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Equality AND equity. We need both to make a difference

They might look and sound similar, but equality and equity are two very distinct concepts. Here’s why we need both to achieve a fairer and more socially inclusive world.

Lack of equity is at the core of many global issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, education and economic status. At Unilever, we believe that acting on equity is essential to achieving overall equality as an outcome.

To reach a place where workplace opportunities are fair, just, and equal we need to take into account the different needs, cultural barriers and potential discrimination that specific groups may face in our business.

Nitin Paranjpe, Chief Transformation Officer & Chief People Officer.
A photo of Nitin Paranjpe, Chief Transformation Officer & Chief People Officer at Unilever.

What is equality?

Equality has long been a tenant of fairness in the workplace. It looks to treat people in the same way by providing them with the same opportunities and resources.

However, this one-size fits all approach is only effective if everyone has exactly the same needs, because it assumes a level playing field where every individual has equal advantages or barriers. But in the real world this is rarely the case.

So, while workplace initiatives that provide the ‘same service’ to everyone provide equality in doing so, they may overlook the fact that some colleagues have different needs.

What is equity?

Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that we do not all start from the same place and face different barriers. As Nitin Paranjpe, Chief Transformation Officer & Chief People Officer Unilever acknowledges, “To reach a place where workplace opportunities are fair, just, and equal we need to take into account the different needs, cultural barriers and potential discrimination that specific groups may face in our business.”

To this end equity may involve the use of interventions and measures to compensate for systemic bias or barriers to individuals reaching their full potential.

For example, equality will ensure that every employee has the same access to a computer, a desk, a chair and some level of training and support for the job they’ve been hired to do. Equity recognizes that a person with a visual impediment may need different technology, or a person in a wheelchair may need a different access to an elevator relative to someone else.

Where we are, and where we want to be

At Unilever, our priority is getting our own house in order.

Ultimately, we want Unilever’s workforce to faithfully represent the diversity of the communities we serve. That is why we have launched a global strategy focusing on four identity groups: Gender, Race and Ethnicity, LGBTQI+ and People with Disability.

“Our drive towards equity means that we are taking a very intentional approach to leveraging data insights to identify the policies and practices to create the conditions in which individuals and teams are supported and can thrive. Our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion strategy must benefit everyone in order to achieve an equitable and inclusive culture,” says Nitin.

While we know we have more to do, here are some examples of where we’re currently focused to reach this goal across our workforce, supply chain and brands:

  1. Talent management

    Our gamified talent recruitment process works to ensure there is no unconscious bias in our interview processes or assessments of performance and potential.

  2. Gender equity in senior appointments

    We have been experimenting with disruptive tools and practices, like the Gender Appointment Ratio (GAR), developed with Harvard Business School, to bring more awareness to unconscious bias in senior appointments.

  3. Gender equity in supply chain

    We proactively seek out businesses run by female founders and under-represented groups to help diversify our supply chain and we offer family leave policies that allow work life balance and continued career progression for all parents and guardians.

  4. Flexible working

    Our markets continuously develop and implement disruptive new policies that support specific employee’s needs. Unilever has long supported flexible working, even before COVID, and continues to allow employees to adjust working hours to their needs.

  5. Fertility Policies and Menstrual Leave

    Our country teams have developed policies that are relevant to support the wellbeing of their workforce. For example, our Menstrual Leave Policy in North Africa and the Middle East allows women to take a day’s paid leave if experiencing pain or complications during their monthly cycle. In the UK, our Fertility Policy accommodates attendance at medical appointments and treatments for all assisted conceptions including surrogacy.

  6. Equity-driving brand

    Brands including Dove and Vaseline are striving to bring equity to the fore: Dove is working to help promote racial equity while Vaseline has made it its mission to bring equity to skincare for Black and Brown skin.

  7. Racial Equity Taskforce

    In 2020, we established a Racial Equity Taskforce to prioritize accelerating the representation of Black and Brown talent in our four lead markets: Brazil, South Africa, the UK, and the USA. Our global and local HR teams are working together to remove bias from our talent management practices and processes so that, while we develop all our people, we can focus on equitably accelerating those from underrepresented communities.

Driven by the individual needs of all our employees, we aim to promote diversity, inclusion and a sense of belonging that not only allows them to maximize their potential but also to bring their authentic selves to work. Ultimately this intentionality will not only benefit all of our workforce, but will also serve to make us a better business

Read more about our vision for an equitable world