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Organizational Change
New UN Campaign Enlists Women in Boardrooms to Speak Up About Climate Issues

A new UN-backed initiative is enlisting the help of female execs across the world to bring climate change concerns into boardrooms.

A new UN-backed initiative is enlisting the help of female execs across the world to bring climate change concerns into boardrooms.

Launched this week, the “Two Degrees of Change” initiative – named for the COP21 pledge by governments around the world to take action to limit global warming to no more than 2C – is being led by Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management and a long-time campaigner for women in boardrooms. The campaign will encourage women to raise climate issues with their company boards, and demand companies and investors take action to stave off the threat of dangerous warming.

Morrissey, who is also behind the 30 Percent Coalition, named for her target to see 30 percent of board seats in big companies going to women, told the Guardian: “This is about having more women in senior roles [in business] focusing on climate change and changing the narrative. We need female voices in our boardrooms on this.”

At the launch on Monday in London, Morrissey was joined by UN climate chief Christiana Figueres; and Rachel Kyte, former VP of the World Bank and now senior representative for the UN on sustainable energy, along with a who’s who of local women specializing in sustainability issues.

“There is a clear parallel between the progress we’ve seen on gender equality and climate change in the last six years,” Figueres said at the event. “Evidence suggests a greater presence of women in the boardroom and in senior leadership can help increase the corporate focus on climate change.”

She also called on companies and leaders of all kinds to participate in the movement: “Just as political will brought an agreement in Paris, so the collective will of the right people in business can create momentum around the actions needed to tackle climate change.”

While the 30 Percent Coalition and other efforts at increasing gender parity in business are making headway, the Two Degrees of Change initiative still has a long road to hoe: The recently released Gender Forward Pioneer (GFP) Index looked at gender parity in Global Fortune 500 and World’s Most Admired Companies lists and found that while companies with strong reputations have twice as many women in senior management as companies with weaker reputations, women still make up just 10.9 percent of senior leaders in the world’s top 500 companies. And at the Paris climate talks in December, the former UN commissioner for human rights and ex-president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, told the Guardian she was disappointed by the poor representation of women at the talks: “This is a very male world [at the conference]. When it is a male world, you have male priorities. If you don’t have women here, how can you say this is about people?”

Morrissey told the Guardian that while women are often more aware of and interested in climate change as a pressing problem than men at the top of the financial services sector, they often “need encouragement and empowerment to speak out.” Coupled with the common male perception of assertive women as “bossy” and it’s clear we still need to move the needle on effective communication between genders.