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Opportunities for women

We want to help create a world in which every woman and girl can create the kind of life she wishes to lead, unconstrained by harmful norms and stereotypes. We believe a world where women are economically empowered will be a fairer, happier and more prosperous place to live – and that our business will flourish in it.

Changing the norms & closing the gender gap

At the current rate of progress, women will have to wait 100 years to close the gender gap with men – a wait that, despite advances over the last decade, actually got longer in 2017. The annual World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report, published in November 2017, found the gap between men and women across health, education, politics and the workplace widening for the first time since records began in 2006.

This wait is unacceptable – for current and future generations of women and girls, and for the societies and economies of which they and our business are a part.

We want our business to be a leading force in closing that gap, and to challenge and change the harmful norms and stereotypes that are a barrier to women’s economic empowerment – and the norms and stereotypes of masculinity that confine men too.

Empowering women can transform the world

Empowering women will transform individual lives, and it will also transform societies. It’s essential to the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Empowering women and girls is the focus of SDG 5, Achieving Gender Equality. But, like the need to work in partnership (SDG 17), women’s empowerment is a red thread that stitches all the SDGs together. In particular, it underpins those that aim to improve access to skills and employment and the resulting economic empowerment this brings.

Our business, too, will be transformed: women are 70% of our consumer base, 50% of the talent pool from whom we recruit our workforce, and play critical roles in our supply chain and in enabling us to reach consumers with our products. By creating and supporting opportunities for women in society and the economy, we have the possibility to grow our markets, brands and business.

Our strategy

We believe that women’s empowerment is the single greatest enabler of human development and economic growth – and that changing the norms and stereotypes that hold women back will enable society and our business to transform for the better.

Empowered women: creating a better business & a brighter future

Empowered women are playing a vital part in creating the prosperous economies in which our business can grow – and increasing their opportunities further will increase ours. Worldwide, women control 64% of consumer spending and are the fastest-growing group of consumers. Equality for women in the global labour force would add up to $28 trillion to the global economy by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. That’s a very significant opportunity for any business, especially one like ours where more than 70% of our consumers are women.

But as the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (PDF | 10.9MB) shows, the gap is not closing fast enough. So what is holding equality back?

Challenging the gender norms that hold back growth

The UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment report stated that “changing norms should be at the top of the 2030 Agenda to expand women’s economic opportunities”. Our own research supports the widening evidence that some of the strongest forces behind persistent gender gaps are harmful social norms and stereotypes that limit expectations of what women can or should do. These outdated norms that discriminate against women are all around us and they are deeply ingrained.

Challenging and changing those norms is therefore a vital part of our strategy. We have a vision of a world in which every woman and girl can create the kind of life she wishes to lead, unconstrained by harmful norms and stereotypes. And a world, too, in which men are also free from the confines of adverse social norms and stereotypes of manhood and masculinity, and in which economies are growing and creating opportunities for men and women alike.

Empowering women across our value chain

We have a great opportunity to help create this vision of unlocking women’s potential throughout our extended value chain and in society at large. We start with progressive policies and practices in our own workplace and supply chain operations. Building on this foundation, we collaborate with others to create opportunities for women in our extended supply chain, through our distribution networks, our brands and products. By engaging in partnership, thought leadership and advocacy, we unleash the power of collective action for sustainable, transformational change.

In our 2017 Opportunities for Women report (PDF | 7MB) we outlined how this approach across the value chain aims to:

  • build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management
  • promote safety for women in the communities where we operate
  • enhance access to training and skills
  • expand opportunities in our value chain
  • work with others to challenge outdated gender norms and stereotypes.
A global effort in which partnership is key

Cultivating fair and balanced gender norms and progressive portrayals of women and girls calls for broad, collective action. Stakeholders across sectors need to work together, and business must be part of the solution. We participate in platforms that help us bring insight into Unilever and share our own insights with the wider world. Some key platforms which focus on driving change across systems and industries include:

