Opportunities for women

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Partnership For The Goals

Advancing diversity & inclusion

We believe a diverse and inclusive business makes us, and society, stronger. It drives our growth by helping us engage with our consumers while making sure we can attract and retain talented people and unlock their potential.

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How we're building a diverse & inclusive culture

We’re a diverse company and are determined to build a strongly inclusive culture which respects every employee for who they are – regardless of gender, age, race, disability or sexual orientation. We believe that our employees’ contributions are richer because of their diversity, and we want to help them feel free to bring their authentic self to work every day. And we want to accelerate progress in equality of opportunity and women’s empowerment, because as two of our most material issues, they’re central to our business growth and our social impact.

Diversity & Inclusion is one of the things that we want Unilever to be famous for. This means making sure our business is fair, attracting and retaining the very best talent and helping them unlock their full potential.

Alan Jope, Chief Executive Officer

Our diversity & inclusion strategy

We have a broad strategy for diversity and inclusion, which includes three key points of focus:

  • improving the representation of women in management, with a goal of gender balance
  • enabling the inclusion of disabled employees and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) employees
  • challenging harmful social norms and stereotypes in our workplaces and beyond.

Inclusion & the global drive for fairness

Inclusion is at the heart of the global sustainable development agenda, with its central ambition to ‘leave no one behind’ – so building diversity and inclusion within and beyond our business supports a range of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Of the people who buy our products are women

At the same time, we believe a more diverse and inclusive workforce can boost financial performance, reputation, innovation and staff motivation – and bring us closer to our consumers.

By empowering women in our workplaces and our value chain, for example, we contribute to SDG 5 on Gender Equality. But we also contribute to the Goals on Education and Economic Growth by engaging and empowering our consumers, 70% of whom are women.

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Employees making and selling products for sale in over 190 countries

Through our focus on women's empowerment and disability and LGBT+ inclusion, we're making sure we draw on the best talent, and giving our people the freedom to flourish. It’s a vital element in our drive to be an agile, inclusive business that has the skills and resilience to unlock growth.

Since 2009, we’ve been committed to building a gender-balanced organisation. We set a clear ambition to have 50% women in management positions by 2020 as part of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and by the end of 2019, 51% (50.7%) of our managers were women.

Diversity: a commitment at the heart of our business

Our Code of Business Principles applies to every Unilever employee everywhere in the world. It includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Our Code of Business Principles & Policies

Our Code of Business Principles states that we are “committed to a working environment that promotes diversity and equal opportunity and where there is mutual trust, respect for human rights and no discrimination. We will recruit, employ and promote employees on the sole basis of the qualifications and abilities needed for the work to be performed.”

Our Code is supported by 24 mandatory Code Policies that define the ethical behaviour employees must demonstrate when working in our business. Our Respect, Dignity and Fair Treatment Code Policy sets out what our employees must do to ensure that all our workplaces maintain our commitment to diversity.

For example, Unilever employees must:

  • respect the dignity and human rights of colleagues and all others they come into contact with as part of their jobs

  • treat everyone fairly and equally, without discrimination on the grounds of race, age, role, gender, gender identity, colour, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, marital status, dependants, disability, social class or political views. This includes consideration for recruitment, redundancy, promotion, reward and benefits, training or retirement which must be based on merit.

Employees must not:

  • engage in any direct behaviour that is offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting. This includes any form of sexual or other harassment or bullying, whether individual or collective and whether motivated by race, age, role, gender, gender identity, colour, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, marital status, dependants, disability, social class or political views

  • associate our products or services with – or feature within any Unilever marketing – themes, figures or images likely to cause serious or widespread offence to any religion, nationality, culture, gender, race, sexual orientation, age, disability or minority group.

See Our Code of Business Principles and Code Policies (PDF | 9MB).

Leading the way: change from the top

Diversity and inclusion are strategic priorities, and they’re being driven and supported by our senior leadership.

