A summary and commentary of Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BDSC) “Behind Every Goal: Women Leading the World to 2030” from September 2017 at http://s3.amazonaws.com/aws-bsdc/BSDC_Behind-Every-Gobal-Goal.pdf as well as “Better Business, Better World” January 2017 at http://report.businesscommission.org/uploads/BetterBiz-BetterWorld_170215_012417.pdf

The ability of a business to adapt to its political, social, and economic environment has become fundamental. As a business grows, it learns a number of things amongst which what works (and what doesn’t), managing risk, and so forth. When we talk about best practices, a meaningful learning process includes a consideration and analysis of past experiences. Best practices in this sense then are those that couple one rewarding or beneficial practice to another one or more.

The role of women in business and their leadership role has ameliorated over the years, but there is much unfinished business. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lay out an ambitious agenda for the world to achieve by 2030 for a world more just and sustainable. Specifically, Goal 5 looks at gender equality and how to end discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. Iranian activist Mahnaz Afkhami noted how “Women’s status in society has become the standard by which humanity’s progress towards civility and peace can be measured.” There is a gap then about why and how we address gender-equality and the role women play in society. For the case of business, studies have proved over and over again how e.g. the role of women in executive positions increases a business profit and return in equity as well as lowers the risk of bankruptcy. Women’s empowerment makes business sense (read: profit).

Goal 5 of the SDGs Agenda is crucial but achieving the Global Goals overall requires gender-equality as a pre-requisite. The interconnectedness of the SDGs is an important aspect because we cannot achieve a goal without the support and achievement of another and so forth. For example, how can we reach all women and girls to ensure their health and wellbeing (Goal 3) if we do not address harmful gender-biased practices like FGM? Or how can we reduce inequalities if we do not include women and their rights in political processes? In the same way, a business cannot grow profitably without addressing sustainability aspects such as gender-equality and the role of women in business.

Including women in leadership positions and achieving gender-equality makes business sense.  Understanding the business case for the Global Goals requires not only women having a seat at the table, but leading that conversation. BSDC previous report, “Better Business, Better World” in January 2017, provides a list of six actions for sustainable business all (women and men) business leaders can take, namely; building support for the right growth strategy; incorporating the Global Goals into the company strategy; and work with policy-makers to pay the true cost of natural and human resources amongst others. After all, as BDSC “Better Business, Better World” puts it, “Board executives don’t have to chose this vision. But consider the alternatives; over the next 15 years, like it or not, sustainability will become as big and disruptive in every sector as digital technologies have become over the past 15.”

As my colleague said during a team call last week, without sustainability there cannot be sustainable business. The way I see it, businesses not addressing the world’s most pressing challenges (social, economic, political) will not only lose market opportunities and profit but eventually will close down in the short and long run.

For more information, consider reading both reports aforementioned as well as checking out the profiles of these women leading businesses and sustainability; Amanda Gardiner at Pearson, Saskia Bruysten at Yunus Social Business, and Agnes Apea at Hope Development Initiative.