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This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • 5 - Gender equality
  • 10 - reduced inequalities

A beacon of diversity and inclusion

Average read time: 13 minutes

We want to help build a fairer, more inclusive society – and we know our foundation must be an equitable workplace that recognises the dignity and worth of every individual and gives them the freedom and opportunity to fulfil their potential.

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Building belonging, becoming a beacon

Our vision for a more equitable world extends far beyond our own factories and offices. We want our entire business to work towards the transformations in society that will tackle social inequality and unfairness, and end the marginalisation of individuals and groups who are under-represented simply because of who they are.

But we know that to achieve our ambition, we must make sure our own house is more than 'in order' – we have to be leaders in building and maintaining equitable workplaces.

So at the same time as transforming our advertising and brands, making our products more inclusive, and promoting and supporting diversity in our supply chain, we’re also working to achieve equity, diversity and inclusion in everything we do. If we had to sum up what we're trying to achieve in our workplaces, we'd call it 'belonging' – a deep sense of inclusion, where everyone receives fair treatment, fair access and fair opportunities.

Efforts to simply increase representation of under-represented identity groups are ultimately unsustainable without addressing the societal ‘isms’ (sexism, racism, ableism, ageism etc) that negatively impact our communities, our consumers and our employees. Creating an inclusive and diverse culture requires an intentional, adaptive and transformational approach that addresses issues of discrimination and promotes equity for all employees.

Evelyn Espinal, our Global Vice President, Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

Tackling bias to create an equitable workplace

We’re a diverse company and we've worked for many years to build a strongly inclusive culture which respects every employee for who they are. We know that diverse teams operating within an inclusive environment have proven to be higher performing, more agile and faster in responding to changing consumer needs. They’re also better at coping with ever-evolving market conditions while yielding the most innovative solutions and delivering increased productivity.

But we also know that inclusion isn’t an automatic outcome of diversity; we need to tackle both. The biases and structural inequalities that contribute to inequality in society can still be barriers in our workplaces. That's why we've adopted a transformational approach that actively addresses issues of discrimination and promotes equity for all.

And in every workplace, we want to tackle the issues that people face in their day-to-day working lives. We're listening to their dissatisfaction with their career progression and understanding their perception of inclusion.

Three women in hard hats and high visibility jackets discuss a construction project at our factory in Turkey

At the heart of this approach is our commitment to equity at every stage of our employees' careers. We want to achieve equity in: our policies and practices; our employee experience; talent recruitment and selection; and representation and retention.

What does an equitable workplace mean to us?

It means achieving equity in:

  • our policies and practices, by removing barriers and bias from all existing policies and practices which impact employees' experience
  • our employee experience, by establishing leadership accountability for equipping and supporting our employees to excel in their roles and contribute to the growth of the business
  • our talent attraction, recruitment and selection, development and career progression by removing barriers and exclusionary practices in all markets
  • in representation and retention, by seeking to make our workforce fundamentally representative of the populations in the geography in which they operate, and of their customer base.

Focusing on the under-represented

At a global level, we've identified four focus areas for our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy: gender, race and ethnicity, people with disabilities and LGBTQI+ communities.

We're working to address the challenges of these groups' under-representation at all levels of our organisation. But we know that under-representation is not confined to people in these groups alone – so our approach supports each of our markets in identifying who is under-represented or excluded, and why.

In 2020, we established a Racial and Ethnic Equity Taskforce. This team helps us develop our racial equity framework. In 2021, we’re focusing our efforts on accelerating representation of Black and Brown talent in four lead markets: Brazil, South Africa, the UK and the US.

A group of demonstrators hold up posters calling for an end to racism

Leading our drive for change

Our strategy is being driven and supported by our senior leadership. Through our new inclusive leaders programme, we’re equipping them with the skills to value diversity, embed psychological safety and advocate equity.

Our Global Diversity Board

Our Global Diversity Board provides the overarching vision, governance and target setting for inclusion and diversity across our business. Several members of the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE), along with general managers of our key markets, serve on the Board, which meets four times a year and is chaired by our CEO, Alan Jope.

And each month, we report our progress towards inclusion to the ULE.

Diversity and equal opportunity are key commitments in our Code of Business Principles (PDF 8.52MB) Opens in new window, which applies to every Unilever employee, everywhere in the world.

