For the first time in the history of the London Stock Exchange, there are no all-male boards in the FTSE 100.
At Unilever, the proportion of female non-executive directors exceeded 50% for the first time in 2015.
On International Women’s Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women, these facts are worth applauding – as long as we remember why urgent action is still needed to accelerate women’s empowerment, not just in boardrooms but across the world.
Women are essential to global growth and development
Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do. It is essential to drive social and economic progress, and sustainable business growth.
As Kofi Annan famously said, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.
I’m proud of Unilever’s commitment to the statement that women’s empowerment is the single greatest enabler of human development and economic growth.
Empowered women have a profound effect on the development of their communities and societies. There’s a reason that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, also known as the Global Goals) – and it will play a vital role in achieving the overall vision of the SDGs for people, the planet and prosperity.
What’s more, women underpin the global economy, and their empowerment will drive it. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, if women played an identical role to that of men in the labour economy, it would add up to $28 trillion to global annual GDP. That is the same as the combined GDP of the world’s two largest economies, the US and China.
Unilever: empowering 5 million women by 2020
Unilever has long recognised the importance of women to our business. We are a proud member of the UN Global Compact and a signatory to the Women’s Empowerment Principles, which we aim to implement throughout our operations.
In 2014, we added an ‘Opportunities for Women’ pillar to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). Our goal is to empower 5 million women across our value chain by 2020, including our employees, smallholder farmers, suppliers, distributors and consumers.
How will we empower women? Our strategy is anchored to three pillars: rights, skills to succeed and opportunities. From that foundation we aim to achieve four targets: building a gender-balanced organisation, promoting safety for women in the communities where we operate, enhancing access to training and skills, and expanding opportunities in our value chain.
We want to really drive systemic change and achieve gender equality. That means working through brands, functions and markets – bringing the full leverage of Unilever’s scale and reach to bear. It also means collaboration with key strategic partners, such as our partnership with UN Women.
We believe it will bring real and lasting benefits to millions of women and girls – and make Unilever a better, stronger business. Today is the perfect day to celebrate that fact and renew our commitment to a brighter future.
How will you help create a gender equal world? Make your commitment with #HeforShe