  • we have aligned with the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment and participated in working groups focused on tackling adverse norms and changing business culture
  • we are committed to UN Women’s HeForShe movement to drive the advancement of women. Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging men and boys as agents of change and take action against negative inequalities faced by women and girls
  • our TRANSFORM public–private partnership with the UK Department for International Development is a £40 million joint investment. It aims to develop market-based solutions to enable 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to gain access to products and services that have been shown to improve health, livelihoods, the environment or well-being by 2025. A key outcome for TRANSFORM is female empowerment
  • we are a member of the Unstereotype Alliance – a UN Women-led initiative in partnership with Unilever and industry leaders including WPP, IPG, Facebook, Google, Mars, Microsoft and J&J, set to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content.
A core priority across our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan

Creating opportunities for women is not an isolated goal – in fact, it runs right through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan and is a core element in many of our transformational sustainability aims. Examples can be found throughout this report, including how Dove is helping to build self-esteem and body confidence in young people, how we’re enhancing access to training and skills for women in our agricultural supply chain via our Enhancing Livelihoods Fund and how we’re creating economic opportunities for women to participate in our customer development network through our Shakti initiative.

Our commitment

By 2020, we will empower 5 million women by advancing opportunities for women in our operations, promoting safety, developing skills and expanding opportunities in our value chain.

Progress to date
  • We have improved our gender balance, with the proportion of female managers reaching 47% in 2017.
  • In partnership with others, by 2017 we had enabled 1,259,000† Ж (or around 1.3 million) women to access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills or expand their opportunities.

Independently assured by PwC

Ж Around 370,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2017

Future challenges

As the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (PDF | 10.9MB) shows, progress towards gender equality cannot be taken for granted, and there is no room for complacency despite the gains made within our business and in society at large over recent years.

If we are to achieve the world we want by 2030, we must create a gender-equal society. That means more than focusing on the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, the specific target on gender.

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls must happen across the SDGs to ensure their success. As our CEO, Paul Polman, wrote in November 2017: “Concerted, consistent and continuous action is required and I urge leaders to apply a gender lens – and in particular, a social norms lens – to all their programmes, irrespective of which SDG they might address, even though the benefits might not necessarily be seen in the short term.”

As well as being holistic, it’s clear that action must be collaborative. We must maintain our own efforts to tackle gender barriers throughout our value chain. But deeply embedded harmful social norms and gender stereotypes will not disappear without collective action from governments, civil society and business.

Unilever, like everyone who wants to see women’s potential enabled and fulfilled, needs to keep finding new approaches. That means new ways of measuring and managing our social impact cost-effectively and at scale. And new ways of partnering with others, including government and civil society. In particular, it requires us to harness the collective influence of the wider business community so that we can help change the way the world works for women for the better.

We’ve highlighted three priority areas for accelerating gender equality and women’s empowerment in the private sector: we’re calling on business to be gender aware, be gender active and be the new norm. See our Opportunities for Women White Paper (PDF | 7MB) for more detail.

Downloads

Opportunities for Women White paper (PDF | 7MB)

Unlocking Women's Potential: our Approach (PDF | 203KB)


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Targets & performance

We have set ambitious targets to empower 5 million women through a variety of initiatives.


Opportunities for Women
Our commitment

By 2020, we will empower 5 million women by advancing opportunities for women in our operations; promoting safety; providing up-skilling; and expanding opportunities in our retail operations.

Our performance

We have improved our gender balance, with the proportion of female managers reaching 47% in 2017. In partnership with others, by 2017 we had enabled 1,259,000† Ж (around 1.3 million) women to access initiatives aiming to promote their safety, develop their skills or expand their opportunities.

Our perspective

Our approach to empowering women is based on the tripod of rights, skills and opportunities. Women’s rights must be respected and women need to be given the skills and opportunities to succeed.

Increasing agricultural yields and securing our supplies can be better achieved if women have fair and equal access to skills and opportunities. The impact of economically empowering women has a transformative effect on lifting families out of poverty.

To achieve women’s empowerment and business growth, we need entire systems change, driven by our own business activities and initiatives but also requiring dialogue with key stakeholders at global and national levels. The insights and perspectives we gain from others are critical to our understanding of women's issues and priorities as we continue to develop our policies and practices.

