When it comes to high-level discussions on climate, studies show that women are significantly less likely than men to get a seat at the table.*
Occupying a marginalised position in the world of governance, women often shoulder the burden of climate inaction more than their male counterparts in society, with research indicating that climate disasters disproportionately affect female populations by acting as a ‘threat multiplier’ for existing gender-specific vulnerabilities.**
Despite their lack of representation in the climate conversation, evidence indicates that female investors and policymakers are twice as likely to consider ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance-related) investing than men.* Leading a movement women have historically been excluded from, our 2023 Champions for Change are reimagining governance, human rights, and energy transition, forging a new future of finance that is sustainable, diverse, and fair.
Here are the 21 inspirational female leaders we’re celebrating this #IWD:
1. Dr Anino Emuwa
Dr Anino Emuwa is the Managing Director of Avandis Consulting and the founder of 100 Women Davos, a community of impact-driven women leaders. A former corporate banker at Citibank, she now applies her extensive international corporate governance experience to sit on the board of Nottingham Trent University and chair a Y Combinator-backed tech start-up.
An award-winning global expert on Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Dr Emuwa works to advance gender diversity in leadership with a focus on corporates, entrepreneurship, emerging technologies, and sustainability. She is a Regional Lead and member of the jury for Cartier Women’s Initiative, as well as a judge for Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa’s Business Heroes Award and the FS Tech Awards in the U.K. She also sits as a member and fellow of the grant advisory committee for the Sustainable and Inclusive Digital Financial Services Initiative and the Chartered Management Institute, respectively.
When we asked Anino what advice she’d give the CEOs of the top 100 global financial institutions to enable them to better empower female employees, she focused on the practicalities:
“Unlocking the benefits of gender diverse teams means breaking down barriers to women’s progress by providing them with the same opportunities for advancement, eliminating pay inequities and creating an inclusive work culture for all.”
2. Desiree Fixler
Desiree Fixler is globally recognized as an advocate for change in the practice of ESG investing and sustainability. Bringing over 20 years of experience in both sustainable finance and investment banking, Desiree was formerly Group Sustainability Officer at DWS Group, where she was responsible for driving the firm’s sustainability strategy and ultimately exposing what she considered to be extensive greenwashing in its ESG approach, with discrepancies between its public claims and internal statements and actions.
Since leaving DWS, Fixler has been a relentless advocate for change in the financial services industry, offering her thought leadership through advisory services and media commentary calling for greater transparency and accountability in ESG investing practices. Strongly engaged in regulatory reform, she is a member of the UK CFA’s ESG Technical Committee, Board of MMCC as well as a member of the LSE’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Group.
When we caught up with Desiree to ask what advice she would give to young women starting out in the world of finance, she advocated an attitude of “being bold and taking risks”. In the advice she would give to the top 100 global financial institutions to empower women within their organisations, Desiree displayed her characteristic ‘no nonsense’ approach:
“Just hire and promote the best.”
3. Leslie Johnston
As its first CEO, Leslie Johnston leads the development and execution of Laudes Foundation’s strategy and operating model to deliver its vision in which global markets value all people and respect nature. Johnston currently serves on the boards of the European Venture Philanthropy Association (as Chair), Fashion for Good BV, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy and Built by Nature Stichting.
With over 20 years of management experience across business, entrepreneurship, development, and philanthropy, Johnston previously headed C&A Foundation as its first Executive Director, repositioning it as a global catalyst to make fashion a force for good. She also served as Executive Director of the Argidius Foundation, Deputy Director for TechnoServe in Africa and a management consultant for McKinsey & Company.
From her home in Zug, Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and two teenage sons, Leslie gave us her advice for young women starting their careers in sustainable finance and business:
“Let us help you. Find a mentor. Or better yet, as a recent HBR article suggests: a circle of advisors, who can inspire you on what’s possible and support you when you don’t know which way to go. Know your worth. You bring value and should be valued. Negotiate for this worth. Never take the first number. And never apologize. Focus on transformation, not optimization. We need fresh eyes, new ideas, different thinking to help us transform our global economic system. Just being a little ‘less bad’ won’t get us there. You can bring that.”
