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Equality vs Equity: Your Allyship Matters

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Average read time: 3 minutes

As we celebrate Pride this June, it’s important to reflect on the role we play in making our workplaces an inclusive environment. Are you an ally who actively shows support? Or do you stand back, telling yourself that’s the job of HR or your line manager? Growing up, mom used to say, “Do your share of the housework. This isn’t a hotel. This is our home. We all have responsibility for it.” It’s the same with regards to our work home and work family.

Two women and a man seated during a meeting.

When Unilever launched the concept of #EquityIs last International Women’s Day, we campaigned for allyship, calling out that equality isn’t equal, equity is. Equity is recognizing that we each start with different historical and social advantages and disadvantages. This means that some adjustments may need to be made to level the playing field.

Allyship is an empowering approach in building inclusive environments, it means to step in, to and take part to guide, support, amplify and advocate for someone. Pride reminds us that unlocking better opportunities for under-represented groups shouldn’t be limited to any one day or occasion.

There are many challenges on the road to an inclusive workplace. All our personal experiences are valid, and no one’s pain or suffering is less worthy than another’s. My own difficulties had to do with adjusting to a Western workplace as an introverted Asian female. I’d been spoken to condescendingly, patted on the head like a child or pet. I’d been told a board-level role would be highly unlikely with my quiet, “forgettable” personality.

I’ve written about a male leader praising my male colleague for what was my hard work. Thankfully, my colleague corrected him: “That’s all Julie, not me. Let’s give her a big round of applause.” Small actions make a big difference, you can start with some meeting behaviours I suggest here. I hope to continue doing for others what my colleague did for me: raise others up when needed, help leaders see blind spots, and use my voice to stand up for myself and others.

Diversity & inclusion in the workplace

At Unilever, we’ve introduced a number of industry-leading Diversity & Inclusion programs, such as Wellbeing and Life Stages Support that take LGBTQI+ needs into consideration in areas like maternity, paternity, and parental leave. We’ve introduced a Queer-iosity module in our Degreed online learning hub to help deepen one’s knowledge and awareness of the richness of the LGBTQI+ community.

We launched the Unilever proUd network in 2020, a Global Employee Resource Group, where members of the worldwide Unilever LGBTQI+ community and its allies can amplify their voices in society and at Unilever. From an initial group of 250, proUd now counts over 1200 employees worldwide among its ranks, all dedicated to increasing advocacy for human rights and safe havens for the community.

The efforts extend to our consumer-facing projects as well, as seen in our Closeup City Hall of Love. Created to recognize love in all of its forms, the platform allows partners of all faiths, races, and genders to create marriage certificates and mint them as non-fungible token (NFT’s) in the metaverse. The latest brand video is powerful education done with authenticity, watch it here.

Allyship, advocacy, and equity aren’t just sophisticated words that sound woke, they’re concepts that have the potential to effect real change when real people bring them to life. From peer-to-peer support to policies that promote and protect inclusion, it is only in embracing equity that we will be able to make our workplaces psychologically safe environments where minorities not only survive but thrive.

Julie is Head of HR of Unilever Philippines and Unilever Beauty & Wellbeing HR Lead of SEA.

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