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

Putting our strategy into action

Equality, fairness and inclusivity are at the heart of sustainable development – they are the only way to ensure that prosperity leaves no one behind. We're committed to helping build that world, so that societies and our business can flourish.

Gender stereotypes

Empowered women can drive inclusive growth

Women’s equality is the single greatest unlock for social and economic development globally.

Alan Jope, our Chief Executive Officer
lady shopping

The proportion of consumer spending controlled by women

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.

Woman icon

The number of years to close the gender gap

But as the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2020 shows, at the current rate of progress, women will have to wait nearly 100 years to close the overall gender gap with men.

This is not nearly fast enough. 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: 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 These outdated norms that discriminate against women are all around us, and they are deeply ingrained.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.

Respecting rights, building skills & creating opportunities

There are four main areas of change that we want to see, and for which we advocate at every opportunity.


Equal rights and safety are the building blocks for inclusive development. We aim to advance human rights in our own operations and extended value chain, and challenge harmful gender norms. We’re asking for:

  • increased investment to tackle gender-based violence by addressing some of the systemic issues, such as harmful norms and stereotypes, which often form the root cause.

Find out more about how we're promoting safety for women, and our approach to fairness in the workplace.


We provide women across our value chain – employees, farmers, retailers, entrepreneurs and consumers – with access to training/skills, and access to financial and digital assets to succeed in the workforce. We’re asking for:

  • increased investment in training, education and ‘reskilling’ (ie closing the digital skills gap) for those most excluded from the labour market, especially women and girls, but also including young people and marginalised communities.

See some of the ways we're enhancing access to training and skills for women, including through our brands' programmes.


We invest in business opportunities for women in our supply chains, distribution networks and markets. We’re asking for:

  • more collaboration across and within sectors to stimulate economic inclusion for women by closing the digital and financial inclusion gaps
  • public and private investors to redirect additional capital towards more inclusive business and ‘gender-smart’ business models through blended finance instruments.

See how we're expanding opportunities in our retail value chain, and our approach to building an inclusive business.

Driving change within society at large

We’re asking for:

  • other advertisers to join the Unstereotype Alliance and/or to commit to eliminating harmful stereotypes from advertising, and policymakers to set clear industry standards
  • companies to sign up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) to ensure women’s equal participation within their own business.

Find out how we're challenging harmful gender norms within and beyond our business, and our progress on diversity and inclusion.

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. We are active in key platforms which are driving change across systems and industries:

  • 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
  • we participated in the Women Deliver Conference in June 2019
  • we are active in the Generation Equality Forum 2020, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration on women’s rights. The platform will push for the urgent action towards equality and women's rights through multi-sector partnerships. Our CEO, Alan Jope, is on the private sector steering committee of the Generation Equality Forum
  • we’re 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
  • 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 J&J, set to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content.

Understanding our impact: better gender data

It isn't always easy to quantify or demonstrate the impacts our programmes are having. So we teamed up with Acumen to find a better way to look at impacts.

Lean Data

In 2018 we began working with our long-standing partner, impact investor Acumen and 60 Decibels, 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.

In 2019 we published our findings in a report, A Lean Data How-To Guide (PDF | 7.75MB). The report shows how we used Acumen’s Lean Data technology and, crucially, how we generated a repeatable survey tool that others can use. It has generated lessons for us as we improve our programmes. It’s also renewed our confidence that our programmes can help create a more gender-equal and inclusive world and unlock women's economic potential.