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Keeran Gunnoo - Global Employer Brand Director

You can be a young parent and have a thriving career – following my path to success. Juggling motherhood and work presents huge challenges but I am pleased to say I was able to balance both. I am pleased to say I proved it to be possible.

Careers at Unilever

Aged 20, I was one of the highest sales generators in a leading global recruitment agency and had managed the onsite recruitment function at a global financial custodian. A few years later I established my career in social media, when I was headhunted by LinkedIn to help their top corporate clients integrate talent solutions around the world. That led to a meeting in September 2011 with President Barack Obama, at a town hall event in Silicon Valley on the subject of job creation and “Getting America back in the workplace.”

Fast-forward to age 29, and I became Global Employer Brand Director of Unilever, achieving this as a new mum. At Unilever I am responsible for transforming our employer brand, leading employee advocacy and strengthening content strategy – in a snapshot, social business transformation at a global scale.

I know there are many, many more young mothers out there who are ready to start writing their own success story. To help you on your way, here are some of my essential tips for building a career as a millennial mum.

Have an eye for an opportunity

I started out in Human Resources, in line with my studies at university. But that is not where I ended up building my career. Essentially, I saw a gap in the market. From a technological standpoint, recruitment was behind the times; candidates were still applying by post and employers confined their online presence to a few industry-leading sites. I spotted an opportunity to use social media instead.

My bet paid off, leading me to Unilever; a company with just as keen an eye for opportunity. Just look at our job application process, which has dropped CVs in favour of interactive games, and replies to the 250,000 people who apply each year within two weeks of their initial application – sometimes within a day. The opportunity is within my own demographic – 60% of millennials see an employer’s “provision of state of the art technology” as important when considering a job.

As our Chief HR Officer Leena Nair says, “We know that people increasingly live their lives online and our recruitment process must reflect that. This new process will be faster, simpler and more flexible allowing graduates to fit applying around their lives.”

Just as Unilever have taken a radically different approach to hiring, you have to be prepared to take your career in a new direction. As soon as the opportunity presents itself, make your move!

Don’t be afraid of new challenges

It may appear from my career history that I have moved around a lot – and I have. Crucially, I have had success in all the roles I have taken on, leveraging each opportunity to enhance my skillset, drive transformational change, and create a legacy.

As a result, the moves I made in my career strengthened my CV, allowing me to gain a broader experience of industries and culture as well as to position myself as an expert in my field. Most recently I have been recognised by my University as one of their most notable alumni. That led to development sessions in which I was able to give something back – to empower other pioneering students by showing them how to build their personal brand and take their first steps online professionally.

None of that came easy. My point is: don’t be afraid of new challenges. Think of them as fertilizers for growth and development – each one will help you to grow taller and stronger.

Don't let stereotypes get in the way

As a millennial and a mother, I had to upturn quite a few stereotypes to get to where I am. Key to changing those perceptions was concentrating on the ‘why’ behind my work; to do a job; to lead projects; to get results. People do not always take to change immediately, but they do adapt when the benefits are clearly defined.

Our #UNSTEREOTYPE campaign is a great example. Women represent 70% of the buyers of our products and control nearly two thirds of consumer spending – but adverts can reinforce unhelpful, stereotypical portrayals of gender. That is why we are overhauling the way we talk about gender. We want to portray real women, women with three-dimensional personalities, women who are funny, caring, strong and thoughtful. Knorr, for example, has embraced 'flavour equality' – showing that food and cooking are pleasures everyone can enjoy, regardless of gender.

It is important to make your goals a priority. Why allow yourself to be distracted by external stereotypes or expectations when you could be spending that time productively, gaining the respect of your colleagues or contributing to positive cultural change?

Find an agile employer

My son is now three. I took twelve weeks maternity leave before going back to work, striving to balance motherhood with agile working. It is certainly possible to combine the two – as long as you have an employer who understands your personal circumstances, and who can offer the flexibility you need. This was a crucial factor for me when I accepted my current job at Unilever. Luckily, it’s something the organisation really prides itself on.

In 2016 Unilever won a number of accolades due to its inclusive and supportive culture of wellbeing, including recognition in the ‘The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2016,’ winning the Global Healthy Workplace Award 2016, as well as recognition in the US and India by Working Mother as a Top Employer.

Key to that recognition is Unilever’s agile working scheme, which offers flexible hours, extended leave for career breaks, and enhanced maternity leave. It is part of a much wider programme committed to ensuring women are given all the support they need – both before and after they become a mum. In a large number of countries, for example, we go beyond statutory norms to ensure women are provided with time to breastfeed at home or at work via the provision of nursing rooms.

By joining an agile employer like Unilever, you are able to work at your best – in a way that fits in with the rest of your life. That is welcome news to all parents, whether they are millennial or not.

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