135 years. That’s how long it will take for women to achieve gender parity (WEF, 2021). According to the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused another generation of women to wait 36 years longer for equality, delaying their chances to participate in politics, access education and contribute to the economy. This has to change. Fast.
With full gender equality in the world of work, the global economy could grow by US$28 trillion by 2025 (BofA Global Research, 2021). So we’re taking a stand against discrimination and stereotypes, and championing equity within our business and in wider society. Because equal opportunities, equal respect and equal empowerment add up to a far more equal world.
A strategy built on equity
In 2020, we announced the Unilever Compass – our global corporate strategy, which sets out how we will grow our purpose-led business while delivering on our overarching goal of making sustainable living commonplace.
The Compass represents a natural evolution of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, through which we made some encouraging progress on gender equality in recent years. In 2019, for example, we achieved gender balance in our workforce at managerial level. And our work to promote safety, provide upskilling and expand opportunities had reached more than 2.6 million women by 2020.
Now we’re using the lessons we have learnt and the partnerships we have forged in the past decade to do more. From social inclusion and human rights to climate change and packaging waste, gender equity intersects every challenge we’re seeking to address.
A framework for fairness
As part of the Compass, we will unlock barriers and positively impact millions of women and girls. We are introducing a new Gender Equity Framework which will help us systematically address the needs of women across our value chain. Whether it’s on climate, health, or the future of work, we will look at how we can optimally empower women and drive gender equity.
Created in partnership with the International Center for Research on Women and in consultation with civil society, the Gender Equity Framework will help our teams and stakeholders implement measures to improve opportunities and remove barriers for women all over the world. Measures such as inclusive access to resources, and steps to ensure agency and safety for women across every part of our value chain.
We’re also committing to work with our suppliers within the next two years to promote the same approach. And we’re using our voice to encourage other companies and organisations to apply a gender equity lens to their work too.
Our footprint and focus
In order to create the necessary systemic change, we are focusing on the areas where we have the greatest influence: our workplace, our value chain, our brands and in society.
Within our workplace, we are stretching our gender-balance target to focus on our senior management levels, where we are implementing specific programmes to help accelerate women’s careers. In addition, we are investing in reskilling and upskilling all women in our organisation to create a more resilient future workforce.
Safety is a key enabler of women’s empowerment. Violence against women and girls has increased by 20% since Covid-19 hit, leading to UN Women calling it a ‘shadow pandemic’. We recognise the hidden nature of domestic violence and, in a business-first, on International Women’s Day this year we publicly shared our policy on global domestic violence and abuse to create more awareness and help inspire other employers to create their own.
Our responsibility stretches beyond our own operations and we are committed to ensuring the safety of the millions of women in our value chain. As an example, with IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative – and Tesco, we are investing €2 million in a new Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund to create a safe and empowering workplace. Based on UN Women’s Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces, this fund will reach at least 200,000 women tea workers in Assam, India by 2023.
In our supply chain, this year we pledged to increase our annual expenditure with diverse suppliers to at least €2 billion by 2025 as part of a set of wide-ranging commitments to help build a more equitable and inclusive society. We will support women and other under-represented groups to get access to critical resources, such as finance, networking opportunities and skills. And we will drive up wages for everyone, working with our direct suppliers by mandating payment of a living wage.
Partnerships for progress
With our brands, we are able to reach millions of people all over the world every day. But we understand that if we want to make a truly global impact, we can’t do it alone. Partnerships are vital.
Our Dove brand is working closely with UNICEF to expand a long-standing partnership which aims to improve self-esteem and body confidence among young women all over the world.
Sunsilk has worked with NGO Girl Rising to create the educational programme Explore More Possibilities, which aims to empower girls to pursue their interests and passions so they can aspire to a limitless future. And there are many more examples. Equity and inclusion are key principles of the new Positive Beauty strategy we launched across our entire Beauty & Personal Care division this year too.
What we see on social media and on TV plays a significant role in shaping perceptions on gender. Through the Unstereotype Alliance, we are working with more than 180 global organisations to tackle harmful gender-based stereotypes in media and advertising content. Our Act 2 Unstereotype initiative is going further by unstereotyping all marketing activities to influence the next generation to be free from prejudice.
Finally, aligning with global standards is necessary to achieve a common understanding of gender equity. All Unilever’s work is designed to help deliver on relevant Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations, particularly SDG 5, and we are a proud signatory of the UN’s Women’s Empowerment Principles.
We also participate in the Generation Equality Forum, the biggest movement for women and girls in the next five years, bringing together governments, sustainability leaders and the private sector.
A way forward, together
“Action on gender equity is needed urgently, and companies have a key role to play in driving impact at scale,” says Unilever CEO Alan Jope.
“It’s the right thing to do, but it makes business sense too. Companies cannot thrive and grow in failing societies.”
We have a vision of an equal world in which every woman and girl can break the chains caused by stereotypes, patriarchal limits and inequitable access to opportunities allowing them to feel empowered and to thrive. Because if half the world’s population is being held back, how can we all move forward together? The numbers simply don’t add up.