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This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Gender equality
  • Reduced inequalities

A beacon of diversity and inclusion

Average read time: 11 minutes

We want to help build a fairer, more inclusive society. Our foundation must be an equitable workplace.

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

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. Key to this is looking at everything we do through a gender lens to make sure we’re continuing to build gender equality and women’s empowerment. 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’ (such as sexism, racism, ableism or ageism) that negatively impact our communities, our consumers and our 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. We’ve set out our goals as part of our Unilever Compass.

Our equity, diversity and inclusion goals

  • Achieve an equitable and inclusive culture by eliminating any bias and discrimination in our practices and policies.
  • Accelerate diverse representation at all levels of leadership.
  • 5% of our workforce to be made up of people with disabilities by 2025.

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. At the heart of our approach is our commitment to equity at every stage of our employees' careers.

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
  • 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

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

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.

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. At the same time, we’re building the capabilities of our human resources community and individuals on how to establish an inclusive culture, working alongside our network of global diversity champions.

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 8.99MB), which applies to every Unilever employee, everywhere in the world.

It’s time to unmute the silence on domestic violence

As Covid-19 lockdown measures triggered an alarming increase in domestic violence across the world, in 2020, we introduced our Global Domestic Violence and Abuse policy, supported by a learning programme for employees that equips them to identify abuse in their own situations or in colleagues.

In 2021, we published this policy as a resource for other employers to use.

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.

#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. Gender equality explains how we’re identifying any bias in appointments and promotions and how we’re equipping those in senior leadership positions with greater awareness of their own hiring patterns.

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.

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.

Achieving racial and ethnic diversity

Black lives matter protests

We want to be recognised as a 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, is helping 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.

The Taskforce is guiding the development of our racial equity framework. 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. These countries are leading our work to make our recruitment practices more equitable – by increasing representation, building more inclusive and equitable cultures, and expanding local partnerships and advocacy.

We’re a founding member of the World Economic Forum’s Partnering for Racial Justice in Business initiative. This was launched in 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 around 50 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, 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.

Unlocking the talent of people with disabilities

Peron on a wheelchair icon

1 in 7 People live with a disability

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.

We aim to be the number one employer of choice for people with disabilities, and as set out in our Unilever Compass goal, 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. We asked our office-based employees to self-declare any disabilities through an anonymous survey in 2020. In 2021, we embarked on a first-of-its-kind partnership, working with WPP and Microsoft IDx Lab through an Inclusive Innovation Lab to gather quantitative and qualitative real-time data from our workforce.

Understanding barriers to inclusivity

The Inclusive Innovation Lab functions as a collaborative group of multidisciplinary experts who seek to create a more inclusive and innovative future. Unilever was its first client.

Through this partnership, we ran a comprehensive culture study using the views of employees with disabilities, and non-disabled employees, to understand the barriers to inclusion across our business.

Across Brazil, India and the UK, we surveyed over 2,000 employees to identify inclusion challenges. In tandem, we carried out in-depth interviews, asked people to keep a diary on their working environment and benchmarked the best elements of a disability-inclusive workforce. We’re now using the study’s insights and recommendations in the ongoing development of our global strategy and defining specific action plans for the three countries involved.

We used the same lab to develop an adaptive design for our Deodorants business. The outcome has been piloted as a new concept: Degree Inclusive, the world’s first adaptive deodorant. Its design makes it easy for those with a disability to use and was awarded the prestigious Innovation Grand Prix at the Cannes 2021 Festival of Creativity.

Degree inc roll on

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.

Promoting inclusivity

We’ve created a global employee resource group for people with disabilities and their allies, Enable@Unilever, to boost awareness of the need for inclusivity. Each December, we celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, marking it in 2021 with an accessibility masterclass, and talks on topics such as neurodiversity. Employees can also learn more through Accessibility 101, a new training module on our Degreed learning platform to build understanding of inclusive ways of working.

We also run an internal communications campaign, I AM ME, which 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.

Taking action to include LGBTQI+

View of legs walking over a Gay Pride zebra crossing

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. In 2018, we signed the UN LGBTI Standards of Conduct for Business: Tackling Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans & Intersex People.

We’ve created proUd, our global employee resource group whose mission is to be 'a beacon of inclusion for people in the LGBTQI+ community and allies, amplifying their voices in society and at Unilever'. It has local chapters all over the world, involving over a thousand employees and we're continuing to expand it to increase advocacy for human rights and safe havens for this community. We’ve also introduced an updated LGBTQI+ training module on our Degreed learning platform. This training offers a broad understanding of the LGBTQI+ community and includes guidance on inclusive language and becoming an LGBTQI+ ally.

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