Independently assured by PwC

Ж Around 370,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2017


  • Achieved 0

  • On-Plan 5

  • Off-Plan 0

  • %

    Of target achieved 1

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management

We will build a gender-balanced organisation with a focus on management.

The percentage of women managers in Unilever reached 47% in 2017.


Our Perspective

Since 2009, we have been committed to building a gender-balanced organisation. We set a clear ambition to have 50% women in management positions by 2020.

We continue to make progress, although work remains. By the end of 2017, 47% of our total management were women, up from 46% in 2016. At the most senior levels however, the ratios are not as high: among our top 93 executives, 22% were women in 2017. Five out of our 13 Board members were female (38%) in 2017, compared with six out of 14 in 2016 (43%).

As part of our Maternity and Paternity Support Programme, we launched our Global Maternal Well-being Standard which offers 16 weeks’ paid maternity leave to all employees. Although our previous entitlements already met local regulatory requirements, the new Standard is a major advance as in 54% of the countries in which we operate, it exceeds the local regulatory requirement.

Advancing diversity & inclusion

Promote safety for women in communities where we operate

We will promote safety for women in the communities where we operate.

By 2017, we had enabled around 7,000 women to access initiatives that aimed to promote their safety.


Our Perspective

We introduced a new target on safety in 2014 following our study in Kenya – which confirmed safety as a critical issue for women in the communities where we operate.

We continue to engage our workers and wider community through awareness-raising and training on sexual harassment and strengthened grievance mechanisms.

Our approach is systematic and inclusive and we work alongside communities. We continue to partner with expert external organisations to further strengthen this work, raising awareness, providing more information on what constitutes sexual harassment and advancing more opportunities for girls to engage in social activities.

In 2016, we agreed a Global Partnership Framework on women’s safety with UN Women, who are reviewing and strengthening our Safety for Women and Girls programme in Kericho, Kenya, so that it can be adapted to other countries and regions. In 2017, we extended this programme to work with our suppliers in Assam, India.

Promoting safety for women

Enhance access to training & skills

We will enhance access to training and skills across our value chain.

By 2017, we had enabled around 1,175,000Ж* (around 1.2 million) women to access initiatives aiming to develop their skills.


Our Perspective

Our target is critical for expanding female participation in the economy.

Accessing training is one of the major barriers to women’s participation in training. This is why our training is designed to encourage the full and equal participation of women, for example, by being held at convenient times in accessible locations or by providing online courses. We’re also working with partners, which helps us reach more women and encourages mutual learning.

We take a holistic approach when providing access to training and skills, offering complementary training wherever possible. For instance, we are developing agricultural training for smallholder farming families which is supplemented by education on nutrition with the aim of improving dietary diversity. Similarly, we are aiming to roll out financial literacy training for smallholder farmers where we have previously delivered other types of training.

Independently assured by PwC

Ж Around 370,000 women have accessed initiatives under both the Inclusive Business and the Opportunities for Women pillars in 2017

* In 2017 our total includes women enrolled on programmes providing virtual or remote training, see Unilever’s Basis of Preparation (PDF | 6MB) for details

Enhancing women's access to training & skills

Expand opportunities in our retail value chain

  • We will expand opportunities for women in our retail value chain.

By 2017, we had enabled around 77,000 women to access initiatives aiming to expand their opportunities in our retail value chain.


  • We will increase the number of Shakti entrepreneurs that we recruit, train and employ from 45,000 in 2010 to 75,000 in 2015.
93

70,000 Shakti micro-entrepreneurs were selling our products in India by end 2015.

(Since 2016 this target has been part of our wider value chain target above.)


Our Perspective

In 2016, we integrated our Shakti ambitions into our wider target to expand opportunities for women in our retail value chain by 2020. By 2017, we had grown the number of Shakti entrepreneurs to around 74,800.

Our Shakti programme originated in India. It is a win-win initiative that catalyses rural affluence while benefiting our business by equipping women to distribute our products in villages. The programme has become our model to reach out to rural consumers on typically low incomes in developing and emerging markets. We are adapting this model in several South-East Asian, African and Latin American markets. For example, in Nigeria in 2017, around 2,200 women were selling our products as part of our Gbemiga initiative.

Expanding opportunities in our retail value chain
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