Unilever now has the same number of women as men in leadership roles globally for the first time. This is one year ahead of the goal it set in 2010 to achieve gender balance across management. At that point, Unilever had 38% women in managerial roles. Unilever’s non-executive board is now made up of 45% women also.
To achieve its goal, Unilever introduced a series of programmes, partnerships and policies designed to support women within the company and break down any barriers to their recruitment, retention and development. The company paid particular attention to departments where women had historically been under-represented, including operations and technology, finance and supply chain. The percentage of female leaders in these departments now stands at 47%, 50% and 40% respectively.
Unilever also created a dedicated diversity and inclusion team, which implemented a number of initiatives, including a network of nearly 100 diversity and Inclusion champions, to build inclusive culture across its markets.
The company has outlined the nine changes it made to achieve gender balance:
- Leading change from the top.
Chief executive officer, Alan Jope, chairs Unilever’s Global Diversity Board, which is made up of senior leaders from across Unilever and is accountable for setting the company’s diversity & inclusion strategy, giving direction and actioning change.
2. Improving numbers and culture at the same time
The company analysed current and historical data on the challenges facing change and set targets for every market and function within Unilever.
- Unstereotyping the business as well as its brands
In 2016, Unilever launched a global commitment to move its advertising away from stereotypes then commissioned a study to understand how stereotypes affected employees. 60% of women and 49% of men said they felt stereotypes had held them back at work. Now all Unilever work is moving away from limiting norms.
- Addressing unconscious bias
In 2018, Unilever began a partnership with Professor Iris Bohnet of Harvard University to tackle unconscious bias. The company then analysed the number of men senior leaders had hired compared with the number of women and presented the results to them to trigger bias awareness.
- Offering better support for new parents globally
Since 2018, Unilever has guaranteed employees 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave, wherever they’re based. In 54% of countries, this is beyond regulatory requirements. New fathers are able to take 3 weeks’ paid paternity leave as are same-sex couples and those who choose to adopt.
- Making flexible working work
All employees are able to request flexible working, giving people more control over how, when and where they work. Shelagh Muir and Jane Maciver share the role of VP R&D Strategy, Portfolio & Operations, for example. They work three days per week each, leading a team of people based in several global locations.
- Tackling tricky hot spots
In Supply Chain, for example, Unilever supported the development of existing female leaders, worked with recruitment specialists to source new female talent and established a Supply Chain female mentoring programme.”
- Creating a shift in senior roles
Female representation in vice president positions in Supply Chain improved from 17% in December 2015 to 30% in December 2018, for example. And in Unilever’s factories, traditionally a very male-dominated sector, Unilever has gone from 11% female factory leaders in 2015 to 20% in 2018.
- Knowing there is still got work to do
Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive officer, stated “Women’s equality is the single greatest unlock for social and economic development globally and 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 will continue to work towards equal opportunities for women and other under-represented groups both within our business and beyond.”