Leena Nair - Chief Human Resources Officer

We are living today in a volatile, uncertain and dynamically changing landscape. Technology is changing the way we work, live and interact. We see numerous challenges all around us: issues of extreme poverty and income inequality, the devastating impact of climate change.

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These challenges affect all of us and finding solutions to them requires new ways of doing business, new skills and new types of leadership. We need to look at bringing in the best of diverse talent so that we have a workforce that is equipped with the qualities that are needed to run a successful business. Women, especially, naturally possess collaborative and nurturing working styles that are exceedingly important in the new framework.

Increasing diversity in our workforce, especially in gender has been a very personal journey. When I joined Hindustan Unilever as a management trainee, women made up only two per cent of employee base. I’m passionate to make Unilever a more gender-balanced workplace and have brought in a number of innovations to enhance our inclusive culture.

For us, though, the case for building diversity and inclusion goes even further. Women are crucial not just for our business but in effecting the changes we need to see in society to create a sustainable future.

Here is how Unilever is developing its business model to advance opportunities for women in the workforce and beyond.

Empowering women across our value chain

A McKinsey report in 2015 explained how USD $28 trillion can be added to annual global GDP if women participated in the economy in equal numbers to men. Given the wider role that a diverse workforce can play in society, we are finding new ways of harnessing our business and brands to make Unilever a place where women feel empowered to truly fulfil their potential.

We have devised a four pronged strategy in light of this, enabling us to make our vision a reality:

Building a gender balanced organization

I am very proud of the huge strides we’ve made here. Since we took up the challenge five years ago of working towards gender balance, we have implemented systematic programs and accountability in the business.

As a result, women now represent 45% of management. At senior levels we have moved from 7% to a quarter of our workforce as SVP/EVP and 50% of our board are women. This has come about as a result of a successful repeatable model: ownership of business case, setting targets, strengthening supply, retention and development programs and practices (mentoring; maternity and paternity support; women’s skill development; inclusion learning) and communications (engaging the organization to build the case for gender balance).

Promoting rights and safety for women in the communities we operate in

This includes our needs assessment work in our tea plantations in Kenya to look at how we can create conditions for safety, forming partnerships with local organizations to provide training and awareness raising and implementing effective grievance mechanisms.

Enhancing access to training and skills across our operations

We have enabled around 600,000 smallholder farmers and 1.8 million small-scale retailers to access initiatives which aimed to improve their agricultural practices or increase their sales.

Expanding opportunities for women

Since 2006, in partnership with others, we enabled around 800,000 women to access initiatives that aimed to develop their skills, made up of 70,000 micro-entrepreneurs in India.

I'm proud to say we have been extensively recognized for all our efforts in this space – winning the Catalyst award, top employers for women in UK and US and leaders in gender work practices in Turkey, China, Germany and South Asia.

All my life it has been a great privilege to break some of the taboos and glass ceilings surrounding gender; I feel especially honoured in steering Unilever to a more balanced future. Our inclusion learning programs, for example, are building a shared awareness of a more connected, caring culture so everyone at Unilever feels uniquely valued and supported – whether engaging with inspirational role models, building a positive momentum with inspirational leaders or ensuring embedding of inclusive practices across all HR processes.

Promoting a culture of wellbeing

Unilever places great emphasis on health and wellbeing. In fact, in 2016 we rolled out our wellbeing workshops to 37,000 people, which focus on mental, physical, emotional health and purposeful living.

Unilever’s maternity leave policy is making particular strides in this area. In a large number of countries, we go beyond statutory norms to provide generous maternity policies including ensuring women are provided with time to breastfeed at home or at work via the provision of nursing rooms. We also share advice on health and nutrition during pregnancy on our maternity and paternity platform.

We are committed to improving Unilever’s policies for maternal health. We’re especially dedicated to creating an environment of agile working that is supportive of family life. Our working policy and practice lets employees work flexibly for example, as long as the needs of the businesses are met.

These policies are fantastic for Unilever’s diversity mission; as a woman, I have myself been in the minority position and I’ve experienced what it’s like to be undermined or seen as “different” – and the visibility and the stereotyping that goes with it. By bringing men and women together on these issues, we’re fostering an increasingly inclusive workforce where everyone gets a voice.

Empowering women through our brands

Our brands are involved in women’s empowerment in a number of ways, helping to promote a culture of wellbeing. Brands like Clinic Plus are challenging social norms and running campaigns to empower women and girls in Asia – Clinic Plus’s commitment is to ensure that girls enrolled in schools in India complete their secondary school education.

Brands like Sunlight are aiming to enable women’s economic empowerment via both product innovation and programmes, to alleviate the physical work and time spent on household chores. For example, through their water centres in Nigeria.

Knorr’s social mission further aims to bring positive impact to women via its three pillars:

  • Fork – a behavioural change program championing nutrition and iron deficiency (especially amongst teenage girls) to combat anaemia
  • Fortune – training women to sell Unilever products and reinforce dietary changes
  • Farm – enhancing the livelihoods of smallholder farmers

By harnessing our brands, we are directly expanding opportunities for women, while improving their home and working lives.

International Women’s Day: our commitment to women’s empowerment

The 2016 International Women’s Day theme was Pledge for Parity – there are still relative gaps between women and men across health, education, economy and politics. Unilever’s IWD programme aims to reinforce our commitment to women’s empowerment via communicating around the following:

  • Keeping Global Goals alive in the business: deepening the connection between these and brands for employees. Unlocking no.5 (gender equality) I'm confident will help to achieve all Goals.
  • Driving awareness and understanding: on why women´s empowerment and gender equality is important to our business, people and the world and updating on how we are doing against our goals.
  • Engaging employees to act and commit: via our Global Goals game, online quiz, HeForShe campaign, learning webinars or engaging with and understanding how our brands are bringing women’s empowerment to life.

We know that when we invest in women, the economy and society thrives. Unilever’s ongoing commitment to empowering five million women in our value chain – building a gender balanced organization, promoting wellbeing, utilizing our brands to provide education and expanding opportunities in our retail operations – not only contributes to a better position for women in society but also to a more sustainable future.

As a woman who has experienced being in the minority, I continue to pioneer our diversity model with passion. My role as Chief HR Officer at Unilever allows me to build upon this from senior leadership downwards and continue to form empowered, resilient teams.

However, each of us has a role to play in making diversity and inclusion a part of our DNA. With every one of us on board, we hope to see even more success – for women, for our company and beyond.

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