Inclusion doesn’t just happen – it takes a lot of work

What the iList taught us about diversity and inclusion.

Unilever's EVP Global Marketing and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Aline Santos outlines the what judging the iList taught us about diversity and inclusion.

Judging the amazing shortlisted nominees for the iList has been hugely inspiring. What has really stood out is the grit, determination and resilience of each nominee, which is something we can really resonate with at Unilever. Unilever has recently reached our target of 50% representation of women in management. We have also recently been given the prestigious honour of being named a Catalyst Award winner for 'Inspiring Change and Accelerating Progress for Women in the Workplace'. And of course, we’re acutely aware of the momentous journey ahead of us to achieve diversity and inclusion for everyone - particularly under-served and under-represented communities.

I feel a huge sense of pride and honour but as we reflect on (and celebrate) these fantastic achievements it’s important to realise that this hasn’t happened overnight. Just as all the i-List nominees demonstrated, it takes years of dedication, leadership, trial and error, financial commitment, human resource as well as sheer will, passion and resilience.

So, what have been some of the vital lessons we’ve learned along the way? What exactly does it take to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Unilever is proud to partner with the IPA on the ‘i-List’ to recognise leaders driving inclusion across adland and as the winners are announced and we prepare to share the best-in-class to inspire our industry, I thought it would be helpful to share some observations on how inclusive leaders behave differently to drive genuine and long-lasting change:

Network diversity

Understand that your way of seeing the world is just that—your way. Inclusive leaders deliberately seek out divergent viewpoints and opportunities to spend time with people who are not like themselves, who will challenge their assumptions and worldview. This helps to break down deeply ingrained stereotypes as well as increase empathy.

Remove moral judgement

We spend a lot of time working with our teams and agency partners to explain why we all have biases and how deep-rooted stereotypes have been wired into us since we were babies. The key is that we do this in a no-shame-no-blame-or-attack approach. Blaming or shaming ourselves or others does not advance the conversation or learning.

Invest in the process

Unilever’s mantra is you ‘measure what you treasure’ and metrics are crucial to tracking progress against inclusion objectives. Unilever has invested in tools and processes to drive gender equity, including gender-balanced interview slate requirements, robust D&I goals, KPIs, and the Gender Appointment Ratio, a measurement to track senior leaders’ records in appointing women.

Create a safe space

The whole mark of an inclusive organisation is one where people feel a very strong sense of belonging and commitment. Giving your workforce a voice is an essential part of leading in an inclusive and purposeful way. People need to feel that their voice is heard and that it is safe to take risks and ask questions. Inclusive leaders will consistently gauge opinions from their employees through staff surveys, set up check-ins with team members from different backgrounds and ask about their perceptions of work and communication styles, and inclusion.

Recognise Intersectionality

Inclusive leaders understand the importance of building intersectionality into their diversity and inclusion strategies. Coined in 1989 by civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, the term intersectionality defines the interconnected and overlapping discrimination that comes from multiple identities.

For example, in a traditional D&I program, people may identify as LGBTQ+, BAME or female. But what if someone is all of the above? It’s vital to take a holistic approach and avoid linear tracking or narrow focus groups that may only benefit a sub-set of your workforce.

Finally, never forget that "Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance". So please keep dancing, and please look out for the stories and the inspiration from the inaugural iList winners to help drive similar change within your own business.

Aline Santos is an iList Judge and EVP Global Marketing and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Unilever.

Find out which 30 trailblazers were named on the inaugural iList.
Last updated 01 May 2024