Opportunities for women

Unilever's work on opportunities for women supports

5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

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Opportunities for women

We want to help create a world in which every woman and girl can create the kind of life she wishes to lead, unconstrained by harmful norms and stereotypes. We believe a world where women are economically empowered will be a fairer, happier and more prosperous place to live for everybody – and that our business will flourish in it.

Changing the norms & closing the gender gap

At the current rate of progress, women will have to wait 108 years to close the gender gap with men. Despite advances in some areas over the last decade, this wait is showing few signs of shrinking fast. The annual World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, published in December 2018, found that the most challenging gender gap remains in the economic sphere, which the report found will take 202 years to close.

This wait is unacceptable – for current and future generations of women and girls, and for the societies and economies of which they and our business are a part.

We want our business to be a leading force in closing the gender gap, and to challenge and change the harmful norms and stereotypes that are a barrier to women’s economic empowerment – and the norms and stereotypes of masculinity that confine men too.

Empowering women can transform the world

Empowering women will transform individual lives, societies − and our business. It’s essential to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Empowering women and girls is the focus of SDG 5, Achieving Gender Equality. But, like the need to work in partnership (SDG 17), women’s empowerment is a thread that stitches all the SDGs together. In particular, it underpins the SDGs that aim to improve access to skills and employment and the resulting economic empowerment this brings. In short, as Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women has said: "If we fail to tackle gender inequality, the rest of the goals are likely to fail too."

Our business, too, will be transformed by empowering women. Women are over 70% of our consumer base, 50% of the talent pool from whom we recruit our workforce, and play critical roles in our supply chain and in enabling us to reach consumers with our products. By creating and supporting opportunities for women in society and the economy, we have the possibility to grow our markets, brands and business.

We’ve extended our thinking to the barriers facing people living with disability (or diffability, which describes the differently-abled). In 2018, we set ourselves ambitious commitments to achieve worldwide by 2025: to be the number one employer of choice for people with diffabilities, and to increase the number of employees with diffabilities to 5% of our total workforce. This 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.

So in the same way that women's empowerment connects all the SDGs, enhancing opportunities for women is a theme which runs across our entire Unilever Sustainable Living Plan – a link we underlined in our Opportunities for Women White Paper (PDF | 7MB).

Our strategy

We believe that women’s empowerment is the single greatest enabler of human development and economic growth.

When women are guaranteed equal rights, skills and access to opportunities – and when the norms and stereotypes that hold women back are challenged and overcome – the effect is transformational. It benefits whole societies as well as individuals and their families – and it benefits our business.

Empowered women: creating a better business & a brighter future

Empowered women are playing a vital part in creating the prosperous economies in which our business can grow – and increasing their opportunities further will increase ours. 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 very significant opportunity for any business, especially one like ours, given that more than 70% of our consumers are women.

But as the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 shows, the gap is not closing fast enough. So what is holding equality back?

Challenging the gender norms that hold back growth

The UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment report stated that “changing norms should be at the top of the 2030 Agenda to expand women’s economic opportunities”. Our own research supports the widening evidence that 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.

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

Empowering women across our value chain

We have a great opportunity to help create this vision of unlocking women’s potential (PDF | 203KB) throughout our extended value chain and in society at large. We start with progressive policies and practices in our own workplace and supply chain operations. Building on this foundation, we collaborate with others to create opportunities for women in our extended supply chain, through our distribution networks, our brands and products. By engaging in partnership, thought leadership and advocacy, we unleash the power of collective action for sustainable, transformational change.

In our 2017 Opportunities for Women report (PDF | 7MB), we outlined how this approach across the value chain aims to:

  • build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management
  • promote safety for women in the communities where we operate
  • enhance access to training and skills
  • expand opportunities in our retail value chain
  • work at a systemic level to challenge outdated gender norms and stereotypes.
A global effort in which partnership is key

Cultivating fair and balanced gender norms and progressive portrayals of women and girls calls for collective action. Stakeholders across sectors need to work together, and business must be part of the solution. We participate in platforms that help us bring insights into Unilever, and share our insights with the wider world. Many of our partnerships are described in the Taking Action pages in this report. Some key platforms which focus on driving change across systems and industries include:

  • we have 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
  • we are committed to UN Women’s HeForShe movement to drive the advancement of women. Its goal is to achieve gender equality by encouraging men and boys as agents of change and to take action against negative inequalities faced by women and girls
  • our TRANSFORM public-private partnership with the UK Department for International Development is a £40 million joint investment. It aims to develop market-based solutions to enable 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to gain access to products and services that have been shown to improve health, livelihoods, the environment or well-being by 2025. A key outcome for TRANSFORM is female empowerment
  • we are 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 J&J, set to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content.
A core priority across our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

Creating opportunities for women is not an isolated goal – in fact, it runs right through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and is a core element in many of our transformational sustainability aims.

