11/10/12 - Unilever is putting women at the forefront of its vision for a better, more sustainable future.
This involves both increasing the number of women in senior management positions and connecting with women as consumers as it seeks to improve the health and well-being of 1 billion people and reduce its environmental impact by 2020.
As a platinum sponsor at the 15th annual Women’s International Networking Conference, held in Rome 3-6 October, Unilever set out the case for how women are critical to economic growth, community stability and its own business success.
In his keynote speech, CEO Paul Polman said: “Of course gender balance is only one part of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, but it is a hugely important part. Unless we recognise the critical role that women play and unless we involve women more directly in developing solutions, then we are destined never to fulfil our potential.”
Women as consumers
Women make up almost 80% of Unilever’s consumer base and, by 2014, will control the majority of global consumer spending at more than $15 trillion.
This requires Unilever to understand the changing needs of its core consumers and find new ways to connect with them.
For example, improving a woman’s access to water through filtration systems such as Pureit or providing her with more efficient cooking or farming equipment can free up hundreds of hours in a year, time which can in turn be used in productive economic activity.
Women as workers
In developing countries, women account for 43% of the agricultural workforce, rising to over 50% in Africa. However, they have less access to resources, training and financing than men.
Giving them equal rights to land, new technology and capital could increase crop yields by 30% and stop 150 million people going to bed hungry every night, according to the US Agency for International Development.
Through the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has committed to engage with 500,000 smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, to help them improve their agricultural practices and become more sustainable and competitive.
Furthermore, research shows that women are more likely to invest their income in the education and health of their children as well as contributing to broader livelihood improvements in their communities. This is particularly true in developing countries where women are driving changes in household habits and social attitudes.
Women as employees
Unilever is also focusing on nurturing female talent within a diverse and inclusive environment through its pro-active gender diversity programme, which includes its leadership immersion programmes, mentoring, and agile and flexible working.
Between 2007 and 2011, the proportion of women in senior positions has risen from 23% to 28%. They now account for 40% of Unilever managers and more than 50% of all graduate recruits. This is taking it steadily closer to its target of ensuring that women make up 55% of its senior management team by 2015.
Abbe Luersman, Senior VP, Human Resources, Europe, says: “Our vision is to grow sustainably. We believe that having a gender-balanced engaged workforce reflective of our consumer base is a critical element of our long-term growth strategy which strengthens our company, maximises our shareholders’ investments, and prepares us better to lead in the 21st century.”
The issues of diversity, inclusion and the future workplace were key issues at the three-day WIN conference, held in Rome. This brought together 1,000 delegates from 90 nationalities to discuss workplace challenges and solutions through speeches, workshops and networking and social events.