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Saudi factory makes a huge leap for gender diversity


In a major move for our factory in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the first group of local women – 11 machine operators and one supervisor – have started working on the production line.

Worker in factory

Important for Unilever and the country

This is important for Unilever as it supports our commitment to gender diversity across functions and work levels, and in manufacturing. It is also a progressive step for Saudi Arabia, where legislation on female employment is only a recent phenomenon. While women represent 22% of the workforce, only 2% are in the industrial sector, even though half of university graduates are female.

Hesham AbdulWahab, HR Director, Saudi Arabia, says: “At the end of 2016, female employees represented 11% of the total Saudi Arabia Business Unit and 1% in the factory. Now, the factory gender diversity has jumped from 0% to 8%, for blue-collar workers. We intend to take it to 25% by 2020. Unilever was the first FMCG company to obtain official permission from the Labour Office to employ women. At the time – in 2003 – we recruited mainly into Marketing and CMI functions.”

In their own words

One of the women – Sahar Jamaan Alharthi – explains how being part of the factory team will improve her prospects. “Before joining Unilever,” says Sahar, “I had a job but it was pretty mundane. Now I feel I have the chance of a career in which I can develop my skills, gain valuable experience and carve out opportunities for the future. One day, I would like to maybe move into a supervisor role. I am ambitious and this could open doors.”

Another of the new joiners, Noor Mosa Albarakati, adds: “To get a job is one thing, but to be working for a company like Unilever is something else entirely. Particularly with its focus on empowerment and diversity. Saudi is making progress on women in the workforce, but it’s still quite slow. Unilever is setting an example that others can follow. I feel really proud to be part of the team.”

Saudi Vision 2030

Although progress is being made in terms of encouraging women into the workforce, female unemployment in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be around 34.5%. This latest move, by Unilever, is in line with Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to increase women in the workforce from 22% to 30%, investing in skills development to improve their future career prospects, and help them contribute to the progress of society and the economy.

The programme supports the women empowerment objectives of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and Sustainable Development Goal #5 – gender equality. It will also help position Unilever as a leading sustainable factory in Saudi – showing best practices in terms of people development, women empowerment and environmental management.

Although we are at the early stages of the project, we have already seen a 15% increase in productivity. This is a direct result of women joining the production line and the reduction of contingent labour.

“We are committed to gender equality and diversity, and this wonderful example is just the start,” says Antoinette Irvine, VP, HR, Supply Chain. “We are driving initiatives across Unilever’s supply chain to make both our culture and workplace more diverse and inclusive, as this is vital to our success today and into the future.”

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