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This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • Gender equality
  • Reduced inequalities

Gender equality and women's empowerment

We're transforming our workplaces, our value chain and society at large by applying a gender lens to everything we do in pursuit of our vision of 'no woman left behind'.

Two women in animated discussion over their laptops

The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2021 shows that, at the current rate of progress, women will have to wait around 135 years to close the overall gender gap with men.

This is not nearly fast enough. What’s holding equality back?

Some of the strongest forces behind persistent gender gaps are harmful social norms and stereotypes that limit expectations of what women can or should do. These outdated norms that discriminate against women are all around us, and they are deeply ingrained.

Tackling the issues

Challenging and changing those norms is therefore a vital part of our Unilever Compass strategy.

At the same time, women's rights are not respected, they face too many barriers to access, and are too often prevented from fulfilling their potential. So we're harnessing our business, our influence and our partnerships to drive action in the key areas of respecting rights, building skills and creating opportunities.

That means taking a holistic approach that works to build equality and empowerment throughout our value chain and beyond.

A holistic approach

To further equality and empowerment, we are:

Gender equality in our own workplace

Our model for action makes clear that we can only help make the changes we want to see in society if we ensure our own house is in order by focusing on our workplaces and operations. Gender is at the heart of our strategy for achieving equity in our policies and practices, our employee experience, talent recruitment and selection, and representation and retention.

Woman and man icon

50% Of our managers are women

We’re taking action across our workplace by progressing our efforts on women in leadership, equal pay and the gender pay gap, via our campaign to #Unstereotype our workplaces and through our framework of inclusive policies. We were a winner of the prestigious 2020 Catalyst Award for initiatives that accelerated progress for women in the workplace.

Across our business, our value chain and society

An illustration of three women and two men from multicultural backgrounds together against a landscape background

Equity and equality

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.

That's why we pursue equity as well as equality – fair treatment, and fair access to opportunities, information and resources for all, so that everyone can thrive in truly inclusive societies.

In communities, businesses and societies, women and girls experience gender inequities that limit their opportunities, stifle their voices, and constrain their agency. Patriarchal social and institutional structures continue to place women and girls at a disadvantage – and that will only change through concerted action.

We want to continue to lead the way as a business, proactively creating initiatives that have the needs of women and girls in mind, and using our voice and influence to drive change in our value chain and in wider society. That means applying a gender lens to everything we do, and basing our approach on respecting rights, building skills and creating opportunity.

This transformation will not only help build a fairer world – it will drive inclusive growth.

Worldwide, women control 64% of consumer spending and are the fastest-growing group of consumers. Equality for women in the global labour force would add up to $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. That’s a huge opportunity for any business.

Our Gender Equity Framework

With the International Centre for Research on Women, we have developed a Gender Equity Framework. We’re aiming to integrate and systematically embed gender equity considerations across all our sustainability initiatives, as we want our programmes to be fair and enable access to more opportunities for women.

Our Framework enables all initiatives – at any stage of their development ­– to assess the extent to which they’ve considered gender in their design, delivery and monitoring. It then prompts our teams to define concrete actions to improve and embed important gender measures over time.

We share the definition of gender used by the World Health Organization (WHO). Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed.

For a fuller definition, see the World Health Organization

Respecting rights

Our business is founded on respect for human rights – and we know equal rights and safety for women are the building blocks for inclusive development, and for a fairer world. We aim to advance human rights in our own operations and throughout our extended value chain. We’re calling for increased investment and policies and partnerships that tackle gender-based violence, in particular by addressing some of the systemic root causes, including harmful norms and stereotypes.

And through Principle 2 of our People and Nature Policy (PDF 2.04MB) (Respecting and promoting human rights), we’re committed to engaging with our suppliers and to working through partnerships and collaboration to scale up efforts and drive the implementation of improved working and living conditions, particularly by protecting vulnerable workers (including women, migrant, temporary and informal workers), eradicating forced and child labour, and safeguarding land and community rights.

