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A beacon of diversity and inclusion

Average read time: 9 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 face paint 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, and made it a goal within our Unilever Compass.

Achieve an equitable and inclusive culture by eliminating any bias and discrimination in our practices and policies.

This is one of our Equity, diversity and inclusion goals

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.

Headshot of Nitin Paranjpe

To reach a place where workplace opportunities are fair, just and equal, we need to take into account the different needs, cultural barriers and potential discrimination that specific groups may face in our business.

Nitin Paranjpe, our Chief People & Transformation Officer

While equality has long been a tenet of fairness in the workplace, it’s crucial we consider equity too. Equality looks to treat people in the same way by providing them with the same opportunities and resources. But this one-size-fits-all approach is only effective if everyone has exactly the same needs – because it assumes a level playing field where every individual has equal advantages or barriers. This is rarely the case.

Equity recognises that people don’t all start from the same place, and prompts us to consider interventions and measures to compensate for systemic bias or barriers that can prevent individuals from reaching their full potential. So what does an equitable workplace mean in practice?

Focusing on the under-represented

Three women in hard hats and high visibility jackets having a conversation

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.

Diversity and equal opportunity are key commitments in our Code of Business Principles (PDF 8.99 MB) , 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.

#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.

Achieving racial and ethnic diversity

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.

Accelerate diverse representation at all levels of leadership.

This is one of our Equity, diversity and inclusion goals

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.

A group of people at a Black Lives Matter protest holding cardboard signs

Unlocking the talent of people with disabilities

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 we’ve set ourselves a goal within the Unilever Compass.

5% of our workforce to be made up of people with disabilities by 2025.

This is one of our Equity, diversity and inclusion goals

We’re making all our sites accessible, adapting the way we work and transforming how we recruit and train our people. 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.

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.

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.

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+

Someone walking over a rainbow-painted pavement

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 1,200 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.

How our brands are driving change

As we build a more equitable workplace, we’re challenging ourselves to create marketing that will help influence the next generation of people to be free from prejudice. Through Act 2 Unstereotype, we’re provoking more diverse and inclusive thinking across our brand teams, from new product development right through to advertising production. Championing inclusion through our brands explains more about how we’re promoting a more inclusive society and driving systemic change.

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