Unilever Bangladesh Limited (UBL), the personal care Company, has been providing the women of Bangladesh great products which helps them feel good, look good and get more out of life. From Lux to Dove, from Rexona to Vim all Unilever brands are built keeping in mind how it will make life more fulfilling for the consumers. Ever the pioneer, Unilever Bangladesh has also contributed significantly towards leadership development in the country and more recently in championing workplace gender balance. Since 2009 Unilever Bangladesh has slowly built an organization where women can shine.
“A well balanced organization helps build a rich culture - one where there is diversity of thoughts and ideas,” says Mononita Syed-Haq, Human Resources Director at Unilever. “With 75% of our consumers being women, gender balance is even more important for Unilever.”
That is why Unilever Bangladesh proactively made various changes over the past 5 years to become a woman friendly organization.Through seeking out high performing woman talent and integrating them into Unilever and through mitigating predominant notion in society about certain roles, such as field and factory roles, being for men only, Unilever Bangladesh has built an indomitable league of women managers who are now challenging the status quo at unconventional roles in field and factories.
The journey began with Unilever building the basics. Male line managers were trained to recognize and leverage on the diversity of thought that different genders bring to their teams. A formal support network for the women in the Company was then created and initiatives such as role modelling sessions, to inspire women talent within the organization, were started. In parallel, market mapping was initiated to discover more women talent in the recruitment market. A new policy was introduced where for every new role which opened up in the Company, 50% of the contenders had to be female. Such innovative and proactive resourcing brought more female managers into the business.
With the progression of the first female director in the UBL board in 2013, greater drive has been placed in this space. Maternity policy was extended to 6 months,a crèche was introduced in the Corporate Office and a unique portal was launched to guide women managers’ while they transition into parenthood.Agile working, working from any location without the need to attend office, was facilitated through technology and encouraged for new mothers.To groom women talent for the future, Unilever Bangladesh also introduced mentoring programs and balanced succession plans so that female managers’ career progresses alongside their male counterparts.
2014 saw a major shift in the gender balance journey of the Company as they delved deeper into addressing the major bottleneck of placing women talent in factory and sales roles. Strategic changes were made in both the functions to attract and retain more woman managers.
The Unilever Bangladesh Kalurghat factory (KGF) in Chittagong works in pillars such as production, engineering, logistics etc. In Supply Chain, the manufacturing function of the Company, the challenge was to build an environment where women can thrive in each of these pillars. To do just that production shift structures were redefined. The previously 3 shifts of A, B and C (with C being the night shift) were reconstructed in a manner that could accommodate the women managers in A or B shifts only.Infrastructures such as a separate female medical bay and prayer room were built.Smaller details were also looked into; while previously aprons and safety shoes were only available in male sizes, new aprons and safety shoes in female sizes were procured for those working on the production floor. But what about the major challenge of relocation of women managers to the factory site? To address this talent was sourced from the factory locations itself, eliminating the need for relocation altogether.
These adjustments allowed the number of womenmanagers in the Unilever Factory to rise from 3 in the beginning of 2013 to 10 byJune, 2014. Nawrin Nahar, a manager at the factory who joined in 2013 observed the transformation having more women in factory has brought about. “With a greater number of women working in the factory, the whole work force is now more cooperative with women managers’” says Nawrin.She explains how the labours used to disregard directions from her before, “maybe they thought it was a temporary situation with a woman leading the team,” she says, “now however, with more of us on the shop floor they must have realized this is a revolution they cannot resist but should become a part of instead.”
For Customer Development, the sales function of the Company, the challenges were different but equally daunting. Cultural sensitivity was the main issue since women are not comfortable manning markets. These were addressed by analyzing the business geographies and identifying women friendly locations across the country. Universities from where recruitment occurred were also broadened, so that more female candidates who are keen to work in field roles could connect with the Company. Competent women talent were then recruited and placed in the identified geographies. The managers were provided with cars to make market visits safer and more acceptable for the society.
Mahdia Chowdhury, Territory Manager for Sylhet says the field experience has been invaluable for her career. “Once I got accustomed to the location, nothing was more enjoyable then my job. I am very grateful that Unilever gave me this opportunity,” she says, “The field experience has taught me what kind of a leader I am and provided me a more holistic view of the business. You can never feel the empowerment in such an early age, if you do not have a field experience.”
While such function specific adjustments were being conducted, work continued to position UBL as a women friendly organization overall. Role modelling sessions, both internal and external, continued to groom women talent, Unilever strengthened its ties with external female forums to share and learn best practices. The women population of the Company connected better through digital media through dedicated social pages and groups. Male managers driving the gender balance agenda in their everyday roles were recognized for their contributions and a previously absent, paternity policy has been put in place.
Since Unilever Bangladesh has embarked on its gender balance journey in 2009, the women population which could be counted in one hand has now risen to 60.“The path ahead is still challenging,” says Mononita, “but with the learnings of the past years and the unwavering determination of every function, Unilever is poised to build itself into the employer of choice for women.”The Company is determined to not only attract the best female talent but also provide them the platform to achieve their career ambitions without the need to sacrifice their uniqueness as a woman.