More women in upper management increases sustainability

New research from Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) shows that having more women in upper management at major companies has a positive effect on achieving sustainability.

The study, conducted by Valentin Kiefner and Alexander Mohr from WU’s Institute for International Business and Christian Schumacher from Copenhagen Business School, examined how much of an effect the proportion of women has on a company’s support for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

They found a positive link between a high number of women in upper management and a company’s willingness to have more sustainable practices.

The researchers add that multinationals with a high international diversification, based on the sales of the company in different geographic regions, are even more likely to be able to enhance their support of the SDGs through an increase in the share of female executives.

“The reason for this is because women not only seem to be intrinsically more interested in sustainability goals but also because they are subject to higher expectations from external stakeholders due to stereotypical perceptions of women in management,” says Professor Mohr.

Although gender equality is a central goal in itself, the findings suggest that gender equality on management teams may also help to achieve other SDGs, further increasing the importance of gender equality for multinationals.

The research was published in the journal of World Business.

Jen Gaster, Founder and MD of HR Heads, said, “It’s no surprise that having more women in upper management increases sustainability – and I would echo the thoughts of Elizabeth Cowper, who for our International Women’s Day blog said, ‘The more gender-equal a company is, the better it is for all employees. And a happier workforce demonstrates higher productivity and lower job turnover. Equality in the workplace is fundamentally good for business.’

“Organisations’ sustainability and ED&I commitments are two of the key things the top HR candidates ask us about.

“Authenticity in these commitments is crucial; if you are outwardly saying ‘we are dedicated to equality and diversity’ and your senior management team is male-dominated, the best talent will see through this, and, in the modern working world, this is entirely unsustainable.”