Take five: “Globally, women now represent 50 per cent of the company’s board members”

Date: Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mustafa Seçkin, Vice-President, Unilever N. Africa, Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus Ice Cream & Beverages Categories, with members of Unilever turkey diversity and inclusion committee at the WEPs Implementation Guide launch event in Istanbul on 25 January 2017. Photo: Global Compact Turkey/Tolga Sezgin
Mustafa Seçkin, Vice-President, Unilever N. Africa, Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus Ice Cream & Beverages Categories, with members of Unilever turkey diversity and inclusion committee at the WEPs Implementation Guide launch event in Istanbul on 25 January 2017. Photo: Global Compact Turkey/Tolga Sezgin

Mustafa Seçkin, Vice-President, Unilever N. Africa, Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus Ice Cream & Beverages Categories, talks about how the Women’s Empowerment Principles have shaped and improved work place culture and performance at Unilever Turkey. Recently, Unilever (global) also announced a partnership with UN Women to improve women’s safety in the tea industry.

How and why has Unilever incorporated women’s empowerment within its business model?

When we empower women, the entire society benefits, grows and thrives. According to the UN Foundation, women reinvest 90 per cent of their income back into their families, while men reinvest only 30-40 per cent. If women were to play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to global annual GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey Global Institute.

Our ambition is to empower five million women by 2020. We aim to do this by creating a gender-balanced organization, promoting rights and safety for women working in our supply chain, offering skills training and creating economic opportunities through jobs and livelihoods. Unilever has included gender equality and women’s empowerment as a specific target within our Sustainable Living Plan, which serves as our blueprint for sustainable growth.

At Unilever, we believe in leading by example. We are working towards achieving gender balance in management within the business and offering our employees an inclusive work environment where they can realize their full potential and share their opinions and ideas freely. In order to meet our targets, we collaborate with partners to provide women with trainings across our supply chain, including smallholder farmers and retailers. By 2015, globally we enabled around 800,000 women to access such initiatives.

What are some key milestones in Unilever Turkey’s efforts to achieve gender equality?

Through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we can track progress while growing our business, reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact. We are also focusing on the fundamental drivers of women’s empowerment by promoting gender equality and creating opportunities for women across our supply chain.

By working with partners we want to create a wider systems change to support women around the world. The strategic partnership between Unilever Turkey and UN Women Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia Office for example, has helped us align our agenda with the relevant global policies so that we are complementing efforts towards lasting change.

Since signing up to the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) in 2015, and as the elected President of Global Compact Turkey (2016), we have accelerated our efforts to make WEPs known and adopted in the Turkish business community.

Another milestone for us has been improving the diversity and inclusive work environment in Unilever Turkey, following a diversity awareness workshop in 2013. Unilever Turkey went on to adopt measures such as setting and assessing diversity-oriented targets, develop agile working practices, provide awareness raising and mentoring systems for employees.

What were the first steps to implement the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) at Unilever Turkey?

As Unilever Turkey, we decided to sign up to the WEPs and join the UN Women HeForShe campaign in 2015. 

We introduced the WEPs to our employees across Turkey, and all our Board Members have since pledged their commitment to support HeForShe. Since launching the campaign in our organization, we have received significant support from our employees and within a year, increased the number of women in our Executive Board from only one woman to five.

We have also been part of a working group to develop the recently launched WEPs Implementation Guide led by UN Women, which provides tools and concrete guidance to organizations to bolster women’s economic empowerment with their businesses, supply chains and more. We are using the self-assessment tool provided by the Guide and focusing our efforts on collaboration with our stakeholders to bring them on board with the idea that “when we empower women, society benefits, grows and thrives”.

What impact have you seen from increasing the number of women in management and on boards?

What are the Women’s Empowerment Principles?

In a changing world of work, when businesses support gender equality in the workplace, everyone wins. The Women’s Empowerment Principles are designed to support companies in reviewing existing policies and practices—or establishing new ones—to realize women’s empowerment. Learn more»

Globally, our progress on gender representation in management levels has been significant, moving from 38 per cent in 2010 to 45 per cent by the end of 2015. Twenty-five countries have already achieved their gender balance targets for management levels. Globally, women now represent 50 per cent of the company boards’ members.

In Turkey, our current Executive Board comprises seven men and five women. At the time of signing the WEPs we had only one woman on the Board. The rate of new women recruits in our company rose to 63 per cent and the rate of women at executive positions to 48 per cent in the last year. Additionally, the rate of women directors who were also candidates for Vice President positions increased by 500 per cent. The increase in the number of women in management has benefited our business in terms of talent development, culture, innovation, leadership and performance. 

Over 70 per cent of our consumers are women, therefore, a well-balanced gender organization in the workplace helps us understand our consumers better and reflects this knowledge throughout our business practice.

Can you describe your supply chain platform and its slogan, “Together, we can change this picture”? How did you come up with the idea, what is its purpose and how is it working?

Efforts around the world to empower women are very promising, but at the current rate, it will take 70 years to reach gender equality. We can and must do more.

We have formed a new working group with our stakeholders to spread the Women's Empowerment Principles, with the belief that "Together, we can change this picture". The first meeting was held on 17 January this year, and was attended by 18 leading companies from retail, logistics, raw materials, cosmetics, agriculture and communication sectors. We discussed the role of private sector companies in the economic empowerment of women, how to adapt these principles in the member companies, and most importantly, the actions to be taken collectively. The meeting concluded with an action plan and the companies pledged:

“We take our responsibility for empowerment of women and we work together. Together, we can change this picture.”

Empowering women is vital to ensuring the future growth and prosperity of businesses everywhere. By working in partnerships and leveraging the size and scale of organizations, through supply chains like ours, we can achieve a breakthrough. Empowering women and girls is not only the right thing to do; our vision of a poverty-free world depends on it.