Having a code and policies is a vital part of our approach. But they need to be backed up by action.

We believe a diverse yet cohesive approach is needed to tackle the complexity of true inclusion. So while our vision and policies are global, our local leaders create their own roadmaps for applying them. We badge our business-wide inclusion programmes as #Unstereotype the workplace.

In November 2020, we introduced our Global Domestic Violence and Abuse policy (PDF 115KB) Opens in new window, supported by a learning programme for employees. In March 2021 we published this policy as a resource for other employers to use.

#Unstereotype in the workplace

Stereotypes, unconscious bias and outdated social norms can be the biggest barriers to inclusion. And just as we've worked for several years to unstereotype our advertising, we've also tackled unconscious bias in our practices.

We know that biases are most harmful when they affect key decisions, such as appointments and promotions. We want to be at the cutting edge of using results-driven, scientific approaches to tackling bias. To address gender balance, for example, we used a metric called the Gender Appointment Ratio (GAR) to present our senior leaders with their track record on appointments over a five-year period – raising their awareness and helping them make unbiased choices. And our hiring managers must use ‘balanced slates’ (which means ensuring under-represented groups are included in the candidate pool so that there’s a level playing field of talented people to promote).

We run programmes across the business aimed at attracting, retaining and developing talent fairly. These are based on a global framework and tailored to meet the needs of individual countries and regions. They include programmes in the four lead markets of Brazil, South Africa, the UK and the US to raise awareness and increase representation of Black and Brown talent in leadership positions.

Recognition of our progress

We were a winner of the prestigious 2020 Catalyst Award Opens in new window for initiatives that accelerated progress for women in the workplace. Our initiative, Changing the Game. Unlocking the Future, describes our aim of delivering a gender-balanced workforce and an inclusive culture that breaks down stereotypes.

Women in leadership

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50% Of our managers are women

Some of our longest-running programmes have focused on achieving a fair gender balance in our leadership.

At the end of 2020, 35% of our total workforce of 149,000 people were female. And for the second consecutive year, 50% of our managers were women.

At our most senior level, the Unilever Leadership Executive, women comprise 31%. Our Annual Report 2020 describes our progress.

We've made this progress through sustained leadership accountability and awareness building, clear targets and measurement, programmes to recruit, retain and develop female talent, internal and external communications and engagement, and our network of over 200 Diversity and Inclusion Champions. And our work continues: in 2020, we introduced a new online coaching programme run by specialist INSEAD coaches to help women leaders progress their careers.

Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index

Unilever is included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index 2021 Opens in new window which comprises companies committed to transparency in gender reporting and advancing women’s equality in the workplace.

Support for parents

Building an inclusive workplace includes supporting new parents, especially as not all countries have rights or policies to ensure time off. Our Maternity and Paternity Support Programme helps employees make the transition to parenthood.

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16 Weeks’ paid maternity leave as a minimum, worldwide

Our Global Maternal Wellbeing Standard gives returning mothers access to facilities that allow them to nurse their baby and to have all the flexibility they need to return to the workplace. Among other measures, it entitles all employees to 16 weeks of paid maternity leave as a minimum.

Through our Global Paternity Leave Standard, fathers, including same-sex couples and those who choose to adopt, can take three weeks’ paid paternity leave. We're also exploring ways to help parents make the transition back to work after parental leave. We're piloting a Global Parental Coaching Programme, which offers one-to-one coaching for returning mothers – we aim to include fathers as well once we’ve developed the pilot further.

illustration of a young woman sitting at a desk with a laptop

Supportive workplaces

We run a range of initiatives designed to remove barriers to career progress and help people reach their full potential.

Our agile working policy, for example, allows people to work anytime, anywhere, as long as business needs are being fully met.

Unlocking the talent of people with disabilities

One in seven of us is living with a disability. And those with a disability are among the most marginalised populations in terms of employment and educational opportunity. Removing the barriers facing people living with disabilities is long overdue.

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1 in 7 People live with a disability

In 2018, we set ourselves global commitments. We aim to be the number one employer of choice for people with disabilities, and by 2025 we want to see them representing 5% of our workforce. To facilitate this, we’re making all our sites accessible , adapting the way we work and transforming how we recruit and train our people.

