Promoting diversity

We celebrate the diversity of people, believe in inclusion and respect people for who they are and what they bring.

Our approach

Women make up more than 75% of our consumer base. Our workforce must take account of this. A diverse workforce gives us the opportunity to learn from one another, achieve better business performance and connect with the widest range of consumers.

To deliver our business goals, it is vital we have people with the right talent, skills and creativity. We believe that having a gender-balanced, engaged workforce that reflects our consumer base is a critical element of our long-term growth strategy. We embrace diversity in our workforce. This means giving full and fair consideration to all applicants and continuing development of all employees regardless of gender, nationality, race, creed, disability, style or sexuality.

Our diversity and inclusion strategy allows everyone to develop their full potential, understand and respond – better and faster – to our consumers’ needs, and foster more diverse thinking across all levels and functions.

Our commitment is set out in our Code of Business Principles. Diversity is a high priority for our business: our Global Diversity Board comprises senior executives from across the business and is chaired by our Chief Executive Officer, Paul Polman. With the remit to set direction for the diversity agenda, the Board meets quarterly to review strategy and actions. In 2011 we reviewed our strategy and renewed our focus on gender balance.

Focus on gender

The rationale for focusing on gender balance is clear.

  • Consumers: women are a big opportunity for our business. Globally, women control nearly $12 trillion of the overall $18.4 trillion in consumer spending. According to the Boston Consulting Group (2010), this is more than the GDP of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) – $11.23 trillion in 2011.

  • Talent: women will be our future workforce. The majority of university graduates in developed countries are women. According to the OECD (2010), this is projected to rise from 57% in 2005 to 63% in 2025.

  • Innovation: diversity drives innovation. Research by Forbes Insights (July 2011) reinforced diversity as a key stepping stone to viewing an issue in two or more different ways. Organisations are working on the established principle that more diversity of thought leads to greater innovation and business growth.

Women make up more than 75% of our consumer base and 50% of the talent pool we can draw on worldwide. Our workforce must take account of this. In principle, the pipeline is being filled but our task is to ensure many more reach the top levels. We have put a particular spotlight on gender diversity especially at middle and senior management levels and in our talent attraction and retention strategy. Diversity forms one of the business goals of our senior leaders.

We are seeing some results, with improvements in the number of women in senior positions and the overall diversity of future talent. For example, the proportion of women in management positions increased from 39% in 2011 to 41% in 2012. After a decade of steady improvement, achieving an increase of more than 1% shows progress – but we recognise there is still a long way to go.

We have three women non-executive directors on the Unilever Board (25%) and propose to appoint two more in May 2013. In 2012 we appointed a second woman to the Unilever Leadership Executive when Ritva Sotamaa, Chief Legal Officer, joined Geneviève Berger, Chief Science Officer.

We monitor our performance closely and global results are reported quarterly for review by our CEO and the Global Diversity Board. Our six enablers, described below, will help us to increase the number of women at all levels of the business.

A proactive plan to enhance diversity

We work to embed diversity firmly into our day-to-day business decisions, via our talent management and people processes. Our business units are required to develop specific diversity plans that are aligned to the priorities and needs of their markets.

Six enablers implemented across the business are helping to attract, retain and develop diverse talent at Unilever. They are:

  • accountability – clear targets and global scorecards for all regions

  • mentoring – global and local schemes for our key people

  • networks – establishing networks in each business unit to focus on and support diversity

  • flexible working – implementing flexible working programmes

  • career planning – with a focus on diversity

  • culture – embedding the importance of diversity and inclusion in training.


Our global mentoring programme was established in 2009 to drive competitive advantage, secure a strong pipeline of talent for the future, and to help develop and accelerate the readiness of high-potential men and women for senior leadership positions. Mentoring relationships provide ongoing feedback and advice on career progression and personal development plans and can play a key role in helping individuals achieve their full potential.

The programme is run globally for senior employees and has been rolled out locally for middle and junior level positions in individual business units. These local programmes are based on our global framework but are tailored to meet the needs of individual countries and regions.


Networks, both internal to Unilever and with external organisations, provide valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth, building relationships and interacting with role models and mentors. Several dozen networks support our diversity and inclusion strategy. They focus on awareness, professional development, engagement, innovation and community outreach at a grass-roots level. Some examples are listed below:

Women’s Interactive Network (WIN).

WIN's mission is to create a positive environment for women in Unilever, improve our reputation as an employer of choice for women and strengthen the representation of women in our leadership ranks and talent pipeline. Sponsored by the Unilever Leadership Executive, WIN’s primary goal is to help women reach their full potential. It hosts events such as lunch and learn sessions, financial awareness seminars, mentoring circles, and personal and professional development forums.

People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Equality (PRIDE).