4. Ambassador Patricia Espinosa
Ambassador Patricia Espinosa is Founding Partner and CEO of onepoint5, an ESG consulting firm specialized in climate change. A career diplomat, she is a respected leader on the global stage with more than 35 years of experience at the highest level in diplomacy, multilateral negotiations, and international relations.
Prior to founding onepoint5, Ambassador Espinosa served as the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2016-2022), Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico (2006-2012), and Mexico’s Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany (2013-2016), and to Austria, Slovakia, and Slovenia (2002-2006).
In 2012, she was appointed Ambassador Emeritus of Mexico, the highest recognition the Mexican Government awards its diplomats. She has also been decorated by the governments of Germany, Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, El Salvador, Guatemala, Netherlands, Paraguay, and Peru, and is widely recognized as an authoritative voice on issues related to sustainability, environmental stewardship, gender equality and the protection of human rights.
We’re celebrating Ambassador Espinosa for her unwavering dedication to ensuring climate change has a firm place on the global diplomatic agenda.
5. Professor Durren Shahnaz
Professor Durreen Shahnaz is a pioneer in impact investing and the founder of Impact Investment Exchange (IIX), which connects the Back Streets of underserved communities to the Wall Streets of the world, unlocking close to US$300 million of capital to impact over 150 million lives and promote climate action across the globe.
Prof. Shahnaz’s work has broken traditional molds of financial power dynamics with the founding of numerous world firsts, including the first social stock exchange and first gender bonds. In doing so, she has connected women’s voices from the last mile to financial markets, redressing power imbalances between genders and geographies in her mission to equalize the power dynamics of the Global North and the Global South, as outlined in her book, The Defiant Optimist (www.defiantoptimist.com).
When we asked her about her vision of capital markets in 50 years’ time, Durreen spoke of “a world of sustainable finance where ‘Orange’ (colour of SDG 5 – gender equality) is the norm and not the exception; where Global South is not a ‘token’ in a panel but a driver of inclusive progress; and where a transition to a greener world is shaped by women, girls, and LGBTQ community members and not the 1%.”
Her advice to empower the next generation of female leaders at the top 100 global financial institutions had three main points with one unifying focus – intersectionality:
“1. Transition from gender strategy to gender action. 2. Recognise women as a solution to climate action – you cannot have green without orange. 3. Embrace gender equality as part of the company’s overall growth strategy (inclusive of the supply chain) by issuing and investing in Orange Bonds.”
6. Lanaya Irvin
Lanaya Irvin is a global thought leader, promoting gender diversity and inclusion within business. She is the CEO of Coqual, a 17-year-old global think tank which conducts research and advises corporate companies on diversity, equity and inclusion. Coqual’s research aims to bring visibility to the barriers and inequity faced by women and other underrepresented groups in the workplace.
A longtime diversity and inclusion leader, Irvin is a member of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Inclusion Advisory Board. Since 2013, she has co-chaired the Human Rights Campaign’s Business Advisory Council. She also sits on the board of directors for Outright Action International, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization with permanent presence at the United Nations.
Lanaya was a founding executive member of OPEN Finance, a consortium of LGBTQ+ leaders advancing inclusion across Wall Street. In 2015, she mobilized more than 30 financial services firms to sign onto a US Supreme Court amicus brief in support of federal marriage equality.
We’re celebrating Lanaya for her commitment to advocating for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, continually aiming to break barriers and shine a light on underrepresented groups.
7. Erika Karp
Erika Karp’s mission is to bring the disciplines of finance, economics, and sustainability to bear in pursuit of a more regenerative and inclusive form of capitalism. Over the course of her 25+ years on Wall Street, Karp has developed a deep belief in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) analysis as a critical input to investment decision-making.
