In almost ten years of working with climate finance in different European countries, it has become commonplace to experience what I call “quiet disregard” when the word “gender” echoes in the room. That consists of men nodding positively to agree silently with the topic’s relevance, followed by some subtle-to-abrupt effort to move on to something actually important. This type of dismissal is more common when there are women around. Unfortunately, in male-only spaces, I can say that eye-rolling and laughing utterances of disregard are still not uncommon.
The fact is gender matters when we talk about climate change. A lot. Essentially, men tend to be much less affected by climate impacts than women. In many countries, men are out working while women are responsible for food, water and children. So, when a drought or flood destroys the crops, men are not the ones expected to walk farther or be forced to find immediate solutions against hardship and famine. Men are much more likely to survive when big catastrophes strike due to higher access to mobility, information and decision-making. Those male survivors also tend to become more violent at home after disasters.
That is the rest of the world, but what about Europe and Germany? In Germany, men account for 86.3% of the board members of companies listed in the German Share Index (DAX). That puts Germany behind US, UK and France in terms of equality. Which gender benefits the most from corporate decarbonisation and climate transition incentives, men or women? In the executive councils of German financial services firms, men account for over 90% of representation. With those numbers, who are the most likely candidates to profit from the exponential growth in the German green sector, men or women? With 65% of male representation in the Bundestag, approved policies to fight or protect the country against climate change may be skewed to benefit who, men or women?
Yet, in many formal documents where the word “women” appears, male counterparts often rush to add the infamous “…and men”. Otherwise, as argued by those equality fighters, the project or policy might not be approved, entirely misunderstanding or distorting the reason and group from whom equality has been long denied.
I once volunteered at Frankfurt School Women’s Leadership Academy. I learned from the instructors and participants that one of the main problems in the corporate world is that qualities associated with leadership tend to be predominantly male characteristics. It does not mean that women cannot be naturally assertive, more prone to speak through direct speech or willing to see emotions as a weakness rather than a strength. There are all types of women. However, we know that different genders are normally raised with different expectations, opportunities or even accountability in case of mistakes. That often includes a lack of opportunities to develop specific traits, such as those of a leader in a competitive world. But then, do we even want to live in a world where competition is the only reality?
Climate change is here to prove that cooperation is tantamount to human survival. We need everyone on board, and to keep that highly diverse boat sailing, all these different individuals must cooperate: countries, nationalities, ethnicities and genders. With the little time left to remain below 1.5°C of global average warming as agreed in Paris, putting our hopes entirely on competition would be incredibly irresponsible gambling on our future.
In the fight against climate change, not only do we need women to take part in making decisions about investments and policies, but we also need characteristics that are typically associated with women. Not for one sector or another. At this point, climate and gender are very similar. Both have their main sectoral issues – climate with energy; gender with STEM. But the reality is that we need to make the ENTIRE economy responsive to gender and consistent with climate action. Only then will we manage to protect assets and groups of people, improve the economy’s efficiency and quality of life, reduce risks and enable the spotting and development of new opportunities.
I don’t mean to speak for a gender that is not mine. Women are doing their share to fight for their rights. What about us, men? Is it enough to pretend that we care while remaining passive or reluctant to change? We must stop dismissing women or considering gender equality a mere poster that makes us, our project or our company looks good. If in a leadership position, in the spirit of our planet‘s survival, what about ensuring that women will have equal chances to climb the ladder that we men control? Yes, even if they are mothers, and no, not only as an assistant but as our successors.