Our Global Diversity Board

Our Global Diversity Board provides the overarching vision, governance and target setting for diversity and inclusion across our business. Seven members of the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE) sit on the Board, which meets three times a year and is chaired by our CEO, Alan Jope.

In addition to our company-wide policies, we support our commitment with targets, and progress against them is reported to the Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE) each month. Improving female representation in the workforce is linked to the performance goals of our leaders.

Each country and individual business function has its own targets, which reflect its particular diversity challenges. We’ve identified our Supply Chain as one of the areas where we need to give diversity greater priority. And in fact it’s delivered our greatest step change, reaching 40% female representation in management in 2019. We’ve also made progress in other departments where women have historically been under-represented: Finance has reached 50% women at management level globally, and UniOps, (our operations and technology engine) is at 47%.

Having a gender-balanced workforce should be a given, not something that we aspire to. We’re very proud to have reached our goal of equal representation of women and men among our 14,000 managers, but our work doesn’t stop here. We’ll continue to work towards equal opportunities for women and other under-represented groups both within our business, and beyond.

Alan Jope, our Chief Executive Officer

More details on our policy commitments to diversity and inclusion are included in Fairness in the workplace. Our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB) and Understanding our human rights impacts also describe our work to address obstacles to diversity, including discrimination and harassment, in our business and supply chain.

Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index

We were selected for inclusion in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index 2019, which comprises companies committed to transparency in gender reporting and advancing women’s equality in the workplace.

Companies report information on how they promote gender equality across four areas: company statistics; policies; community engagement; and products and services. Those that score above a globally established threshold, based on the extent of their disclosures and the achievement of best-in-class statistics and policies, are included in the index.

The index includes 230 companies from 10 sectors headquartered across 36 countries. Collectively, these firms have a combined market capitalisation of $9 trillion and employ more than 15 million people – including 7 million women.

Women leaders

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Of our managers are women

At the end of 2019, 36% of our total workforce of 150,000 people was female. And 51% (50.7%) of our managers were women, up from 38% in 2010. We want to ensure that the representation of women at the most senior levels in our business keeps increasing. 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 Diversity and Inclusion Champions are all part of our overall approach.

Despite our 2019 progress at management level, we still have more to do to ensure a balanced representation of women.

Gender statisticsFemaleMaleFemaleMale
Unilever Leadership Executive (ULE)*4
Senior management
(reporting in to ULE)
Total workforce53,469

* As of 20 February 2020 (the latest practicable date for inclusion in this report), there were four females and nine males on the ULE.

Note: Employees who are statutory directors of the corporate entities included in this Annual Report and Accounts 493 (68%) males and 232 (32%) females.

Our brands also play an active role in supporting women as leaders. Find out how we're Enhancing entrepreneurial life skills through our brands.

Growing great leaders: how we recruit & promote the best female talent

We run programmes across the business aimed at attracting, retaining, and developing female talent. These are based on a global framework and tailored to meet the needs of individual countries and regions.

Our hiring managers must use ‘balanced slates’ (which means an equal number of qualified female and male candidates) to make sure there’s a level playing field of talented people to promote. We’ve designed a range of initiatives to enable both women and men to 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.

Pioneering new approaches to tackle unconscious bias

We know that biases have the most harmful impact when they affect key decision-making moments, such as appointments and promotions. We want to be at the cutting edge of using results-driven, scientific approaches to tackling bias.

Our Gender Appointment Ratio

In 2018 we began a partnership with Professor Iris Bohnet of Harvard University. With her guidance, we launched a metric called the Gender Appointment Ratio (GAR) to present our senior leaders with their track record over a five-year period. Giving line managers the ‘big picture’ of their appointment decisions raises their awareness and helps them make the unbiased choices the next time the opportunity arises.

We initiated this metric with our Unilever Leadership Executive members, and have extended it to other parts of the business

We’ve also used technology to cover the early stages of screening and interviewing for our graduate recruitment scheme. The interface has been designed to minimise the early screening out of candidates as a result of bias, rather than performance in objective tests. This has resulted in a significant increase in the gender representation in our graduate trainees, while also saving costs and resources.

