When it comes to appointing women to leadership positions, global progress has been slow. Today, according to research by Deloitte, just shy of 20% of board member positions around the world are held by women, despite the fact that data has shown  having more women in leadership provides many benefits. 

For example, companies with higher numbers of women in leadership are more effective at avoiding reputational, litigation, and criminal risks. They are also more likely to be transparent in disclosures and have higher ESG ranking scores

Although more countries are introducing diversity, equity, and inclusion quotas, more work still needs to be done to get better female representation in boardrooms. This International Women’s Day (March 8), join us in celebrating 10 women who have made a huge impact in the field of sustainability at senior levels, despite the challenges that women still face while climbing the corporate ladder. 

  1. Sanda Ojiambo, Assistant Secretary-General, United Nations Global Compact

Sanda is the third person to serve as executive director of the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), and the first Black, indigenous, or person of colour (BIPOC) individual to hold the position. In 2022, she was appointed as Assistant Secretary-General of the UNGC. She has a long and established career in advocacy, having worked for humanitarian organisations such as CARE International, International Planned Parenthood Federation, and the United Nations Development Programme. In her role at the UNGC, Sanda  develops strategies and builds partnerships between organisations in order to help businesses fulfil the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

  1. Sarah Chandler, Vice President of Sustainability and Supply Chain Innovation, Apple 

Fifteen years after joining Apple as an intern, Sarah is now the Vice President of Sustainability and Supply Innovation. There, Sarah oversees Apple’s sustainability goals including responsible sourcing of materials, resource conservation, waste management and ensuring the company’s supply chains are doing minimal damage to the environment. While 70% of the toxic waste produced globally is electronic waste, only 12.5% gets recycled, so the work of Sarah and her team is crucial to a sustainable future.

  1. Melanie Chow, VP Sustainability and Mission, Danone

After spending 10 years as a consultant with firms such as BCG, Ernst & Young, and the Clinton Foundation, Melanie joined Danone as Vice President of Mission and Sustainability in 2022. Her primary focus at Danone is to ensure ongoing growth in the company that does not compromise their ambitious sustainability goals, such as achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 and reducing water intensity by 50% in the next seven years. 

  1. Ida Krabek, Director, Head of Global Sustainability, Ørsted

Ida has been a part of the sustainability team at Ørsted for more than 10 years. In that time, Ørsted has evolved from just being a Danish oil and gas company to a renewable energy industry giant, having built 30% of the world’s offshore wind farm capacity. Krabek is a firm believer in the importance of stakeholder engagement in building a sustainable future. Before joining Ørsted, she worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, which gave her deep insights into the importance of relationship building and collaboration with the general public. 

  1. Razan Al Mubarak, Director, Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi

In January 2023, Razan was announced as the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion from the COP28 Presidency. She is currently President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). She is also the founding director of the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund which has supported more than 2,500 species conservation projects in over 160 countries. Razan has been a cornerstone of environmental conservation and sustainability in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for more than two decades. Since 2011, she has been the secretary general and managing director of the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD). In 2018, the World Economic Forum named her a top 100 young leader working to build a sustainable future.

  1. Hannah Jones, CEO, The Earthshot Prize

In 2020, Hannah was appointed CEO of The Earthshot Prize, a fund established by the then Prince of Wales to honour scalable solutions to achieve a more sustainable future. Jones spent 16 years with Nike as the company’s first Chief Sustainability Officer where she played a pivotal role in addressing human-rights abuses in Nike’s supply chain. She has held leadership roles in various AIDS-prevention and social justice organisations, and been named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader for her work. 

  1. Anita Varshney, Global Vice President, Strategy SAP Sustainability Engineering

For the past 14 years, Anita has worked at SAP starting as a consultant in 2008 and working her way up to Global Vice President of Strategy. She plays a key role in helping SAP clients reach their net-zero transition goals and oversees a large product portfolio that helps customers integrate ESG into their overarching company strategy. Anita has worked with the UN Global Compact to lead the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Ambition project, been named one of the Top 100 Women in Sustainability in 2022, and is involved in mentorship programs such as Global Women Connect and Inspiring Girls Hong Kong to encourage women and girls to achieve their dreams. 

  1. Frances Beinecke, President Emerita and Honorary Trustee, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 

From 1974 to 2014, Frances held various positions at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit that focuses on environmental advocacy. The NRDC was founded by a group of lawyers in 1970 and has played a pivotal role in the development of environmental regulations such as the United States’ Clean Water Act. Frances has held numerous influential positions, having sat on the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Advisory Board of the MIT Energy Initiative, the board of the World Resources Institute, and more. Her subject-matter expertise in environmental policy helped her lead the NRDC to many legislative victories from 2006 to 2014.

  1. Rebecca Marmot, Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, Unilever 

Rebecca has been Chief Sustainability Officer at Unilever for three years, after spending the previous 15 as the Global Vice President of Sustainability. At Unilever, she focuses on building partnerships with various stakeholders and shareholders in order to achieve the company’s ambitious ESG goals which include female empowerment, regenerative farming, water conservation, and moving towards a circular economy. With Rebecca at the forefront of Unilever’s drive for sustainability, the company has played a pivotal role in landmark treaties such as the 2015 Paris Agreement and development of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

  1.  Helle Bank Jørgensen, Founder and CEO, Competent Boards 

Helle is the Founder and CEO of Competent Boards, providing professional development and advisory services to board members and senior business executives who are looking to learn more about environmental, social, and governance (ESG), climate and biodiversity challenges. Helle has a 30-year record of turning those ESG risks into innovative and profitable business opportunities. She works with many global Fortune 500 board members and executives, as well as smaller companies and investors. Helle also sits on various boards and expert committees such as the Nasdaq Center for Board Excellence Council, the Danish Canadian Chamber of Commerce, and the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network for Corporate Governance, Leadership, and Emerging Multinationals. 

These are just 10 of the awesome (in the real sense of the word) women who continue to break glass ceilings and achieve amazing things around the world. 

Happy International Women’s Day!

Ira Srivastava is Competent Boards’ Program Coordinator. Follow Competent Boards on LinkedIn.

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