Upholding diversity

We are building a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management.

Building a gender-balanced workforce

Our success is due to the achievements of our employees, who are energised, engaged and empowered to realise their full potential. Developing and retaining the right quantity, quality and diversity of people is crucial to our growth strategy.

Unlocking the power of diverse & inclusive teams

Recent studies have shown that a more diverse and inclusive workforce can boost financial performance, reputation, innovation, and staff motivation1. It can also help companies anticipate and meet the needs of their diverse customer base.

Unilever is one of the world’s most culturally diverse companies with 169,000 employees in over 100 countries. We strive to foster an environment where each individual feels uniquely valued and has equal opportunities.

2015 marked five years since we began the process of making sure we have the right gender balance throughout our business. Our approach encompasses developing an inclusive culture, and respecting the contribution of all employees regardless of gender, age, race, disability or sexual orientation. Building an agile, flexible and diverse organisation is one of the three key priorities of our people strategy.

We are delighted to have been recognised for our efforts. We were named in The Times Top 50 Employers for Women 2014 and 2015, and in the top ten FTSE 100 for female inclusion on boards.

Principles, commitments & governance

Our Code of Business Principles describes our operational standards that everyone at Unilever follows, wherever they are in the world. When it comes to our employees, our Principles enshrine a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In 2011, we endorsed the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2015, we went further and published our first human rights report (PDF | 5MB), which sets out our commitments against these Principles. We also published our Human Rights Policy Statement (PDF | 327KB), consolidating the commitments set out in our Code and the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Our Global Diversity Board spearheads our global strategy. This is chaired by our CEO, Paul Polman, and Chief HR Officer Leena Nair, and comprises 11 other senior executives. Our leaders are passionate about gender equality in our workforce, as can be seen in Paul Polman´s speech at the prestigious Catalyst Awards Ceremony.

Our targets help us to focus these efforts. Leadership accountability is also important. For example, improving female representation in the workforce is linked to the goals of our leaders across the globe. Each country has its own targets, which reflect their particular diversity challenges.

Empowering women is critical

Women represent 70% of the buyers of our products and control nearly two thirds of consumer spending.2

We know that when we invest in women, the economy and society thrives. According to the UN Foundation, women reinvest 90% of their income back into their families, while men reinvest 30–40%3. Based on a recent report done by McKinsey on gender parity, USD $28 trillion could be added to the annual global GDP if women were given equal employment opportunities.4

So empowering women is critical to achieving our core purpose – making sustainable living commonplace and ensuring Unilever’s growth and success over the long term.

Promoting gender balance

In 2015, women comprised 45% of our management, up from 38% in 20105. We want to ensure the representation of women at the most senior levels in our business keeps on increasing. We will do this through 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.

When recruiting, we ensure that we choose the best candidate for the job and provide equal opportunities for men and women. We look at candidate pools with an equal split for the majority of our job openings.

Providing first-class training

We invest and develop tailored training programmes and tools to empower our women to flourish.

For example, we have partnered with INSEAD globally to create the INSEAD-Unilever Four Acres Consortium: Women’s Leadership Development Programme. Over three days, we enhance the leadership skills of our senior female executives and talented women from other sectors. It is delivered in the UK and Singapore, and 92 senior female managers have so far gone through the robust programme.6

Developing our women through 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.

While we have a global initiative, tailored mentoring is rolled out locally. In Canada for example, we run innovative ‘speed mentoring’ sessions, allowing women to glean valuable career advice from senior Unilever leaders. 205 women’s careers have been enriched through our global mentoring programme so far.

Networks also provide valuable opportunities for growth, building relationships and interacting with role models and mentors. We have a variety of strong global and local networks.

For example, in Sri Lanka Women-Inspire-Connect-Empower (WICE) is a networking event for women in management. Covering topics on professional development and support for women in the workplace, the network comprises 100 members from three companies.

Offering flexible & agile working

Our new way of agile working measures performance on results, not time and attendance. It reinforces diversity by helping people – particularly women – balance their personal and professional lives. It also improves collaboration, reduces travel and enriches our employees’ lives.

Understanding women’s needs for flexible working arrangements, we are also pioneering different options. For example, with Career by Choice. Hindustan Unilever gives women the opportunity to choose the work scope that best suits their life stage and circumstances.

In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, our successful job-sharing scheme has been taken up by over 30 women since its launch. In Turkey, women can choose to take a sabbatical break from their career, which is seen as merely a postponement – and not a cancellation – of progression. In Argentina, women can opt to work part-time or reduced hours, balancing their roles as professionals and mothers.

Structured support for future & new parents

A new baby can be a positive time in a person’s working life with the correct guidance, planning, preparation and support. For this reason, in 2014 we launched MAPS – Maternity And Paternity Support – to facilitate caring transitions for employees and line managers.

“MAPS is a great example of how Unilever embraces diversity and treats employees as people, showing understanding for the life-changing stage of becoming a mother or father,” says Marta Quelhas, Head of Fabrics Cleaning, Portugal. “It makes me very proud to work for a company where I feel understood, where I’m seen as more than just a number, and where my personal life is taken into consideration.”

We are also committed to supporting breastfeeding mothers. These benefits differ from country to country and can range from extended maternity leave to on-site crèches. For instance, in Unilever Brazil new mothers enjoy extended maternity leave of three to six months and childcare support is provided in central offices.

Valuing difference & ethnic diversity

Valuing our differences makes our teams happier and perform better. We promote the inclusion of minority groups based on ethnicity and race.

In South Africa for example, we have set a priority of increasing the representation of the majority African and local communities within our management team. We built a programme to ensure that individuals receive the right mentoring and training to progress. We also raise awareness of the importance of inclusivity among the current leadership. Between 2011 and 2015, we greatly improved African and local communities’ representation in management.

Tapping into inter-generational insights

Real value is added by leveraging the uniqueness of each generation, balancing years of well-honed experience with fresh perspectives and new skills.

For example, our Reverse Coaching initiative in Argentina demonstrates how breadth of experience can be leveraged. Directors are mentored by juniors on trends like social media and 3D printing. At the same time, the junior team is given the opportunity to nurture their training capability and expand their network.

Supporting all abilities

We are leading the way in building an inclusive workplace for people with disabilities. For example, in 2012 in France, we entered into a partnership with Agefiph, which helps people with disabilities find employment in the private sector. Unilever France employs 24 people with disabilities and aims to double this. Internally, the team also created Disability Week to highlight the right conditions to ensure the wellbeing of employees with disabilities.

1The B Team and Virgin Unite, Diversity: bringing the business case to life, January 2015

2Human Rights Report (PDF | 5MB) (page 29)

3UN Foundation study

4McKinsey Global Institute - The power of parity: how advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth, September 2015.

5 According to our Internal Gender Dashboard Report

6 This figure consists from the programmes run from 2012 till end 2014.

Back to top