Prior to joining Pathstone, Karp was founder and CEO of Cornerstone Capital Group, a sustainable and impact investment advisory firm. Previously, she was Managing Director and Head of Global Sector Research at UBS Investment Bank, also chairing the Global Investment Review Committee and serving on the UBS Securities Research Executive Committee, Environmental and Human Rights Committee of the UBS Group Executive Board, and Boards of Conscious Capitalism and Jewish Women Invest.
When we asked Erika what her vision of sustainable finance in 50 years’ time looked like, she spoke of a world where “all investing will be ‘sustainable’, […] diversity is inextricable linked with sustainability, and all the SDGs are connected and reliant on each other.” Her advice to the CEOs of the top 100 financial institutions in the world was similarly forthright:
“Ensure that they have a seat at the table, access to information, authority, and decision-making responsibility.“
8. Catherine Howarth OBE
Catherine Howarth OBE joined ShareAction as Chief Executive in 2008. ShareAction’s mission is to define the highest standards of responsible investment and promote those standards across the world, working closely with investors in many jurisdictions to drive accelerated action by listed companies on climate change, loss of biodiversity, decent work, and public health.
Howarth was recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2014 and in 2022, awarded an OBE for ‘services to sustainability’. She was appointed in 2023 to the UK FCA’s advisory committee on ESG. She is a member of HM Treasury’s asset management taskforce, where she co-chaired a programme on investor stewardship in 2020. From 2015 to 2022, she served on the board and investment committee of the Scott Trust, owner of The Guardian Media Group. From 2008 to 2013 she served on the board and investment committee of The Pensions Trust as a member-elected trustee.
We’re celebrating Catherine for being a force for accountability, working to make sure ambition is not a substitute for action.
9. Rosalind Kainyah MBE
Rosalind Kainyah MBE is an international authority on sustainability and responsible business in Africa and beyond. Her 30+ years of combined legal, executive, and board level experience spans companies and organisations from De Beers to the United Nations Environment Programme. In 2014, she was awarded an MBE for services to Corporate Social Responsibility for the benefit of youth in Africa.
Kainyah told us that she is motivated by three core beliefs. Firstly, prosperous societies are achieved by pursuing justice and fairness for the marginalised. Secondly, by being good stewards of the environment and natural resources, we can meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. Finally, she believes in the transformative power of businesses to be successful and profitable whilst acting on her first two beliefs.
Her advice to the top 100 global financial institutions was “to avoid tokenism! Go beyond quotas and targets and focus on women as decision-makers and active agents in the global economy.” When asked: “how can financial institutions get there?” she advocated “creating a culture of respect, equality, and inclusion that values diversity of thought and experience”. The business sense (not that “one needs to make a business case for having half of the population equitably represented in any organisation”…) is simple:
“In the words of the late Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made” and in today’s world, some of the most important decision-making places are in the top 100 global financial institutions.”
10. Secretary Jennifer Granholm
Secretary Jennifer Granholm was sworn in as the 16th Secretary of Energy on February 25th 2021, becoming the second woman to lead the U.S. Department. Her mission is to help the United States achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 through the advancement of cutting-edge clean energy technologies, good-paying union jobs, and an equitable clean energy future.
Before serving as Secretary, Granholm was the first female Attorney General in the State of Michigan – also Michigan’s first woman to serve two terms as Governor. She went on to join the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley as a Distinguished Professor of Practice in the Goldman School of Public Policy, focusing on the intersections of law, clean energy, manufacturing, policy, and industry. She has also served as an advisor to the Clean Energy Program of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
We’re celebrating Jennifer for her continued efforts to lay the groundwork for a net-zero future in government and law.
11. Bahar Malavan Naryndji
Head of Compliance, DPO, and CISO at Swedish national pension fund, AP-2, Bahar Malavan Naryndji is an experienced litigator, business lawyer, and former NGO delegate at the United Nations Human Rights Council with a strong belief in sustainable development and the implementation of ESG in finance to ensure responsible investment strategy and governance.