Skills and opportunities, throughout our value chain

At the same time as promoting respect for women's rights, we have an active commitment to empowering women by helping them build their skills.

Across our value chain, we provide women – employees, farmers, retailers, entrepreneurs and consumers – with access to training and to financial and digital assets to succeed in the workforce. We want to see more education and ‘reskilling’ (ie closing the digital skills gap) for those most excluded from the labour market, including women and girls, young people, and people from marginalised communities, as part of our future of work strategy.

Creating more equitable access to opportunity is also critical. We invest in business opportunities for women in our supply chains, distribution networks and markets. We’re calling for more collaboration across and within sectors to stimulate economic inclusion for women by closing the digital and financial inclusion gaps. And for public and private investors to redirect additional capital towards more inclusive business and ‘gender-smart’ business models.

Expanding opportunities in our retail value chain

Empowered women play a vital role in reaching our consumers and enabling our business to grow. By building skills among our small-scale distributors and retailers, we're creating new opportunities for women while strengthening our business.

Our products reach consumers through around 25 million retail outlets in more than 190 countries, as well as through direct sales from micro-entrepreneurs. This distribution network is essential to our growth ambitions. It’s also one of our biggest opportunities to create a positive social impact, including through creating opportunities for the millions of women who work in it.

We estimate that women own or operate 30–40% of the outlets in what is known as 'traditional trade'. And there are potentially millions of new opportunities for women to enhance their livelihoods by helping us reach consumers in new ways − including in remote or hard-to-reach areas, through what is known as 'last-mile distribution'. Our longstanding Shakti initiative in India is a good example.

We help women throughout our distribution network address the factors that can hold them back – such as a lack of training and skills, lack of childcare, social attitudes and financial exclusion – while improving their access to markets, information and financing. We do this directly through our programmes, or in partnership with civil society organisations, governments and financial institutions.

In Kenya for example, we’re working with retailers through Jaza Duka, a strategic partnership with Mastercard with support from the CEO Partnership for Economic Inclusion. Jaza Duka digitises the processes of buying supplies and selling goods, so the small-scale retailers involved (more than half of whom are women) can build the credentials they need to access short-term working capital loans.

Making sure we make an impact

In 2018 we began working with our long-standing partners, impact investor Acumen and 60 Decibels, to co-develop a survey tool that could help measure the difference our programmes are making to people's lives through a gender lens.

The result is the Lean Data Gender Toolkit, and our Lean Data How-To Guide (PDF - 7.6MB). It has generated lessons for us as we improve our programmes, and renewed our confidence that our programmes can help create a more gender-equal and inclusive world. We’re rolling out the lean data approach to measure the impact of a number of our initiatives across our Unilever Compass (PDF 3.47MB) commitments.

Empowering women farmers, strengthening our supply chain

An illustration of a woman picking fruit from a bush to put into a basket

Farmers need knowledge – and not just of sustainable agricultural practices. Smallholder farmers draw on a wide range of agricultural and business skills, including entrepreneurship and finance. Key life-skills in areas such as nutrition, sanitation and hygiene can also make a huge difference to farmers’ lives and to the communities they live in.

But all too often, women and girls are left behind when it comes to education. Making sure they have access to training and skills is critical to expanding female participation in the economy and to closing the gender gap.

Putting change and sustainability on the menu

Smallholder farmers rely on their plots to provide food to sell and for their families to eat. Often their best crops go to market and not on to their plates.

In partnership with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and partners such as Dharma Life and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), we work with farmers, workers and their families – with a particular focus on women – to improve their diet and nutrition through initiatives such as the Seeds of Prosperity programme.

Projects are running in Tanzania, Assam (India) and Kenya, and together we have delivered training sessions which explain the benefits of diversifying crops and growing biofortified staples. The programmes are reaching 89,000 estate workers in Assam, 26,000 smallholders in Kenya and 6,500 estate workers and smallholders in Tanzania to help improve diet and nutrition.

