The 2019 International Women’s Day theme is think equal, build smart and innovate for change.
When women are given the rights, the skills and the opportunities to succeed, it creates a powerful ripple effect.
It’s not just their prospects, pride and income that improve. It adds up to a transformational difference for their families, the society around them and long-term economic growth. In fact, the estimates that achieving full gender equality in the labour force would contribute up to US$28 trillion to the global economy by 2025.
That’s why we’re committed to supporting women across our global value chain from the core of our business outwards. We’re doing so with employees in our own offices and factories, and with those working in the fields where our ingredients are harvested. With the micro-retailers selling our products, and those reached by our advertising, partnerships and investments. From our purpose-led brands to the people who buy them, we’re working to promote equality, challenge stereotypes and innovate for a more inclusive world.
Here are some of the ways we’re doing it.
Achieving equality within our business
Across Unilever, we recognise that a diverse and inclusive business is a better business. Managers in every part of the company are trained to identify and minimise unconscious bias to ensure that we attract, recruit and retain talented people. Their gender, age, beliefs and background don’t come in to the equation, but their passion, drive and skillset do.
We also celebrate the people we call our Game Changers for Gender Equality – hundreds of proud allies who set a positive example for all. Among these inspiring employees are UK-based Marta, who founded our thriving Women in Tech network. There’s also Kenya-based Michael whose efforts to challenge outdated biases in recruitment at our tea plantations have seen the proportion of women in senior roles surge from 12% to 32% and rising in the past two years. Meanwhile US-based Nathalie launched a mentoring programme for women of colour in our Supply Chain function, helping several to advance in their careers.
Supporting farmers and micro-entrepreneurs
Our Shakti entrepreneurship programme launched in India in 2001, giving women an opportunity to earn an income selling Unilever products door-to-door in isolated rural communities. Since then, Shakti has grown enormously. It now provides more than 100,000 women in countries including India, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Guatemala, Myanmar and Colombia with training and work, allowing them to increase their income, their standing in society and their share of voice in household decision-making.
We’re sharing the learnings from women’s safety initiatives in place at our tea plantations in Kericho, Kenya and Assam, India, too.
Last year, as part of our partnership with UN Women, we launched a framework entitled , outlining how we improved conditions for thousands of women in tea estates by working with them – and the men on the plantations – to shift norms, creating safe workplaces for all.
We supported plantation workers to set up networks which ensure managers at these vast estates are informed and educated about the challenges faced by women working in the fields. Following their input, we’ve introduced regular women-only bus services so they can feel safer on their way to and from work. We’ve also improved lighting, set up safe places for women to breastfeed their babies and provided daycare for young children.
“The women workers are our most valuable resource,” says Unilever Procurement Manager Daleram Gulia. “They are also someone’s daughter, mother, sister. Safety and feeling safe are a basic human right in the workplace and in all spaces.”
A women’s group at our tea estate in Assam, India.
Reaching women through partnerships
We’ve established a range of partnerships with organisations all over the world, to help reach women with programmes that make a positive and lasting impact.
Unilever’s TRANSFORM partnership with the UK’s Department for International Development, meanwhile, aims to enable 100 million people in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to access products and services that will improve their livelihoods, health, wellbeing or the environment by 2025.
As part of that, we supported the scaling up of Kasha. It’s a mobile-ready e-commerce and content platform that sells and discreetly delivers women’s health and hygiene products, giving them an opportunity to access items such as sanitary pads and contraceptives without fear of social stigma.
Joanna Bichsel, CEO and Co-Founder of Kasha, says: “It’s about time we started building technology solutions that are optimised for women and serve their needs. Women own the household and are the key decision-makers for the home in terms of health and hygiene products. They deserve to be treated better.”
Kasha allows women to order products they need discreetly via mobile.
Building purpose into our brands
Unilever is a business built on purpose. Over 100 years ago William Lever made Sunlight soap bars affordable and accessible to the masses, putting cleanliness and hygiene within reach of people in Victorian Britain. Years later we’re still shaping our brands to make a positive difference – and gender equality is at the centre for many.
Hair brand TRESemmé has this year launched its purpose: . In partnership with the International Centre of Research for Women, the brand has created a curriculum to give women access to tools they need to be able to put forward their best, most authentic self, in moments that matter. Events will be running in Brazil, the UK and the US throughout 2019 to help thousands of women unlock their potential and have their voices heard.
Meanwhile, Dove Men+Care last year announced its purpose to champion paternity leave for all fathers and all families. The brand’s advertising celebrates the experience of taking paternity leave and how men, and those they care for, have benefited.
Dove Men+Care has also created a , and has established a council of advisers, partners and experts to conduct proprietary research. In response, Unilever has changed its own global paternity leave policy, and will give fathers a minimum of three weeks’ paid leave by the end of 2019.
TRESemmé launched its first #poweryourpresence MasterClass in London this month.
Challenging stereotypes in advertising
Millions of people see our commercials – and with that reach comes responsibility. That’s why Unilever is a founding member and vice chair of the Unstereotype Alliance.
It’s a global coalition led by UN Women which launched in 2017 to banish damaging portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content. Members aim to eradicate gender bias and stereotypes from their ads by 2020 – and we’re building this pledge into the creative process for every brand we own.
Along with companies from across the consumer goods and advertising sector, we have also helped to develop an industry playbook and framework which will launch this year to help businesses assess whether their communications are progressive and inclusive.
Keith Weed, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever, says: “We’ve seen true progress in our industry, but it doesn’t go far enough. Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society.”
Kelly Rowland performs Dove Hair’s ‘Crown’ anthem, debunking beauty stereotypes.