PRIDE is a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) diversity network open to all Unilever employees who share a common goal of endorsing respect and diversity. It seeks to create an open workplace environment for the LGBT community, and helps develop its members by providing both business and social interaction to further personal growth.

Bridging Inter-Generations (BIG!).

We have a multi-generational workforce. BIG! supports our diversity and talent management strategies by fostering career development, encouraging professional and social networking, driving innovation and promoting an inclusive culture in order to increase individuals’ and Unilever’s performance.

U-FAM (Unilever Fathers and Mothers).

Our working parents’ network aims to connect employees at all stages in their careers and parenthood in order to offer mutual support and cultivate work-life balance. U-FAM also endeavours to add the voice of working parents to Unilever’s brand messages and leverage insights to connect consumers with our brands.

Agile & flexible working

Our aim is to create a working environment supportive of family life. One of the ways we do this is through agile working, which allows employees to work flexibly – anytime and anywhere – as long as the needs of the business are met. To support agile working, we are implementing new working practices, redesigning office facilities and investing in new technologies.

At the same time non-conventional career paths and flexible working arrangements, such as job-sharing, flexible or reduced hours and home working, also help provide a more family-friendly work environment. In many countries we work with childcare providers to support parents in their transition back to work.

We also support employees who decide to take a career break, whether a sabbatical or paternity/maternity leave. This ‘stepping off’ the career ladder is seen by Unilever as merely a postponement of progression and not a cancellation of progression. Leave arrangements differ from country to country, depending on local legislation.

Read more on agile working in Green IT & office impacts.

Training on diversity

To achieve real change in attitudes and approaches to managing diversity within the business, people need to understand why it is important to our success. The purpose of our Diversity Learning and Development is to build the diversity awareness and management competencies of Unilever’s leaders and employees. Programmes range from senior leadership immersion sessions to online training for all employees delivered as part of training on our Code of Business Principles.

In 2012 we produced a video and booklet profiling female role models in our business. The video, ‘Our Inspiring Role Models’, features 16 of our senior women who share their life stories to provide inspiration to all employees, women and men. It is available on YouTube(Link opens in a new window)


We work in partnership with several organisations to promote gender balance in the workplace:


We established the Fund for Research in Leadership and Diversity at INSEAD business school with a gift of €3 million. The research output of the Fund will help inform our thinking on the promotion of women into leadership positions.


Unilever is a member of Catalyst(Link opens in a new window), a global organisation working to build inclusive workplaces and expand opportunities for women in business. Catalyst also conducts gender research.

Women’s International Network (WIN)

The WIN conference is an international network that engages and supports women in enhancing their knowledge and developing as authentic leaders. Every year, more than 1,000 participants from over 65 countries come together for the WIN conference to network and address organisation-specific and wider business issues. Unilever was the lead sponsor of the 2012 conference.

Working Mums (UK)

Working Mums is a job-seeking and community website for professional working mothers. The organisation partners with hundreds of large and small employers and runs an extensive database of professional women seeking work in a wide variety of fields. We have defined a charter that sets out our approach to helping working mothers and make use of the database to identify potential employees.

Working Mother (North America) provides advice for working mothers on home and work issues. It also compiles ‘Working Mother: 100 Best Companies’ and ‘Best Companies for Multicultural Women’.

BITC Opportunity Now (UK)

We are a member of Business in the Community’s Opportunity Now initiative. This seeks to empower employers to accelerate change for women in the workplace. It works with employers from the private, public and education sectors to offer tailored, practical advice on workplace issues. We worked with Opportunity Now to benchmark our strategy in 2012.

External recognition

In January 2013 Unilever was named as a winner of the 2013 Catalyst Award for our initiatives that expand opportunities for women and business. We were a joint winner of the award, along with Alcoa and the Coca-Cola Company, for our initiative ‘Global Reach with Local Roots: Creating a Gender-Balanced Workforce in Different Cultural Contexts(Link opens in a new window)’. This expands opportunities for women and business in ways that are locally relevant within their workplaces and communities.

In 2012 Unilever scored 100% for the fifth consecutive year in the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index.

In 2011 Unilever US was named as one of the ‘Top companies for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Equality’ by Work Life Matters magazine, which highlighted Unilever’s commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture at work.

Our Chief Executive Officer received the 2010 Jackie Robinson ‘ROBIE’ Achievements in Industry award in 2010. The commendation recognised the leading role Unilever has played in diversity and community service in the US and around the world by offering scholarships and job opportunities to minority students.

Also in 2010, the Harvard Business Review, September 2010 edition, commended Unilever’s global mentoring programme. The article, entitled ‘Why men still get more promotions than women’, explored the difference between the traditional approach to mentoring and a new ‘sponsorship’ style. And our then Chief R&D Officer, Geneviève Berger was ranked number 30 in the international edition of Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business.