However, it’s not straightforward to get a complete picture of disability across our business. Some countries do not permit us to collect data and we need to respect data privacy laws. In 2020, we asked our office-based employees to self-declare any disabilities through an anonymous survey; in 2021, we’re aiming to include all our factory-based and plantation employees. This will give us more insights to refine our programmes.

Our Disabilities Inclusion Programme is built on a comprehensive analysis of the physical accessibility of our sites, the accessibility of our virtual sites and our recruitment processes. Our global guidelines facilitate accessibility in IT, recruitment, communications and workplace design. We’ve also created a global employee resource group for people with disabilities and their allies, Enable@Unilever. Our internal communications campaign, I AM ME, raises awareness and promotes action across the business. This video is an example.

Our brands are getting involved too. For instance, Rexona, the world’s number one deodorant brand, is breaking down barriers to inspire people to get active .

Achieving racial and ethnic diversity

We want to be recognised as a racially diverse and inclusive company in which all races and ethnicities are fully represented at every level of the business, including in leadership positions. Our Racial and Ethnic Equity Taskforce helps us drive awareness, education and inclusion across our workplaces – and beyond, through the work we do in our supply and distribution chains, and through our brands.

We’re a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Partnering for Racial Justice in Business Opens in new window initiative. This was launched in January 2021 with a key objective of tackling racism in the workplace. Companies must put racial and ethnic justice on their boards’ agendas, take at least one firm action and set a long-term strategy to become an anti-racist organisation.

We’ve joined 48 organisations which will help us drive racial inclusion, champion new industry standards – and align on advocacy for policy changes on inclusion and advancement of professionals with under-represented racial and ethnic identities. In the UK for example, we’re a founding member of the Change the Race Ratio Opens in new window, a coalition of 75 of the FTSE 100 companies who are looking at increasing the representation of Black and Brown talent on boards, executive leadership and one level down.

Taking action to include LGBTQI+

smiling young woman with purple hair and pride rainbow facepaint and earrings

We believe every employee, without exception, must feel able to bring their true authentic self to work, and we are committed to fighting for equal treatment for the LGBTQI+ community. proUd is our global employee resource group with the mission of being 'a beacon of inclusion for people in the LGBTQI+ community and allies, amplifying their voice in society and at Unilever'. It has local chapters all over the world, involving hundreds of employees.

As well as ensuring our own workplaces are inclusive and free from discrimination, we advocate for LGBTQI+ rights globally. In 2020 our CEO, Alan Jope, signed the Declaration of Amsterdam Opens in new window – a global statement of support for LGBTQI+ rights. We’ve also joined Open for Business Opens in new window, a coalition of leading global companies, to show we mean business on taking action on LGBTQI+ inclusion globally.

Equal pay for equal work

We believe in paying for performance with clear reward policies and have a long-standing commitment to equal pay for equal work. Our no discrimination principle is set out as one of five principles in our Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF 449KB) Opens in new window.

Our compensation structures are intended to be gender neutral, with any pay differences between employees in similar jobs fairly reflecting levels of individual performance and skill. We review our pay structures in each country annually as part of our Framework’s compliance process, helping us identify any average pay differences between genders (a ‘gender pay gap’).

Understanding gender pay gaps

While equal pay is about ensuring there’s no pay difference between genders doing the same job, a gender pay gap is the average difference in pay between men and women, measured at a company level within a country. It’s explained through various statistics and is influenced by a range of factors, including the demographics of a company’s workforce.

When we look at our worldwide business as a whole, in countries with more than 250 employees, the average female pay was 23% higher than male pay in 2020 (2019: 22%). This is largely due to the fact that 79% (2019: 79%) of our lower paying blue-collar roles are held by male employees.

Our analysis shows we’ve more work to do to continue improving our gender balance and related gender pay gaps at various levels and in various countries throughout the business. To achieve this, it’s essential to understand how the proportion of women in the workforce varies across job levels. We maintained women at 50% across all our management levels in 2020, while our overall female representation was 35% in 2020, (2019: 36%).

At Work Level 1 (our non-management ‘white-collar’ grade), women made up 48% of our employee population, whereas for Work Level 1 ‘blue-collar’, the figure was 21%. This highlights a broad trend: a lower pay gap in those countries with a larger female Unilever workforce.

Raise living standards describes how we’re applying the principles of a living wage to our workforce and suppliers.