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
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  3. Opportunities for women
  4. Advancing diversity & inclusion

Advancing diversity & inclusion

We want to accelerate progress in equality and women's empowerment because they are central to our business growth and our social impact. Building a gender-balanced organisation with a truly inclusive work culture is a strategic priority.

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What does a successful workforce look like?

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Of the people who buy our products are women

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Employees making and selling products that are on sale in over 190 countries

For a business committed to having a positive social impact alongside sustainable growth, building a genderbalanced workforce is essential. And wider society cannot flourish while women lack equal rights (as recognised in Sustainable Development Goal 5 on Gender Equality) and the consequent benefits these rights bring in terms of access to education and jobs and the economic growth this would trigger.

We believe a more diverse and inclusive workforce can boost financial performance, reputation, innovation, and staff motivation – a belief supported by multiple studies. As over 70% of the people who buy our products are women, mirroring our consumer base in our workforce helps anticipate consumers’ needs.

We’re a culturally diverse company and we're determined to develop an inclusive culture which respects the contribution of all employees regardless of gender, age, race, disability or sexual orientation. At the end of 2017, 33% of our total workforce was female and 47% of our managers were women.

#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of our business, we know that advancing diversity within Unilever plays a part in our wider ambitions to challenge outdated gender norms throughout our value chain – and contribute to a more prosperous and just society by empowering women everywhere.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 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 We believe that stereotypes, unconscious bias, and outdated social norms are the biggest barriers to inclusion – so our internal #Unstereotype in the Workplace campaign aims to break them down, just as our #Unstereotype initiative aims to break stereotypes in the way we portray women and men in our advertising.

We launched #Unstereotype in the Workplace on International Women's Day in March 2017. By June 2017, it had reached 82,000 employees through a campaign that includes expert panels, films, quizzes and talks by external experts.

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

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 of Business Principles 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; and
  • 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.

See Our Code of Business Principles and Code Policies (PDF | 5MB)

In addition to company-wide policies, we support our commitment with targets, and improving female representation in the workforce is linked to the goals of our leaders. Each country has its own targets, which reflect their particular diversity challenges. We’ve identified our Supply Chain and Customer Development functions as areas where we need to give this greater priority. A good example is our ice cream factory in Turkey, where the efforts of our leadership team have upped the number of women in the workforce from 26% in 2015 to 40% in 2016.

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


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Saudi Vision 2030: a first for blue-collar women

We're creating opportunities for women across our business – including in the technical or supervisory roles where in some markets they are under-represented. This allows individuals to flourish and, often, secure higher pay. And it strengthens our business by widening our talent pool.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia women represent 20% of the workforce, but only 2% are in the industrial sector.

In 2017, 11 female machine operators and one female supervisor joined our production line in Jeddah making Lifebuoy and Lux liquid soaps. They were the first local women to join our blue-collar workforce.

"Before joining Unilever, I had a job but it was pretty mundane," says Sahar Jamaan Alharthi. "Now I feel I have the chance of a career in which I can develop my skills, gain valuable experience and carve out opportunities for the future. One day, I would like to maybe move into a supervisor role. I am ambitious and this could open doors."

Hesham Abdulwahab, HR Director in our Kingdom of Saudi Arabia business, explains the significance of these appointments. “The move is an important step in our Saudi Vision 2030. We set this out in 2016 with the aim of increasing women across our workforce from 22% to 30% – and investing in their skills development so they can make a full contribution to society and the economy. Although progress is being made in terms of encouraging women into the workforce, female unemployment is estimated to be around 30%.

Unilever was the first fast-moving consumer goods company to obtain official permission from the Labour Office in Saudi Arabia to employ women. At the time – in 2003 – we recruited mainly into our Marketing and Consumer Marketing Insight functions. Appointing our first factory workers means gender diversity has jumped from zero to 8% for blue-collar employees.”

Women leaders

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Of our managers are women

In 2017, women comprised 47% of our management, up from 38% in 2010. 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.

We want to ensure that the representation of women at the most senior levels in our business keeps increasing. But we still have much to do: among our top 93 executives, only 22% are women. The Women’s Leadership Development Programme, run by the INSEAD-Unilever Four Acres Consortium, aims to enhance the leadership skills of our senior female executives and talented women from other sectors. Since 2012 around 120 of our most senior managers have benefited from the programme.

Our brands also play an active role in supporting women as leaders. In 2017, Pond's and the Vital Voices Global Partnership launched the VVLead Fellowship, which brings together women leaders of social change to advance and amplify their work through collaboration, visibility and training.

Recruiting & retaining 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.

Changing the face of engineering

Not enough women become engineers – and not enough of our engineers are women. That's a reality in society and in our workforce – but it’s one that we're working to change.


