Looking at a handful of what’s considered leading brands in sustainable fashion, the leadership and goal attainment is arguably gendered, with sustainable initiatives started or driven by women. Where gaps exist in fashion’s sustainability problem, should more women be in place to balance it out? Tackling sustainability at scale is a job fit for a woman, many women, as industry examples and studies imply.
These “unique experiences and insights of women in business play an important role in advancing corporate sustainability,” according to Melissa Powell, chief of staff at the UN Global Compact, the largest voluntary corporate sustainability initiative in the world.
Powell described the composition of the leadership in her company, “Our ceo and executive director is a woman, we have more women than men on our executive team and 50 percent of our board members are women.” She credited this outcome as the result of intentional policies and practices and “an understanding that gender diversity is key to our success.”
Citing a February paper published by the International Finance Corp., which linked women’s leadership to Environmental, Social Governance performance, Powell said the findings concluded that reduced green greenhouse gas emissions, improved worker relations and a reduction in unethical practices are all connected to women’s business leadership. Powell agreed “the global gender gap, including the under-representation of women in business leadership, is hindering progress [on the Sustainable Development Goals].”
“Business has been dominated with masculine traits for a long time and now is the time to balance those with more feminine traits,” according to Beth Bengtson, founder of Working for Women, the company which was created to elevate women in the workforce. Bengston believes a “gender-balanced company is the successful company of the future.”
More Female Sustainability Advocates
When asked whether more men or women exist in leadership roles related to sustainability, Amanda Curtis, cofounder and chief executive officer of Nineteenth Amendment, said to WWD: “Those leading these [sustainability] initiatives are women.” Nineteenth Amendment is a platform that enables sustainable, on-demand manufacturing local to the end consumer. Many of Nineteenth Amendment’s inbound inquiries from larger brands and retailers come from their sustainability lead, “and in our experience, the majority of the time, that person is female,” Curtis added.
“I haven’t seen men in roles that also encompass hitting sustainability goals,” she said.
Women appear to be taking initiative in the investment space, too. Over the past three months, Curtis has added two female investors, Stacey Fruitman of Style With Substance Ventures and Manuela Zoninsein, both with investment knowledge on sustainability, which Curtis claims she hasn’t come across male angel investors with a specific sustainability focus to date.
Take just a couple of companies known for their corporate sustainability efforts, such as Eileen Fisher or Patagonia. The alignment between women leaders and sustainability goals is transparent, with growth nurtured by women from seedling stages.
Building out Eileen Fisher’s “Social Consciousness” department way back in 1997, now vice president at Eileen Fisher Inc., Amy Hall spearheaded the development to define values on human rights and environmental stewardship while ingraining the support of women as “full participants in society” into the company’s core values. Today, the vision is holistic and exudes female leadership at every tier.
Unilever embeds gender-based leadership and investment at its core, investing and incubating beauty brand Love Beauty and Planet. It is regarded as a leading sustainable company in reports, being awarded the “top corporate leadership ranking in the 2018 Sustainability Leaders survey,” from GlobeScan, an insights and strategy firm, for the eighth consecutive year.
Leading the Ventura, Calif.-based outdoor apparel company “in business to save our home planet” today is Rose Marcario, who is presently ceo of Patagonia Inc., having begun her career with the company a decade earlier as chief financial officer. Before Marcario was early recycled plastic fleece and Kris Tompkins, the outspoken environmentalist who started building Patagonia in 1972, working alongside founder, Yvon Chouinard to solidify the brand’s sustainable, ethical foundation. Further down the chain of command, Patagonia’s vice president of social and environmental responsibility: a woman, Cara Chacon, and the vice president for public engagement at Patagonia: a man, Rick Ridgeway.
Together, gender-balanced workplaces, with more female leadership may just be the key to sustainability in the fashion industry — and across all industries. Just ask the women in charge.