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Equality AND equity. We need both to make a difference

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Average read time: 3 minutes

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.

Four women of different races and religion smile and wave to the camera

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

What is equality?

Equality has long been a tenet 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 offer 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, recognises that we do not all start from the same place and face different barriers. As Nitin Paranjpe, Chief Transformation Officer & Chief People Officer at 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 that prevent individuals from 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 recognises that a person with a visual impediment may need different technology or someone in a wheelchair may need a different access to a lift.

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 covering four areas of identity: gender, race and ethnicity, LGBTQI+ and 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 how we are seeking 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 the Harvard Business School, to bring more awareness to unconscious bias in making senior appointments.

  3. Gender equity in the supply chain

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

  4. Flexible working

    Our markets continuously develop and implement radical new policies that support specific employee needs. Unilever supported flexible working well before COVID, and it continues to allow employees to adjust working hours to their needs.

  5. Menstrual leave and fertility policies

    Our country teams have developed policies that 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 brands

    Brands such as 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 accelerate the representation of black and brown talent in our four lead markets: Brazil, South Africa, the UK and the US. 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 the progress of those from under-represented communities.

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

Read more about our vision for an equitable world

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