Project code



School of Strategy, Marketing, and Innovation

Start dates

October, February and April

Application deadline

Applications accepted all year round

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the School of Strategy, Marketing and Innovation and will be supervised by Dr Helen Thompson-WhitesideProfessor Sarah Turnbull and Professor Diego Vasquez-Brust.  


The work on this project will:

  • Contribute towards understanding of the role of women business leaders in addressing global sustainability challenges.
  • Identify opportunities to maximise women’s contribution to sustainable business development. 
  • Adopt qualitative methods and a multi-disciplinary approach to bridge leadership, gender, sustainability and brands.


The role of women leaders in making business more sustainable is a critical issue requiring urgent examination (Siemieniako et al., 2021; United Nations, 2023). The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aim to ensure prosperity for all but there is broad recognition that climate change will disproportionately affect women, especially those in the global south (UN Women, 2022). However, women are still not sufficiently represented in sustainability leadership, despite the sustainable development goal of gender equality seeking to, “ensure women's full and effective participation and equal leadership opportunities at all levels of decision making”. At COP27 just 10% of the Heads of State/Governments were women, and in business women are similarly absent from the discussion of sustainability issues which risks partial understandings of the present challenges and the development of inadequate solutions.   

While extant research acknowledges the challenges many women leaders face (Thompson-Whiteside et al., 2020; Thompson-Whiteside & Turnbull, 2021), there is still much more to be understood about why we are not seeing and hearing more from women in the critical area of sustainable business (García-Sánchez et al., 2023; Shinbrot et al., 2019). This is of particular interest given a number of studies links the presence of women in corporate leadership teams with achieving the SDGs (Gallego-Sosa et al. 2021; García-Sánchez et al., 2023; Kiefner et al. 2022). Women are also considered to be more participatory, democratic and concerned with the welfare of others when compared to men (Anglin et al., 2022; Dawar & Singh, 2016Francoeur et al., 2019). 

An exploration of women’s experience is particularly pertinent given that major brands are aligning themselves to a purpose, beyond profit, in order to protect people and the planet. Many are adopting a model of stakeholder capitalism characterised by a commitment to better governance, environmental and social practice. Yet, if a brand’s stated purpose is to be seen as authentic, it must also be aligned to consumers and their values (Mirzaei et al., 2022) further highlighting the importance of women’s full representation in leadership. 

This transformative research will align the goals of academic research with the needs of practitioners, thus increasing the likelihood of finding solutions to the urgent need to increase women’s representation in sustainability. The sharing of our outcomes could impact substantially on the capacity of business to align their work to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and increase their positive impact for consumers, society and generations to come. 


Anglin, A. H., Kincaid, P. A., Short, J. C., & Allen, D. G. (2022). Role theory perspectives: past, present, and future applications of role theories in management research. Journal of Management48(6), 1469-1502.

Dawar, G., & Singh, S. (2016). Corporate social responsibility and gender diversity: A literature review. Journal of IMS Group13(1), 61-71.

Francoeur, C., Labelle, R., Balti, S., & EL Bouzaidi, S. (2019). To what extent do gender diverse boards enhance corporate social performance?. Journal of business ethics155, 343-357.

Gallego-Sosa, C., Gutiérrez-Fernández, M., Fernández-Torres, Y., & Nevado-Gil, M. T. (2021). Corporate social responsibility in the European banking sector: commitment to the 2030 agenda and its relationship with gender diversity. Sustainability13(4), 1731.

García-Sánchez, I. M., Aibar-Guzmán, C., Núñez-Torrado, M., & Aibar-Guzmán, B. (2023). Women leaders and female same-sex groups: The same 2030 Agenda objectives along different roads. Journal of Business Research157, 113582.

Kiefner, V., Mohr, A., & Schumacher, C. (2022). Female executives and multinationals’ support of the UN's sustainable development goals. Journal of World Business57(3), 101304.

Mirzaei, A., Wilkie, D. C., & Siuki, H. (2022). Woke brand activism authenticity or the lack of it. Journal of Business Research139, 1-12.

Shinbrot, X. A., Wilkins, K., Gretzel, U., & Bowser, G. (2019). Unlocking women’s sustainability leadership potential: Perceptions of contributions and challenges for women in sustainable development. World Development119, 120-132.

Siemieniako, D., Kubacki, K., & Mitręga, M. (2021). Inter-organisational relationships for social impact: A systematic literature review. Journal of Business Research, 132, 453-469.

Thompson-Whiteside, H., Turnbull, S., & Howe-Walsh, L. (2021). Advertising: should creative women be expected to ‘fake it?’. Journal of Marketing Management37(3-4), 294-319.

Thompson-Whiteside, H., & Turnbull, S. (2021). # Metoovertising: the institutional work of creative women who are looking to change the rules of the advertising game. Journal of Marketing Management37(1-2), 117-143.

United Nations (2023). Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

UN Women (2022). Explainer: How gender inequality and climate change are interconnected.



Fees and funding

Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.

Funding availability: Self-funded PhD students only. 

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only – eligibility criteria apply).

Bench fees

Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.

Entry Requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in a related area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

You’ll need a passionate interest in corporate sustainability initiatives and women’s leadership, with the drive and ability to undertake research work independently. We are seeking an individual with tenacity and confidence to see the project through to success, alongside a willingness to work on sensitive topics.


We’d encourage you to contact Dr Helen Thompson-Whiteside ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Business and Management PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field. 

When applying please quote project code:SM&I4941024