Speaking to us about the vision she has for the world of finance in 50 years’ time, Bahar aims to see “a more holistic approach to sustainable finance where key factors such as accessible data and transparency in supply chain and human rights factors will be an inherent part of our decision making.” Hers would be a financial system in which “rigid regulations are in place and compromising people’s health and human rights for financial gains will be heavily scrutinized – essentially, our approach will be ‘risk to humans’ instead of ‘risk to business’ when we look at investments.”
Addressing the top 100 global financial institutions, Bahar’s advice to empower the women working within them centered on walking the talk with DEI strategy:
“Lead by example! Setting up rigorous policies, campaigns, and slogans on gender diversity is not a game changer if you don’t have diversity in the top management of your organisations. Show that you truly value gender diversity and make way for women, especially younger ones, to be a part of leading change and decision making. And to women in leadership, don’t be gatekeepers, instead be a mentor, advisor, and inspiration to help younger women to join you at the top.”
12. Destiny Hodges
Destiny Hodges is an environmental liberation organizer, filmmaker, and communications major at Howard University from Birmingham, Alabama. She is the founder and co-executive director of Generation Green, home to the architects of the Environmental Liberation ideological framework and movement.
Her work is motivated by the belief that climate and environmental justice are key components of Black liberation, along with a will to build community and solidarity across the Afrikan diaspora to forge the collective power needed for systems change. Alongside her work with Generation Green and the Howard University Student Sustainability Committee (which she also co-founded), Hodges is embarking on a journey of documentary-filmmaking as she organizes throughout the Afrikan diaspora.
We’re celebrating Destiny for her efforts to uplift and educate others on the stories of marginalised communities impacted by environmental inequity.
13. Aleksandra Palinksa
Aleksandra Palinska is Executive Director of Eurosif, the leading pan European Sustainable and Responsible Investment association advocating for a more sustainable financial system. With over twelve years of experience in EU public policy and regulation, her expertise covers sustainable finance, financial markets regulation, company law, and corporate governance.
Palinska brings a wealth of experience to Eurosif, acquired at Finance Watch, EFAMA, EuropeanIssuers, and BetterFinance. She has served as a member of the EFRAG’s Sustainability Reporting Board, helping to shape the draft European Sustainability Reporting Standards, and previously acted as a sherpa on the European Commission’s Platform on Sustainable Finance, where she contributed to the development of the recommendations for a social taxonomy (minimum social and governance safeguards that taxonomy-aligned investments must meet) and the taxonomy-related disclosures.
Her vision of the future of ‘sustainable’ finance is one where the term has become redundant since “the entire world will be sustainable”, achieving “a truly diverse and inclusive society offering equal opportunities to all, no matter what the gender, race, religion, age, cultural and geographical background of the person is.” Her advice to those in power at the top global financial institutions centers around practical steps they can take now to create a culture that breeds equality in the future:
“My advice is to create career programs within organizations offering growth and development opportunities and equipping women with knowledge and skills for managerial, executive, and board-level positions. Sometimes it simply comes down to hearing women out, treating them seriously and with respect. I would also advise to strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion, ensuring equal opportunities to all.”
14. Gloria Walton
Described as one of the U.S.’s most exciting “next generation” political leaders, Gloria Walton is committed to creating equitable climate solutions that put the people closest to the problems at their center. She is an award-winning organizer, writer, and the President and CEO of The Solutions Project, a nonprofit that promotes climate justice through grantmaking and amplifying the stories of frontline community leaders in the media.
The Solutions Project (TSP) has accelerated the transition to 100 per cent clean, renewable energy (wind, water, and solar) for all people and purposes, so far achieving 1 in 3 people in the U.S. living in a place already committed to 100 per cent green energy sources. The organization invests 95 per cent of its resources into frontline leadership of colour, with a focus on women-led organisations.
During her time at SCOPE, a South-LA-based community organization, Walton also played a pivotal role in several significant ballot measures and policy campaigns designed to increase community decision-making and ensure equitable investment in green jobs, climate solutions, and critical public services.
