What will it take to bring climate and gender finance together? Lessons for investors and policymakers

suzanne biegel
6 min readOct 27, 2022

Investing in climate adaptation and mitigation is both a matter of justice and smart business. It’s also something we need to urgently scale up, with a widely reported 2021 study by the World Resources Institute calculating that the world will need to invest $5 trillion a year by 2030 to fund measures to fight climate change.

But it’s not just the amount of capital invested that matters. It’s also how and in what/whom it is invested. Put bluntly, we can’t solve climate change without leveraging the intelligence, innovation, and taking into account the needs of the whole population — and that means paying attention to gender and other forms of diversity, such as race and ethnicity.

We know that at every level, gender-balanced businesses and organisations perform better both financially and on climate: whether it’s companies with gender-diverse boards having lower stock volatility and stronger climate governance and innovation, or gender-balanced representation across companies, political institutions, and civil society being linked to lower CO2 emissions.

Yet, women continue to be vastly underrepresented in climate-related sectors: as entrepreneurs and investees, as workers, and in government and corporate leadership. In Canada, only 1 in 10 green tech business founders are women, and globally, just 32% of renewable energy jobs are held by women. This underrepresentation is reflected in the investment field, where for the most part, there are fewer women and people of colour in climate finance decision making roles, and those who are in those roles are often unseen.

For investors who want to tackle climate and gender together, there are a growing number of opportunities: from the 50+ private markets vehicles combining climate and gender in Project Sage 4.0, to public markets funds such as Adasina Social Capital’s JSTC, PAX Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund, RobecoSam Global Gender Equalities Equities and Nia Global Solutions Portfolio — all of which incorporate both gender and climate criteria.

But ending the false silo between climate and gender will require structural changes as well: in how we understand and address the consequences of the transition away from fossil fuels, and in how financial institutions perceive and cater to women entrepreneurs.

Earlier this month, I led a panel discussion as part of the OECD’s Forum Green Finance and Investment, on how investors and policymakers can better foster synergies between environmental and gender considerations, speaking with five experts from different parts of the investment ecosystem who are moving their capital with a climate and gender lens.

In the lead up to COP in November, their insights are vital for investors and policymakers. Here are four key pathways to action they shared.

1. Broaden the way we think about and approach transition financing.

Some of the most important work we do as climate investors is in helping the businesses we invest in shift their practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — whether that means a delivery company switching its fleet to electric vehicles, an energy company transitioning to renewables, or a packaging company shifting to recycled and upcycled materials.

Often, conversations about transition financing focus on the loss or transformation of industries that have traditionally been dominated by men, such as coal and gas. But women are disproportionately represented in many sectors affected by and affecting climate change, pointed out Dr Aubrey Paris, the Climate, Gender, and Innovation Policy Advisor at the US Department of State — including agriculture, fishing, garment manufacturing, and tourism. Transition finance must account for these industries too.

Investors and policymakers would also benefit from taking a more holistic approach to analysing the impacts of climate transition, argued Julie Segal, Senior Manager of Climate Finance at Environmental Defence Canada — focusing not just on displaced coal and gas workers, but businesses and industries that emerge around energy plants to support and cater to those workers. Areas surrounding resource extraction sites often also have disproportionately high rates of physical and sexual violence. As investors build a green economy, how can they shape their investments to ensure the safety and security of women and girls at the same time?

“We have to be deliberate and look outside the typical boundaries,” said Segal. “How do we increase women’s participation in these industries, but also where are the women already that we should be supporting?”

2. Make gender part of all green infrastructure design.

Smart infrastructure investors are already leveraging gender analysis to sharpen their investments in green transport, housing, and energy. (See this recent article I wrote for Greenbiz for examples of how this is playing out in practice.)

But there is an opportunity to take this much further, incorporating gender considerations into all green infrastructure design. Delia Sánchez Castillo, Director of Planning and Evaluation at Banobras, explained how the bank incorporated a range of gender-smart initiatives into its work with a transport operator in Mexico: including initiatives to improve the gender balance of the workforce, training women as bus operators, introducing breastfeeding rooms in stations in order to make it easier for nursing parents to feed their infants, improving lighting of exit routes to improve safety, and training all operations staff to identify and manage violence and exploitation in train stations.

Banobras also works with public infrastructure developers to diversify their workforces, training women in green construction and engineering jobs, as drivers of clean green transport, as solar installers, and more. The bank brings a gender lens to all of its investments, providing technical assistance to help businesses and non-profits address complex issues such as unpaid care work and gender-based violence.

3. Change the way the big financial players think about women.

If we want to move more climate finance with a gender lens, we need investors to see women differently: as a source of solutions, innovation, and market growth, rather than as an object of charity.

“From the US government perspective, we have a two-pronged approach,” explained Dr Aubrey Paris. “On the one hand, we want to address the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and girls, but we also want to communicate that women and girls are uniquely poised to develop solutions to climate challenges, and must be empowered to do so.” As an example, she pointed to the State Department’s Innovation Station initiative, which promotes the work of women and girl climate innovators, and helps them to develop new relationships within the US and abroad.

Barbara Rambousek, Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, spoke about the need to transform the way that banks and other large financial institutions see women — as a viable market segment that they need to understand and serve. “You can create huge systemic change if you can actually move the market. We need to build the capacity of women entrepreneurs, but we also need to build the capacity of the banks to understand how to serve that market segment and why.”

4. Address the barriers that limit women’s participation in the green economy.

At present, just 32% of renewable energy jobs are held by women: a reflection both of historical inequities in the energy sector, as well as barriers to entry today. To address this, many investors and policymakers have focused on educating girls and young women in STEM, or addressing gaps in the education to employment pipeline. But as Elena Ruiz Abril, UN Women’s Regional Policy Advisor for Women’s Economic Empowerment for West and Central Africa, put it: “Skills are important, but they’re not enough.”

If we really want to see a climate sector that draws fully upon women’s ideas and insights, Ruiz Abril argued, we need to be addressing the entrenched inequities that prevent women from starting and scaling businesses, such as access to finance, infrastructure that reduces unpaid care work, and access to land.

Don’t trade off, trade up

Ultimately, none of this is going to happen unless we are intentional about it. Gender and climate need to be brought together across both public policy and investment policy, and need to build the capacity of all actors to do things differently. We also need to work together, because this is a systemic issue that can’t be solved by one bank or development finance actor alone. For more details on what this might look like, I encourage you to read the OECD’s new report on climate and gender finance, as well as this toolkit from 2X Collaborative and these guides from GenderSmart.

At the same time, individual investors also have the power to create change — both in the conversations they have with the companies and funds they invest in, and in the way they leverage their influence and expertise to help investees navigate the transitions of the next decade.

The work isn’t easy, but it is necessary. And ultimately, it will yield better results for us all: for the planet, for the people living on it, and for the economy. As Barbara Rambousek of EBRD put it, “Don’t focus on the trade offs. Focus on trading up.”

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suzanne biegel

Catalyst at Large and Co-Founder, GenderSmart, investor, change maker, movement building leader. catalystatlarge.com, @zanne2, gendersmartinvesting.com