#Unstereotype in the workplace & beyond

As well as being vital to the success of our business, we know that advancing diversity within Unilever plays a part in our wider ambitions to challenge outdated cultural norms throughout our value chain – and contribute to a more prosperous and just society by empowering women everywhere.

Diversity can only flourish in an environment that welcomes and nurtures it – an inclusive, agile culture of the kind we want to build. We believe that stereotypes, unconscious bias and outdated social norms are the biggest barriers to inclusion – so our internal #Unstereotype the Workplace campaign aims to break them down, just as our external #Unstereotype initiative aims to break stereotypes in the way we portray women and men in our advertising.

We launched #Unstereotype the Workplace on International Women’s Day in March 2017. Since then, we have celebrated International Women’s Day with our Gamechangers for Gender Equality campaign. This celebrates the everyday actions of people who are challenging stereotypes across our workplaces, and helping to make the organisation more inclusive. Each year we've seen a greater impact than before, and we invite anyone to be a gamechanger and make a difference for gender equality. We’ve featured men taking paternity leave, women in engineering, successful job shares and many more examples.

Read more about #Unstereotype and how we're Challenging harmful gender norms.


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Empowering blue-collar women

Our Konya Algida factory in Turkey makes great ice cream – but it’s also making a difference to women's opportunities in the blue-collar workforce. By 2019, more than 40% of the factory's blue-collar workforce were women – a statistic that reflects the focus on diversity by the factory's leadership.

There are now 27 women employed as technicians and team leaders at the factory – and the gender mix is helping drive success, according to Nihal Temur, our Vice President Supply Chain. As she says: "The factory is one of the best ice cream factories in the world, and it’s benefiting from different opinions, market insights and viewpoints of men and women. That enables better problem-solving and ultimately leads to superior performance at the business unit level."

Removing barriers for mothers

Our Maternity & Paternity Support (MAPS) Programme

Parenthood shouldn’t be a barrier in anyone's career. We recognise the importance of supporting new parents so that they can continue to contribute to our business.

Our Maternity and Paternity Support Programme helps employees make the transition to parenthood as smoothly as possible.

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Weeks’ paid maternity leave

We introduced our Global Maternal Well-being Standard in 2017 and rolled it out to every country in which we operate by the end of 2018.

The 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. Although our previous entitlements already met local regulatory requirements, our Standard is a major advance. In 54% of the countries in which we operate, it exceeded the local regulatory requirement when we introduced it.

‘Confident comebacks’: the right welcome for working parents

Aline Santos

Aline Santos is our Executive Vice President of Global Marketing and our Head of Diversity and Inclusion.

“We’ve come a long way in our support for working parents. We believe our Global Maternal Well-being Standard is industry-leading in terms of helping women in the transition to being a working mum – and we're developing programmes for dads, too. We know these initiatives are vital in fostering the diverse business we need to attract and keep the best talent.

Managing people's return to work is a priority. All mothers returning to work have access to a variety of flexible options, such as part-time or agile working and job sharing, based on the requirements of their role. We've been increasing the availability of breastfeeding facilities and ensuring nursing mothers have two 30-minute breaks in the day. And we’re enabling sites with over 50 female employees to provide access to crèche services that are tailored to local needs.

We're also piloting group coaching programmes for parents before and after they take parental leave. In 2019, we began piloting “Great Expectations”, a coaching session for parents transitioning to parental leave, “Confident Comebacks”, for parents returning to work, and “Thriving Sustainably”, for parents in the five years after their leave. Each programme is run by diversity experts Talking Talent.”

Suzi Ibbotson, Strategy and Operations Director in Communications & Corporate Affairs, recommends the Confident Comeback programme: “It was transformational for my return to work after maternity leave. I went through a real – and completely unexpected – crisis of confidence after coming back. The workshop helped me understand the reasons why that could be happening, suggested strategies to cope with them, and helped me to realise that it was far from unusual. It flipped a switch in my head and got me back to being me again.”