We’re celebrating Gloria for her ceaselessly people-centric approach to national and global energy transition.
15. Diane Holdorf
Diane Holdorf is Executive Vice President and a member of the Senior Management Team at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in Geneva, Switzerland. She joined WBCSD in December 2018 as Managing Director of Food and Nature, where she led business efforts to accelerate systems transformation in the areas of food, nature, and water. She also holds a vast number of Advisory and Board positions, including senior roles in Business For Nature, the World Benchmarking Alliance, Global Commons Alliance, and Food and Land-Use Coalition (FOLU).
In her role as Executive Vice President, Diane focuses on Pathways as part of WBCSD’s strategy, leading business efforts to accelerate collaborative solutions in Food & Agriculture, Energy, Products & Materials, Mobility & Built Environment, and Health & Wellbeing – working in partnership to deliver business solutions.
When we asked Diane about her vision for the next 50 years of sustainable finance, she instead opted to take us through the next 5, issuing a clear reminder of the urgency that’s needed in climate and biodiversity efforts today:
“Within the next 3-5 years, we must exponentially increase the volume of transition finance to effectively combat GHG emissions and preserve nature, while also prioritizing integrity and accountability in setting higher standards for sustainable finance. This is necessary to accelerate the flow of finance, and more importantly, ensure that these investments align with and support the goals and needs of the local communities, landowners, and stewards where they are being deployed.”
16. Tiffany Chu
Tiffany Chu is the Chief of Staff to Mayor Michelle Wu, the first elected woman, person of color, and Asian American to serve as the Mayor of Boston.
Chu comes from a background in design, urban planning, and entrepreneurship. Prior to joining the City of Boston, she was the CEO and Co-founder of Remix, a collaborative software platform for transportation planning used by 500+ cities around the world. Remix was named a Tech Pioneer by the World Economic Forum and Bloomberg for furthering sustainability and equity in the field and was later acquired by Via in one of the largest software acquisitions of 2021.
Previously, Chu was appointed as a Commissioner of the San Francisco Department of the Environment and served on San Francisco’s Congestion Pricing Policy Advisory Committee. She’s been named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, LinkedIn’s Next Wave of Leaders Under 35, and featured at SXSW, Helsinki Design Week, the New York Times Cities for Tomorrow Conference, respectively.
We’re celebrating Tiffany for using technological innovation to create fairer, more environmentally-conscious cities.
17. Nili Gilbert
Nili Gilbert, CFA, CAIA, is the Vice Chairwoman of Carbon Direct, a leader in scaling carbon management into a global industry through climate investment, technology, and client advisory services.
She is also Chair of the US$150+ Trillion Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero’s (GFANZ) Advisory Panel of technical experts, as well as a member of its CEO Principals Group. In addition to serving as a Chairwoman of both the David Rockefeller Fund and the Synergos Institute Investment Committees, Nili is an Independent Board Director of Brookfield Asset Management. She is also a Senior Advisor at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Reflecting on her own experiences in leadership, Nili spoke of the clear “competitive advantage that cannot be substituted” which comes from a “willingness to champion diversity going beyond personal interests or backgrounds.” Important to note is the intersectionality of the diversity Nili advocates – “importantly [it] includes gender and ethnicity, and also extends to include diverse upbringing, education, ways of seeing the world, solving problems, and more.”
In her advice to the to CEOs of the top 100 global financial institutions, Nili issued a reminder of the rewards a diverse company culture reaps:
“A diverse culture requires a safe and open environment for different perspectives to be heard. This requires uplifting values of curiosity, good listening, low ego, and a strong foundation of trust among colleagues. We must all be humble enough to consider that our view could be strengthened through collaboration in a way that strengthens our organizations and ultimately extends to benefitting the economy as a whole.”
18. Clara Barby
Clara Barby is Senior Partner at Just Climate, an investment business dedicated to climate-led investing, launched by Generation Investment Management.
In her previous positions, Barby was Chief Executive of the Impact Management Project (IMP) and led the IFRS Foundation’s project to establish the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), under the direction of the IFRS Foundation’s Trustees.
