who gets us there. However, by failing to include female voices we are missing the richness and diversity of thinking that the subject needs.

As Chiara Corazza, managing director of the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, said: ‘to create a sustainable world, women and men must be equal partners in the fight.’

The gender imbalance

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 states the largest gender disparity is in political empowerment, which maintains a gap of 77.1%. Women represent only 6% of ministerial positions responsible for national energy policies and programmes and 15% of Green Climate Fund boards, according to the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society.

The gender imbalance is stark, and we need to be doing more to empower women in politics, leadership, organisations and communities to come forward and have their voices heard.

From a personal standpoint, I have used my position of leadership to push my organisation to become more sustainable internally, and to put structure in place to help us better support customers who want to be more sustainable, too.

Here are my thoughts on why we need women’s voices to be heard, urgently, within the sustainability debate.

Giving women a seat at the table

The Women’s Connected Leadership Declaration on Climate Justice states: ‘Women and girls are already boldly leading on climate justice, addressing the climate crisis in ways that heal, rather than deepen, systemic injustices. Yet, these voices are often under-represented and efforts inadequately supported.’

According to the Women4ClimateAction Daring Circle 2019 report, some 80% of people displaced by climate change are estimated to be women, and women are 14 times more likely to die during environmental disasters.

70% of the world’s poor are women. At a grassroots level, women who sit at the forefront of their communities have the knowledge needed to adapt to the climate crisis and are being active in developing practical solutions.

To tap into this valuable insight, women deserve to be given a seat at the table to play an important role in decision-making. Currently, there is no clear relationship between those making decisions and those taking action.

The Charter for Engagement on Women Leading Climate Action calls on governments, businesses and individuals to work together to drive inclusive climate action at scale and to push towards a sustainable and equal world.

The primary goal of the charter is to achieve gender equality in climate decision making bodies by 2030. By failing to ensure gender equality in companies, in government, in NGOs and elsewhere, the climate movement itself is reinforcing a gender crisis.

However, there are some great examples of what’s possible when women do have a seat at the table.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, declared a climate emergency when she was re-elected last year, paving the way for New Zealand’s public sector to become carbon neutral by 2025. She also passed a Zero Carbon Bill during her first term, which mandates net-zero emissions by 2050.

In the UK, Celine Herweijer, innovation and sustainability leader for consulting firm PwC and group sustainability chief for HSBC, has advised some of the world’s largest financial services organisations and asset management companies on climate risk strategy and sustainable finance initiatives. She has served on many committees for the World Economic Forum and the UN.

Why empathy is critical

We know that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change, largely because of ongoing social and economic inequality, deprived political rights and family status. This can give women a much greater sense of empathy on the subject.

While empathy is not a specifically female trait, if women are feeling the impact of climate change more intensely, they will be more able to bring this quality to the table.

Empathy is important because it drives genuine passion and can be the force behind difficult conversations, enabling individuals to make better decisions for generations to come. is a UK-based global NGO, set up to encourage social change and reforestation. Empathy for nature sits at its core, with the mission to ‘encourage feminine leadership by providing resources, experiences and communities that inspire personal and collective action on behalf of the trees.’

The NGO draws a clear correlation between the treatment of the environment and the treatment of women, and also between the rise of feminine leadership and the awakening into global ecosystem restoration.

TreeSisters’ global network currently funds over two million tropical trees a year in Madagascar, India, Kenya, Cameroon, Nepal and Brazil; its aim is to be funding a million trees a month by the end of 2021.

Diversity and climate change

Gender diversity and climate stability are inseparable. When we diversify, we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking, where ideas and innovation can come to the surface. By diversifying, we drive more action.

To see more rapid change, we need to be driving inclusion and equality at a leadership level – to include women, and also every group that may have been underrepresented or excluded thus far.

Sustainability is a movement for everyone because the environment impacts everyone. We therefore need to be hearing diverse voices within the movement, so every story and angle can be shared.

As the introduction to the persuasive All We Can Save essay and poetry collection shares: ‘As the saying goes, to change everything, we need everyone … We need feminine and feminist climate leadership, which is wide open to people of any gender.’

Technology and the SDGs

There is an important role that business technology can play within the sustainability movement. Citrix is a leader in the IT sector, and we have known for some time that our industry is a growing and significant contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The UN has published a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and of those, nine can be positively achieved with the support of IT innovation and infrastructure: good health and wellbeing; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land and partnerships for the goals.

This is one of the reasons why I take my responsibility towards sustainability so seriously. Creating the ability to work securely from anywhere, and therefore reducing commuting, is one of the four pillars of our sustainability strategy at Citrix.

Research shows that by allowing 1,000 European employees to work from home for just two days per week, annual commuting mileage could be reduced by just over 1 million miles, reducing CO2 emissions by 40%.

A recent CEBR study also found that by reducing commuting hours and consolidating real estate through sustainable IT practices, remote work could help reduce annual CO2 emissions by 214 million tonnes. That’s a significant portion of global CO2, N2O and CH4 emissions.

More female voices

Sustainability action is urgently needed, and the greater the diversity of voices being heard, the more likely we will see progress and change.

Ultimately, we need more women in the fight at a leadership and decision-making level. To achieve this, we must prioritise gender and climate agendas simultaneously; the two are inextricably linked and must work hand in hand to advance the sustainability movement at the pace we need.

As one of the loudest female voices in climate change, Greta Thunberg, has warned, we need to ‘act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.’

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