Examples can be found throughout this report, including how Dove is helping to build self-esteem and body confidence in young people, how we’re enhancing access to training and skills for women in our agricultural supply chain via our Enhancing Livelihoods Fund, and how we’re creating economic opportunities for women to participate in our customer development network through our Shakti and Jaza Duka initiatives, described in Inclusive business.

Empowering women is also a vital component in our brand and strategic activities in areas including Health & hygiene − through initiatives such as Lifebuoy soap handwashing campaigns in neonatal clinics − and Improving nutrition. And it’s a central part of our drive to advance human rights and increase Fairness in the workplace within, and beyond, our business.

Understanding our impact: better gender data

While we're confident that our broad range of activities is making a difference, we know that it isn't always easy to quantify − or to demonstrate. In 2018, we began working with our long-standing partner, impact investor Acumen, to co-develop a survey tool that could help measure more of the nuances around the difference our programmes are making.

The result is the Lean Data Gender Toolkit, which draws on the experience of Acumen’s Lean Data unit in collating and interpreting qualitative and quantitative information relevant to socially-oriented ventures. It also reflects technical insights from the International Center for Research on Women. The Lean Data tool focuses on the lived experience of both men and women − granting fresh insights compared to the ‘head-counting’ used by many existing approaches.

We began testing the toolkit in 2018, and look forward to understanding more about our impact as the results are analysed.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will empower 5 million women by advancing opportunities for women in our operations, promoting safety, developing skills and expanding opportunities in our retail value chain.

Progress to date
  • We have improved our gender balance, with the proportion of female managers reaching 49% in 2018.
  • In partnership with others, by 2018 we had enabled 1.85 million* women to access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills or expand their opportunities.

  Independently assured by PwC

*  Around 490,000 women accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2018

Future challenges

As the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018 shows, progress towards gender equality cannot be taken for granted, and there is no room for complacency despite the gains made within our business, and in society at large, over recent years.

If we are to achieve the world we want by 2030, we must create a gender-equal society. That means more than focusing on the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, the specific target on gender. Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls must happen across the SDGs to ensure their success.

As well as being holistic, action must be collaborative. We must maintain our own efforts to tackle gender barriers throughout our value chain. But deeply embedded harmful social norms and gender stereotypes will not disappear without collective action from governments, civil society and business.

Unilever, like everyone who wants to see women’s potential enabled and fulfilled, needs to keep finding new approaches. That means new ways of measuring and managing our social impact cost-effectively and at scale − such as our new Lean Data Toolkit, described above. It also means new ways of partnering with others, including government and civil society. In particular, it requires us to harness the collective influence of the wider business community so that we can help change the way the world works for women for the better.

We’ve highlighted three priority areas for accelerating gender equality and women’s empowerment in the private sector. First, we’re calling on business to be gender aware, by ensuring they have the right information and data in place to inform policies. Second, to be gender active, by having the right policies and practices in place that respect women’s rights and empower professional and personal development. And third, to be the new norm, by ensuring that harmful norms are not perpetuated through outdated business practices, while actively promoting more positive portrayals of women along the value chain to challenge stereotypes.

See our Opportunities for Women White Paper (PDF | 4MB) for more detail.


Expand for more on Opportunities for women

Taking action

We take action to advance diversity, promote safety for women, enhance training and skills, and expand opportunities in our retail value chain.


Opportunities for Women
Our commitment

By 2020, we will empower 5 million women by advancing opportunities for women in our operations; promoting safety; providing up-skilling; and expanding opportunities in our retail value chain.

Our performance

We have improved our gender balance, with the proportion of female managers reaching 49% in 2018. In partnership with others, by 2018 we had enabled 1,846,098†* (around 1.85 million) women to access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills or expand their opportunities.

Our perspective

Our approach to empowering women is based on the tripod of rights, skills and opportunities. Women’s rights must be respected and women need to be given the skills and opportunities to succeed.

To protect rights, in December 2018 A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces was published. This groundbreaking guidance was created by UN Women, with our support, and will be made available to the global tea industry and other value chains in 2019. Increasing agricultural yields and securing our supplies can be better achieved if women have fair and equal rights and access to skills and opportunities. Economically empowering women has a transformative effect on entire families and communities, helping to lift them out of poverty.

