Knowledge Center

Unilever—Global Reach With Local Roots: Creating a Gender-Balanced Workforce in Different Cultural Contexts

Unilever’s initiative, Global Reach With Local Roots: Creating a Gender-Balanced Workforce in Different Cultural Contexts, accelerates the advancement of high-potential women across different regions and leverages the company’s strong foundation of cultural diversity and multinational expertise to promote a culture of inclusion.

In 2009, CEO Paul Polman recognized that increasing gender diversity would help the business thrive, and he set an ambitious goal of achieving gender parity at all management levels. To achieve this goal, Unilever implemented a number of focused efforts, including the Global Diversity Board chaired by Mr. Polman, as well as gender balance accountability and targets for Unilever Leadership Executives (ULE), which include the CEO and his direct reports. Gender diversity was further integrated into the HR processes, such as talent management, career planning and leadership development. In addition, the Global Mentoring Program, which targets high-potential women in different regions, and Agile Working, a comprehensive flexible work program that supports sustainability in different regions were implemented. The Compass, Unilever’s strategy for sustainable growth, and the Sustainable Living Plan, which guides the responsible delivery of business operations, provide the initiative’s over-arching framework and help maintain consistency and alignment across 11 important regions on five continents.

Programs are adapted locally in response to cultural norms and to meet the specific needs of each region. Innovative localized efforts include social media and digital recruitment programs in South Asia, and Career by Choice in India, which allows women to re-enter the workforce in business consultant roles with the option to become full-time. Other examples are a half-time job share initiative in Germany and “pick ‘n’ drop” facilities in North Africa and the Middle East, where women are not allowed to drive. In addition, the UK and Ireland headquarters and Hindustan Unilever’s office facility in Mumbai were all built to substantially decrease travel time and designed with a strong technology infrastructure so that workers can work at any place.

Thanks to these efforts, From 2009 to 2012, representation of women in the pipeline increased from 16 percent to 21 percent for EVP and VP-level women, from 27 percent to 32 percent for director-level women, and from 40 percent to 43 percent for manager-level women. Recruitment of women across all levels has increased from 47 percent to 50 percent. Momentum has also grown in some regions. From 2009 to 2012, Hindustan Unilever increased women in management from 19 percent to 27 percent. Within the same timeframe, the proportion of women managers at Unilever Japan increased from 22 percent to 29 percent.