Unilever Global Leadership Achieves 50/50 Gender Balance a Year Ahead of Target

Unilever has achieved gender balance across management globally amongst its 14,000 managers company-wide. This is a year ahead of the target it set for itself, saying that it now has 50% women at management level globally, up from 38% in 2010. Unilever also said that it now had achieved a non-executive Board of 45% women.

Unilever particularly noted that it has “made progress in departments where women have historically been under-represented” announcing that Finance has reached 50% women at management level globally, and UniOps, Unilever’s operations, and technology engine, is now at 47%. Supply Chain has “delivered the biggest step-change,” having achieved a 40% female representation in management.

“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,” said Alan Jope, Unilever’s Chief Executive Officer.


“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.”

“If half the population are being held back, how are we all going to move forward? A thriving society is one where women have equal access to rights, skills and opportunities,” said Leena Nair, Unilever’s Chief HR Office. “Women constitute the majority of our consumers and we owe a lot of our success to them. What we’ve achieved is testament to the work of thousands of people across our business who are able to fully unleash their potential because they feel valued and included.”

Unilever also released nine areas of change it is focusing on to create a more balanced workplace

According to Unilever:


1. We’re leading change from the top

CEO Alan Jope chairs Unilever’s Global Diversity Board. The group comprises senior leaders from across Unilever and is accountable for setting our Diversity & Inclusion strategy, giving direction and acting as a catalyst for action.

Members of the Global Diversity Board are tasked with driving gender balance within their parts of the business – and their results depend on it. Improving gender representation is written into their annual business and development targets.

We also have a network of D&I Champions: nearly 100 employees who help power this agenda through collaboration worldwide.

2. We’re improving numbers and culture at the same time

When we first started working towards our ambitions of a more gender-balanced business, the prevailing wisdom was that a culture shift had to be in place before the numbers could change.

Recognizing the deep connection between an inclusive culture and a thriving workforce, we decided to take a more holistic approach. While working on cultural changes, we also applied data on current and historical challenges to set stretching targets for every market and function within Unilever.

The Unilever Leadership Executive checks progress against these targets every month, and our Global Diversity Board reviews updates three times a year to ensure we stay on track.

3. We’re unstereotyping our business as well as our brands

In 2016 we launched a global commitment to move our advertising away from stereotypes, recognizing that they’re often outdated, unhelpful and, in some cases, harmful.

We turned the lens inward to our business too, commissioning a study to understand how stereotypes affected 8,000 of our employees. The results made tough reading – 60% of women and 49% of men said they felt stereotypes had held them back at work.

We took swift action, and Unstereotype the Workplace is now a global theme across Unilever for all our work to shatter limiting norms.

4. We’re addressing unconscious bias

In 2018 we began a partnership with Professor Iris Bohnet of Harvard University, which set out to put Unilever at the cutting edge of results-driven, scientific approaches to tackle unconscious bias.

With Professor Bohnet’s guidance, we introduced a metric called the Gender Appointment Ratio, which looked at the recruitment track records of some of our senior leaders over a five-year period, measuring how many men they had hired compared with the number of women.

Presenting line managers with the big picture of their recruitment decisions improves their awareness, triggers conversations around the issue, and helps them make unbiased choices next time the opportunity arises.

5. We’re offering better support for new parents – globally

In 2018 we completed the roll-out of our Global Maternal Wellbeing standard, which guarantees employees 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave, wherever they’re based. In 54% of countries, that meant going beyond regulatory requirements.

And because we recognize the valuable role of men as caregivers too, the same year we also launched our Global Paternity Leave standard. It enables new fathers to take three weeks’ paid paternity leave and is available to same-sex couples and those who choose to adopt.

6. We’re making flexible working work

All employees are entitled to request flexible working, and it’s something we’re promoting throughout the business to give people more control over how, when and where they work.

Our first job share at vice president level is proving a success, both for the business and for the women who share the role, giving them space to balance their careers with their personal purpose and responsibilities. Between them, Shelagh Muir and Jane Maciver share the role of VP R&D Strategy, Portfolio & Operations. They work three days per week each, leading a team of people based in multiple global locations.

“Our experience with job sharing has been a win-win situation for us personally and career-wise,” says Shelagh. “Two engaged, enthusiastic brains genuinely bring value to the business, and on my off-day I have space to live my purpose, working for a charity which helps people with mental health problems too.”

7. We’re tackling tricky hot spots

In 2017, we identified the areas within Unilever facing the greatest challenges in terms of achieving a gender-balanced workforce. We’ve since delved deeper to add granularity to our data, so we can refine how these historically male-dominated functions or markets can make changes.

In Supply Chain, for example, we have started to increase the representation of women in the function by accelerating the development of existing female leaders and working with recruitment specialists to build proactive talent pipelines. We’ve also established a Supply Chain female mentoring program.

Meanwhile, in Finance we have adopted a performance management framework for gender representation, adding targets for directors to take leadership on creating more diverse teams.

8. We’re seeing a shift in senior roles

In Supply Chain, one of our ‘hot spots’ for gender balance, policies to support balanced internal promotions and external hiring, and unbiased assessments for senior leadership roles have made a big impact.

Female representation in vice president positions improved from 17% in December 2015 to 30% in December 2018.

We’ve also made some encouraging progress in leadership roles at our factories – traditionally a very male-dominated sector. We moved from 11% female factory leaders in 2015 to 20% in 2018. And at our tea plantations, 30% of leadership roles are now held by women.

9. We know we’ve still got work to do

We’re delighted to have reached a 50/50 gender balance in managerial roles worldwide. But we want our business to grow, and we firmly believe that empowering women and unlocking their potential is part of how we’ll achieve sustainable, equitable growth.

“Today, we’ve succeeded in reaching gender balance at management level, but our work doesn’t stop there, and we will continue to be a driving force in closing the gender gap everywhere,” says Chief HR Officer Leena Nair.

“A thriving society is one where women have equal access to rights, skills and opportunities. If half the population are being held back, how are we all going to be able to move forward?” Leena adds.


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