To achieve women’s empowerment and business growth, we need entire systems change, driven by our own business activities and initiatives alongside multi-sector collaboration at global and national levels.

 Independently assured by PwC

* Around 490,000 women accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2018


  • Achieved 0

  • On-Plan 5

  • Off-Plan 0

  • %

    Of target achieved 1

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management

We will build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management.

The percentage of women managers in Unilever reached 49% in 2018.


Our Perspective

We’ve set a clear ambition to have 50% women in management positions by 2020. By the end of 2018, 49% of our total management were women, up from 47% in 2017.

At the most senior levels however, we know we have more to do as the ratios are not as high: among our top 92 executives, 23% were women in 2018. Five out of our 13 Board members were female (38%).

As part of our Maternity and Paternity Support Programme, we introduced our Global Paternity Leave Standard enabling new fathers to take three weeks’ paid paternity leave. And to remove the barriers facing people living with disability (or diffability, which describes the differently-abled), we set ambitious commitments to achieve by 2025: to be the number one employer of choice for people with diffabilities and to increase the number of employees with diffabilities to 5% of our total workforce.

Advancing diversity & inclusion

Promote safety for women in communities where we operate

We will promote safety for women in the communities where we operate.

By 2018, we had enabled 8,891 women to access initiatives that aimed to promote their safety.


Our Perspective

We introduced a new target on safety in 2014 following our study in Kenya – which confirmed safety as a critical issue for women in the communities where we operate.

Our approach to this issue is systematic and inclusive and we work alongside communities. We continue to partner with expert external organisations to further strengthen this work, raising awareness, providing more information on what constitutes sexual harassment and advancing more opportunities for girls to engage in social activities.

In 2016, we started a global partnership with with UN Women. As a result of the joint work on tea estates in Assam, India and Kericho, Kenya, in December 2018 A Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces was published. This groundbreaking guidance was created by UN Women, with our support, and will be made available to the global tea industry and other value chains in 2019.

Promoting safety for women

Enhance access to training & skills

We will enhance access to training and skills across our value chain.

By 2018, we had enabled 1,723,800†*^ (around 1.72 million) women to access initiatives aiming to develop their skills.


Our Perspective

Our target is critical for expanding female participation in the economy.

Access is one of the major barriers to women participating in training. This is why our training is designed to encourage the full and equal participation of women, for example, by being held at convenient times in accessible locations or by providing online courses. We’re also working with partners, which helps us reach more women and encourages mutual learning.

We take a holistic approach when providing access to training and skills, offering complementary training wherever possible. For instance, we are developing agricultural training for smallholder farming families which is supplemented by education on nutrition with the aim of improving dietary diversity. More and more of our brands such as Sunsilk, TRESemmé, Radiant and Fair & Lovely are developing sustainable living purposes around skills and confidence-building or, like Surf, are tackling the norms around unpaid domestic work.

  Independently assured by PwC

*  Around 490,000 women accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2018

^  In 2018 our total included women enrolled on programmes providing virtual or remote training, see Unilever’s Basis of Preparation (PDF | 573KB) for details

Enhancing women's access to training & skills Enhancing entrepreneurial & life skills through our brands

Expand opportunities in our retail value chain

We will expand opportunities for women in our retail value chain.

By 2018, we had enabled around 113,000 women to access initiatives aiming to expand their opportunities in our retail value chain.


We will increase the number of Shakti entrepreneurs that we recruit, train and employ from 45,000 in 2010 to 75,000 in 2015.

93

70,000 Shakti micro-entrepreneurs were selling our products in India by end 2015.

(Since 2016 this target has been part of our wider value chain target above.)


Our Perspective

In 2018 our Shakti network grew to around 113,000 women entrepreneurs. Shakti is a programme that catalyses rural affluence while benefiting our business by equipping women to distribute our products in villages. It’s become our model to reach out to rural consumers on typically low incomes in developing and emerging markets such as South-East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

We continue to explore new models that deliver a positive social impact, including through public-private models that support social entrepreneurship, such as TRANSFORM, a joint initiative between Unilever and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). For example Kasha is a mobile e-commerce and content platform founded in Rwanda to sell and deliver women’s health and personal care products through an innovative system. Since 2016, it has reached nearly 20,000 customers.

Expanding opportunities in our retail value chain
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