Unlocking women’s sustainability leadership potential
Although it appears that leadership roles in sustainable development have become more androgynous over time, it is unclear whether perceptions of barriers for women leaders in this context have actually changed.
This research examines the perceptions of male and female sustainable development activists regarding existing barriers but also their visions of the unique contributions women leaders bring to sustainable development when these barriers are overcome. During a two-year global study, the authors interviewed 120 women and men deeply involved in sustainable development from local to supranational levels and active in transnational and autonomous spaces to capture their insights on the topic.
Qualitative analyses revealed several themes: First, the results reflect overwhelming concerns with the patriarchal structures that are perceived to continue to constrain women from becoming leaders. Second, this study reveals complex and often hidden issues, such as the lack of self-confidence, which impedes perceived access to leadership positions, and differences among women that make it difficult to find blanket solutions. Finally, the authors discuss men and masculinity, topics which are often neglected in this context, highlighting the important role that male allies can play for women leaders in sustainable development.
Theoretically, the authors add new perspectives to existing literature on women as sustainable development leaders by focusing on the perceptions of individuals who actively try to change institutions and norms from within. From a practical perspective, this study is an important call to action for global women’s movements and male allies to work together to confront hierarchical domination and oppression and, importantly, not only change structures but also perceptions.
Shinbrot, Xoco A., Wilkins, Kate, Gretzel, Ulrike & Bowser, Gillian. 2019. Unlocking women’s sustainability leadership potential.