Women’s hands holding a bunch of fresh green tea leaves just plucked from a tea bush

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, if women had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, yields on women’s farms could increase by as much as 20%–30%. So by helping women overcome the barriers they face and gain the skills they need to unlock their potential, we have the opportunity to achieve a huge positive social impact.

By training women farmers in the sustainable practices that help increase biodiversity, enrich soils and improve watersheds, better yields can come alongside better stewardship of the environment. We've developed an approach that enables us to reach women farmers through:

  • financial support for farmer training programmes, delivered by suppliers and NGOs
  • premium prices for suppliers who invest in farmer training and provide quality planting material, such as high-yield seeds
  • funding for technical solutions that improve productivity and environmental sustainability
  • development of business and life-skill programmes (ie financial literacy, hygiene and nutrition training modules with experts)
  • access to labour- and time-saving devices such as cook-stoves and clothes washing equipment.

Empowering women economically and financially

In Kenya we’ve been working to create additional income opportunities for tea farmers for some years and have supported farmer field schools across the country. These schools trained farmers in sustainable practices, increasing both quality and yield, with farmers obtaining Rainforest Alliance Certification for their tea crops.

We're working with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to train women in good agricultural practices. New tea nurseries will soon start producing tea seedlings for them, and the project will also include the setting up of village savings and loan association groups, giving women additional financial opportunities as well as agricultural skills.

In Madagascar, our Wall's ice cream brand is part of the Vanilla for Change partnership. The programme aims to tackle some of the biggest issues affecting vanilla farmers and their families, providing direct support to farmers, making sure they get a fair price for their crop, and have access to health insurance and financial training.

An illustration of a chocolate and vanilla ice cream being licked by a pink tongue

Building on our brand connections to empower women

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

Consumers expect brands to take a stand

74% of consumers globally expect brands to take a stand on issues such as racial discrimination, equal rights and social justice.

Many of our consumers are women – so we see a great opportunity to harness our brands to help achieve our aim of empowering women by challenging gender norms, building skills, and enabling everyone to unlock their full potential.

Many of our brands are empowering and enabling women every day. Our Beauty and Personal Care and Home Care brands have developed sustainable living purposes around enabling access to skills and training, building confidence and helping to recognise the fact that unpaid domestic work is disproportionately done by women − and that helping reduce and redistribute the burden of household chores can unlock women’s time.

The Dove Self-esteem Project, for example, has empowered more than 60 million young people through its mission to help shatter beauty stereotypes and build body confidence, while in India, Glow & Lovely Careers helps women secure a better future through education. Many more of our brands are taking action to champion inclusion.

Challenging harmful gender norms across society

Our vision

We have a vision of a world in which every woman and girl can create the kind of life she wishes to lead, unconstrained by harmful norms and stereotypes.

And a world, too, in which men and boys are also free from the confines of adverse social norms and stereotypes of manhood and masculinity, and in which economies are growing and creating opportunities for men and women alike.

Harmful social norms and stereotypes place limits on women. We want to break those barriers down throughout our entire value chain in our own workplaces, through our work on transforming our advertising and brands, and by promoting and supporting diversity in our supply chain.

We're also working with others to bring about systems change – because cultivating fair and balanced gender norms and progressive portrayals of women and girls calls for collective action. And it’s crucial that men and boys are also part of any movement to build positive cultural change.

We participate in platforms that help us bring insights into Unilever and share our insights with the wider world. We’ve aligned with the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and participated in working groups focused on tackling adverse norms and changing business culture, and we’re active in the Generation Equality Forum, which marks the anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration on women’s rights.

We’re making commitments through the Generation Equality Forum’s Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights, Technology and Innovation and Gender-Based Violence. And we’re a member of the Unstereotype Alliance – a UN Women-led initiative in partnership with Unilever and industry leaders including WPP, IPG, Facebook, Google, Mars, Microsoft and Safaricom, set to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content.