Women engieneers

We need more women engineers

“Over 2016–2017, we doubled the number of female engineers in our workforce –but we need to go much further towards true gender balance” explains Marc Engel, our Chief Supply Chain Officer. “We’re driving initiatives across our supply chain to make our culture and workplace more diverse and inclusive – because it’s vital to our success today and into the future.”

Our partnership with WomEng (Women in Engineering) is a great example of the sort of initiatives we’ve set up. Together, we've run a series of programmes and events in Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia and the UK to raise the profile of engineering careers at Unilever and attract the new engineers we need to continue to grow as a business.

The WomEng programme is a two-day leadership conference which provides participants with opportunities to build their professional skills and expand their network. The events typically include our senior leaders alongside management trainees from our Future Leaders Programme who lead sessions as well as providing an insight into real-life engineering at Unilever.

Heather, a second year student who attended the WomENG event at our Hammond factory in Indiana, US, explains: "I had an incredible experience being a part of this programme. I learned a ton about networking, mentoring, and even about the future of Artificial Intelligence, and how best to continue my journey and become a leader. I enjoyed meeting fellow students and female leaders from Unilever and WomEng and learning from their experiences and making connections."

Removing barriers for mothers & fathers

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Our new worldwide standard is at least 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave

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 (MAPS) helps employees make the transition to parenthood as smoothly as possible. In March 2017 we introduced our Global Maternal Well-being Standard. This 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, the new Standard is a major advance as in 54% of the countries in which we operate, it exceeds the local regulatory requirement.


Aline Santos

Baby no barrier: a new standard for new mothers

"We’ve come a long way in our support for working mothers" says Aline Santos, our Executive Vice President of Global Marketing and our Head of Diversity and Inclusion. "We believe our new Global Maternal Well-being Standard is industry-leading in terms of helping women in the transition to being a working mum – and in fostering the diverse business we need to attract and keep the best talent.

Our Global Standard is already improving support for mothers. For example, it includes a minimum of 16 weeks paid maternity leave, or the local statutory minimum – whichever is more favourable.

All mothers returning to work now 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. As we roll out our Global Standard, we'll be increasing the availability of breastfeeding facilities and ensuring nursing mothers have two 30-minute breaks in the day. And we’ll be enabling sites with over 50 female employees to provide access to crèche services that are tailored to local needs.”

Our HR Learning Manager, Abigail Collins is based in the UK. Her job is learning and development for people in Human Resources across Unilever. “I returned to work in April 2017, following the birth of my daughter Annabel. My boss was great at striking the right balance during my year off on maternity leave, keeping me in the loop and inviting me to things regularly.

"Now I'm back at work, life is busy, but being able to work from home sometimes is really helpful. My boss trusts me to get the job done, when and how it works for me. When I turn off my laptop, I can be with my daughter five minutes later. My childminder is very close to my home, so the time I save by not commuting is quality time with her.”

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

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. In the UK, we published our first Gender Pay Gap Report (PDF | 5MB) at the end of 2017, ahead of the regulatory requirement to publish in April 2018. 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, No discrimination in compensation and our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

Mentoring & networking

Mentoring provides ongoing feedback and advice on career progression. It can also be a powerful means to gain confidence and take on more challenging assignments.

Our Global Mentoring Programme aims to help us secure a strong pipeline of talent for the future and accelerate the readiness of high-potential women for senior leadership positions. Through this programme our senior leaders act as mentors to top women who are within around 18 months from their next lateral move or promotion, to challenge and inspire them as they prepare to take the next step in their career. Worldwide, over 250 women’s careers have been enriched through this initiative.

We complement our Global Mentoring Programme with mentoring that is tailored to specific country needs. In Canada for example, we run innovative ‘speed mentoring’ sessions, allowing women to gain valuable career advice from senior Unilever leaders, while in Nigeria, we partner with Women in Successful Careers (WISCAR) to provide access to a professional network of successful women leaders. In Sri Lanka, Women-Inspire-Connect-Empower (WICE) is a networking event covering professional development for women in management.

Helping men play their part in driving change

Our male employees will be important drivers of the change we want to see. They can be champions for women in the workplace, and they can model new norms in which men and women share household and family care duties more equally – enabling both to progress in their careers.

As part of our efforts to engage our male employees as champions, we are part of the UN Women’s HeForShe campaign, which encourages men to take action against the barriers that women face.

In February 2018 we signed up to #MentorHer, a new campaign set up by LeanIn.org that calls on men to mentor women. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a survey by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey showed that almost half of male managers are now uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women, such as working alone, socialising outside work, or mentoring. Our former CEO Paul Polman and Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Keith Weed pledged their support for the campaign and continue to mentor our senior women leaders.

For more details of how our work on diversity involves men as well as women, see Challenging harmful gender norms.

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