Dafydd Farr-Jones has been an executive PA for 20 years, three of them at Unilever. And while he’s never hidden his sexuality in any of his roles, Unilever is the only company where he’s felt comfortable enough to be a proud and open member of a global network of LGBTQI+ colleagues and allies.
“Unilever’s proUd network not only offered me community, acceptance, support and understanding, it’s also felt like a friendly, safe and inclusive space. A space that can make a difference and where I could make a difference. It made me proUd to be part of Unilever,” he says.
It’s a view seconded by Angharad Stevens, Category Strategy Assistant Manager for Skin Care. “You cannot over-estimate how mentally freeing it is to know you don’t have to hide any aspect of yourself. And our community is an incredible group of people, I wouldn’t miss knowing and being known by them for the world,” she says.
“In the past, the way my sexuality and identity have been approached by peers has been the decider on my future in that role, both positive and negative. My ideas and thoughts are in part formed because of who I am and my experiences. If my voice is valued in a creative process, then you have to respect and appreciate these come from my life as a lesbian marketer,” she adds.
A safe space
Since its founding three years ago, proUd has set out to be a beacon of inclusion for the LGBTQI+ community and allies, amplifying their voice in society and at Unilever. It has also grown from 250 colleagues to 1,200 worldwide.
Every one of them has access to a private membership group on Microsoft Teams, ensuring their privacy and safety. An important measure for those who live in countries where they aren’t free to be their true, authentic selves and their human rights are severely compromised.
“In Africa I've felt like an outcast and lived in fear of being exposed for many years,” one proUd member explained in a private chat. “The opportunity to interact with non-judgemental colleagues who understand the experiences of LGBTQI+ people really comforts me.”
Equity, equality and why we need both
Whether it is an inclusive definition of family that allows for benefits coverage for couples who cannot legally marry, or a change of gender expression policies, the aim is the same – levelling the playing field so that all employees have access to equal treatment and opportunities. One of proUd’s aims is to identify core policy changes which will better support the community within Unilever.
Achieving this goal lies principally in providing equity. Although often used interchangeably, equity and equality are two very separate concepts. If equality is the ultimate objective, where all individuals are valued and receive the same conditions and treatment, equity is the way we will achieve it.
This is because by putting equity at the centre of the discussion on inclusion, we are in effect recognising the working and cultural practices that prevent specific groups of people from enjoying certain rights and opportunities. And having identified them, we are in a much stronger position to overcome them.
Levelling the playing field for everyone
Although we are aware that we still have a long way to go to be fully inclusive, real progress has been made, including:
Now comprising over 1,200 members, with chapters in countries all over the world, our proUd resource network plays an essential role in supporting employees and creating change in the workplace.
Wellbeing and life stages support:
We have introduced wellbeing and HR policies that include flexible approaches in maternity, paternity and parental leave that consider LGBTQI+ people’s needs as well as breakthrough policies covering fertility and transition. Unilever Singapore, for example, has recently changed its employee health policy to include same sex partners and different types of families.
Talent management and culture:
Our new policies reduce the challenges that still exist for LGBTQI+ people in relation to career progression. These include interventions to reduce biases in appointments, promotions and global mobility opportunities aimed at creating a more inclusive workplace.
Education and understanding:
We also offer training modules on our internal Degreed learning platform, including guidance on inclusive language and becoming an LGBTQI+ ally.
The serious business beyond celebrating rainbows
But as we ready ourselves for the joy and celebrations of Pride month, it also important to acknowledge that there is still much more to be done to ensure the rights of the global LGBTQI+ community – not least in the business sector.
Recognising our own uneven landscape, in 2018 Unilever signed the UN LGBTQI+ Standards of Conduct for Business with the aim of accelerating positive change by adopting its five pillars of conduct for tackling discrimination at work. And in 2020 we furthered our commitment to inclusion by signing the Declaration of Amsterdam, a global statement of support for LGBTQI+ rights.
But we also operate in a world where more than half of UN member states still have no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment.
Where half of Fortune 500 companies provide benefits for LGBTQI+ domestic partners.
And where the LGBTQI+ community’s rights are under threat, with Florida state’s passing of ‘Don’t say Gay’ bill and the UK’s tempering of its bill on conversion therapy to exclude rights for the trans community.
So where do we go from here?
“As Unilever, we have both a platform and a responsibility to promote positive change,” says Aline Santos, Chief Brand Officer and Chief Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Officer for Global Marketing. “And we can and should do this by fostering inclusion within and beyond the Unilever ecosystem.”
Through our brands and our Unstereotype framework, for example, we are working to increase the representation of the LGBTQI+ community in the media. In recent research on media representation of the LGBTQI+ community conducted by ad agency Karmarama and Gay Times magazine, 72% of those surveyed think the way they are presented in advertising is tokenistic.
“It’s clear LGBTQI+ consumers don’t see themselves represented in media and comms, and by increasing this representation we can save lives,” adds Business Development Marketing Manager Julian Gomez.
“And while that might sound like a bold statement, we know there’s a direct link between lack of representation (and protection) and suicide rates among the community.”
To improve representation, we’ve partnered with Gay Times to create a LGBTQI+ playbook for marketers as part of Act 2 Unstereotype, to educate, inspire and give guidance to our marketers.
“I’ve been gay for 48 years and a marketer for 24 but I couldn’t define what to do to address the community needs by myself. It’s too rich,” says Julian.
“One of the most incredible things about our community is just how rich and diverse we are and it’s crucial we have the right voices at the table to represent us,” Angharad adds.
“And while we currently offer only offer the playbook to our own marketers and agencies, we are looking at the option of providing it as an open-source document,” says Aline. “In this way, we hope to shine a light for others and become the beacon of inclusivity we aspire to be.”