Climate change, one of the most complex and challenging issues, will require the very best in leadership to navigate it. In this article, written by our co-founder Jo Hand, we celebrate the work of women in leadership roles acting as a force for good and transforming their worlds to help build a net zero future.
Despite the last 100 years witnessing giant steps forward in rights for women, we still have a long way to go across the globe to reach equal opportunities. Just 9% of CEOs running the largest 500 companies are women, and only 28 countries have a female head of state or government.
This under-representation in power and influence is exacerbated for women by an over-representation in vulnerability to climate change. For many regions on the frontline of climate change, already experiencing devastating floods, droughts, and extreme storms, frequently women are disproportionately affected.
However, when women do gain leadership roles, great things can happen. I want to highlight the work of two amazing leaders we are fortunate to work with, who are blazing a trail in driving deep, meaningful change across large and complex organisations.
Carolyn Ball is the Director of Delivery of Net Zero at the food services group Compass UK&I. Their goal is to deliver climate net zero by 2030.
She says you need “a ruthless pragmatism, with a clear understanding of commercial impact. It’s all about mobilising a very diverse group of people, listening across the organisation, so you can understand their challenges, and you need to empower the authority to come from within.”
She received great advice when she started the role: “You need to spend 100 days under the bonnet and then grow your tribe to deliver. You need to make sure the right people are empowered to do what’s needed.”
Carolyn’s priorities stretch across not only carbon emissions but also water, nature, and waste.
“It’s not about being dictatorial in what we need to do. It’s about empowering and enabling.”
In a different industry and culture, Jessica Hyde, Global Corporate Citizenship Strategy Lead at Accenture, a professional services company specialising in information technology and consulting, also recognises the power of people to be a powerful force for change.
“Just like the digital transition, we need everyone to have sustainability knowledge now. We need to upskill our people on sustainability, just as we did on digital.”
Jessica developed her professional focus on sustainability as a junior presenting at corporate networking events. “This was great for my career, and also meant I built connections across the business.”
When she took on her current role at Accenture, leading the strategy on corporate citizenship across a company of 738,000 employees, her responsibilities included pulling together a strategy to significantly increase the engagement of the global workforce on environmental action – considering holistic impacts across carbon, waste, water, and biodiversity. This includes learning, volunteering, innovating – and understanding and reducing personal impact, which is where Giki Zero comes in.
She took a course through WBCSD, authoring a paper on increasing eco-engagement across the business. She recognised how crucial employees are, and her work enabled her to sense-check her theories on this new and evolving approach to sustainability with others, including leading professors.
Accenture is not only one of the biggest companies in the world but also works with others of a similar size and influence, so the scope Jessica must drive change is enormous.
“There is a huge opportunity to make a difference, not only with our people but also through the knock-on impact our people have with their friends, family, and client colleagues.”
Like many who have decided to focus their professional life on climate change and environmental issues, both these women have a deep sense of the value of what they are doing.
Jessica’s connection with the natural world comes from a childhood where nature played an important part, and her sense of the value of our natural resources is born from strong influences in her early years.
“I hate waste. My grandparents had a post-war frugality which taught me to re-use and recycle everything.”
For Carolyn, her sense of urgency is palpable. “We don’t have time to go slowly. We need to set everybody up to do more to benefit them and to benefit the planet. It’s about doing good, and it’s about attracting the very best people and creating a workplace where people want to stay.”
Both these leaders have identified the importance of collaboration, teamwork, and empowering their people to deliver the changes so desperately needed. We need more leaders like Jessica and Carolyn to drive the transition to a net zero future, where people, nature, and the planet can flourish together.
If you want to help your organisation empower your people to deliver net-zero faster, get in touch.