Aline and Leena Nair, our Chief HR Officer explain the importance of MAPs.

Removing barriers for fathers too

We introduced our new Global Paternity Leave Standard in 2018. It enables new fathers to take three weeks’ paid paternity leave and is available to same-sex couples and to those who choose to adopt too.

Not all countries have rights or policies to ensure time off for new parents – for example just 78 out of 167 countries have a statutory right to paternity leave. This move to standardise the minimum amount of paid paternity leave we offer is part of our commitment to making Unilever a more balanced, inclusive workplace around the world.

Not only does our standard mean more families can benefit from enjoying more time together, we also believe parents sharing responsibility for childcare helps to drive gender equality – an extremely important agenda for our business, for society and for the future.

Leena Nair, our Chief HR Officer

As with our maternity support, the Global Paternity Leave Standard is about changing the culture of our workplaces. It aims to break down the kinds of barriers that are often attached to fathers taking time off to be with their new family.

That’s an approach that chimes with our wider efforts to tackle stereotypes – including through brand campaigns like Dove Men+Care’s #DearFutureDads, which supports paternity leave for men around the world and aims to enable them to be the parents they want to be.

In 2018, Dove Men+Care partnered with Promundo, a global NGO with expertise in gender equality, to carry out a pioneering study which resulted in the Helping Dads Care report. More details on this and our other campaigns can be found in Challenging harmful gender norms and on the Dove Men+Care website.

Accelerating progress: Catalyst Award winners 2020

In January 2020, we were announced as a winner of the prestigious 2020 Catalyst Award for initiatives that have 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.

Equal pay for equal work

We believe in paying for performance with clear reward policies and have a longstanding commitment to equal pay for equal work.

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.

Our no discrimination principle is set out as one of five principles in our Framework for Fair Compensation (PDF | 449KB). Our commitments to equal pay and to addressing average pay gaps are described in Fair compensation and No discrimination in compensation.

Our ambition: unlocking talent through disability inclusion

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1 in 7

People worldwide are living with disabilities

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Employer of choice for people with disabilities

The World Health Organization estimates that there are one billion people in the world currently living with a disability. That’s about 15% of the global population, or 1 in 7 of us. And the statistics suggest that people living with disabilities are among the most marginalised populations in the world in terms of employment and educational opportunity.

Removing the barriers facing people living with disability is a priority for our business. It isn’t just the right thing to do – we believe that creating equality of opportunity will unlock a huge pool of talent. It also gets to the heart of the ambition to ‘leave no one behind’ – and could contribute to the five Sustainable Development Goals which explicitly reference disability and to the wider sustainable development agenda.

In 2018, we set ourselves global commitments to achieve by 2025:

  • to be the number one employer of choice for people with disabilities, and
  • to increase the number of employees with disabilities to 5% of our total workforce.

These are ambitious targets. They involve transforming the way we recruit and train our people. And they mean adapting both the way we work and our workplaces, so that we can support people with disabilities to reach their full potential.

We cannot be an inclusive organisation unless we ensure that we have created the conditions and the culture for people with a disability to thrive.

Leena Nair, our Chief HR Officer

How we're becoming more inclusive

There are two main elements to realising our vision for disabilities inclusion:

  • ensuring that our workplaces, systems and processes do not present barriers to those with a disability
  • building a culture where there is no stigma in sharing a disability and where we have open, honest conversations, making sure that people with disabilities are defined by their abilities.

These aims are at the heart of our Disabilities Inclusion Programme, which we introduced in 2018.

Our Disabilities Inclusion Programme

Our Disabilities Inclusion Programme is built on a comprehensive analysis of the physical accessibility of our sites, the technological accessibility of our virtual sites, and our recruitment processes.

We now have global guidelines to ensure accessibility in IT, recruitment, communications and workplace design. We have also created our first-ever global employee resource group for people with a disability and their allies, Enable@Unilever.

To complement the programme, we designed an internal communications campaign called I AM ME to raise awareness and promote action across the business.