Her public interest work with the IMP was made possible through a secondment from her role as a Partner at Bridges Fund Management, where she led the firm’s sustainable and impact strategies across fund types. Prior to Bridges Fund Management, Barby worked for Acumen’s Capital Markets team and later co-led the Acumen renewable energy portfolio, investing in India and East Africa.
She was awarded a CBE for services to International Sustainability Standards in the 2023 King’s New Year Honours list.
We’re celebrating Clara for her work putting people at the heart of the climate agenda, ensuring a holistic approach to impact that is both human and climate conscious.
19. Carole Laible
Carole Laible is the CEO of Domini Impact Investments, a women-led mutual firm on a mission to create a down-to-earth investment community that drives positive social, environmental, and financial outcomes. With over 20 years of impact investing experience, Laible has spearheaded Domini’s work on systems-level issues and stability, launching Domini’s Systems Project – an initiative focused on the influence investors can have on systems extending far beyond their portfolios by seeking to increase their systems-level impact.
Laible also serves as a founding member of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board™ (SASB™) Investor Advisory Group, engaging with companies on their use of SASB metrics.
We’re celebrating Carole for her work supporting sustainability and diversity in the field of finance through initiatives like 100 Women in Finance – of which she is a Global Angel member.
20. Jacqueline Taiwo
Jacqueline Taiwo is Co-Founder and CEO of Black Women in Asset Management (BWAM), a global organisation supporting the advancement and retention of Black women working in the asset management industry. They provide their 1000+ members with tools, resources and a supportive community to enable them to thrive in their careers.
An experienced private equity lawyer, Taiwo started her career in the law in Kirkland & Ellis in London. After several years there she took a career break and set up her own online beauty retailing business for women of colour, later returning to the law as Associate General Counsel at private equity firm TowerBrook Capital Partners. She transitioned to CEO of BWAM in April 2022.
Taiwo is passionate about helping other women to reach their fullest potential and progress into senior leadership roles. She was named Advocate of the year in the 2021 Women in Finance Awards and was also listed by Real Deals in 2020 as one of 40 individuals making a notable impact on improving diversity and inclusion in private equity.
We’re celebrating Jacqueline for working to empower women of colour by breaking down the systemic walls precluding them from accessing equal opportunities.
21. Summer Mersinger
Summer Mersinger was nominated by President Biden to serve as a Commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, being sworn into office on March 30th, 2022. Prior to her appointment, Mersinger served as the Chief of Staff to CFTC Commissioner Dawn Stump. She also served as the Director of the CFTC’s Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs under Heath Tarbert.
Bringing 20 years of Capitol Hill and government relations experience to CFTC, Mersinger was formerly Senior Vice President at Smith-Free Group, a leading government affairs practice where she worked on financial services issues including advocating for large fintech organizations. At a time when the existence of ESG has been strongly politicised by a vocal minority in the States, Summer maintains her faith in the power of legislation to fight polarity:
“In 50 years’ time, I want the world of sustainable finance to recognize the needs of many versus the desires of a few. Finance should be inclusive, not divisive. But we cannot forget that finance is only sustainable when it focuses on economic growth for all populations while simultaneously maintaining adequate risk management practice.”
If you’d like to hear more from these sustainable finance leaders, find out about the involvement many have had in Reuters’ flagship global investor summits by keeping up to date with the latest on our event websites and LinkedIn pages:
- ESG Investment 2023 (6-7 Sept, London)
- Activate Finance 2023 (1-2 October, New York)
- (99+) Reuters Events Markets: Overview | LinkedIn
- (99+) Reuters Events ESG Investment: Overview | LinkedIn
- (99+) Sophie Hoath | LinkedIn
- (99+) Olivia Sedgwick | LinkedIn
The authors of this article, Sophie Hoath and Olivia Sedgwick, would like to give their wholehearted thanks to this year’s Champions for Change for their contributions to both the content of this piece and the world of ESG investment.