How A Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Is Advancing Gender Equality

It will take 217 years to achieve equality in the workplace at the rate we’re going, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Parity won’t happen unless we make it happen, so it’s time to speed things up.

Aline Santos, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Unilever, is making it her mission to help the more than 100-year-old organization becomes fully gender-balanced.

When Aline joined Unilever about 27 years ago in her home country of Brazil, she achieved a lot of firsts. She was the first woman on the sales team, and then the first woman director in marketing before becoming the first female vice president at Unilever in Brazil.

Now she is working to create more firsts for women and minorities on a bigger scale in the workplace. Advancing equality in the workplace isn’t just the socially right thing to do; it’s good for the bottom line. In fact, as much as $28 trillion could be added to the global GDP if we reach full gender equality by 2025, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. “Diversity and inclusion is not just an act of goodwill. It is a proven competitive advantage,” says Aline. “It is up to us, this generation of business leaders, to make the change that is needed. If we don’t, we put our businesses and society at risk.” Here are some ways we can take giant steps forward to advance equality in our workplaces.

Jess Weiner of Talk to Jess; Asa Regnar of UN Women; Heide Gardner of IPG; Aline Santos of Unilever; Shelley Zalis of The Female Quotient; and Bill Moseley of AT&T on an Unstereotype Alliance panel at Advertising Week.

Jess Weiner of Talk to Jess; Asa Regnar of UN Women; Heide Gardner of IPG; Aline Santos of Unilever; Shelley Zalis of The Female Quotient; and Bill Moseley of AT&T at Advertising Week.

Wield the power of storytelling to create empathy. Stories create empathy and empathy creates action. “It’s a different story when a coworker with a disability shares a story about the everyday challenges she faces in the office,” says Aline. “Or when a colleague tells you how it feels to not see themselves represented anywhere else in the industry, never mind their company. Suddenly the case for diversity and inclusion becomes so much more compelling. It doesn’t feel so distant—it triggers empathy.”

Create metrics for accountability. Change won’t happen until we hold ourselves accountable. We need to create real metrics to help us meet our goals. “Measure what you treasure,” says Aline. “In other words, what gets valued gets measured. And what gets measured gets done. I’m a firm believer that a deeper understanding of people’s teams and their individual needs, combined with the power of data-driven strategies and ensuring that all leaders have concrete gender balance targets that are closely tracked, are critical to success.”

Unstereotype the workplace. Stereotypes are holding us back from reaching our equality goals. Research by Unilever uncovered that 60% of women and 49% of men say they’re personally impacted by stereotypes in their careers, personal lives, or both.

“It’s a global ambition to remove harmful stereotypes of people in our workplace and through our branded communications,” says Aline. “We’re unstereotyping the workplace in a few different ways, such as re-engineering our recruitment process to use tech, like an intelligent bot, in the initial stages of screening and then blind resumes to further minimize bias.”

Put the right policies in place. Policies can go a long way towards creating cultures of care and helping employees to thrive both at work and at home. In addition to egg-freezing medical coverage and flying breast milk for mothers on business trips to their babies back home, Unilever is rolling out progressive parental leave policies that have resulted in a 24% decrease in the number of new moms leaving the company.

“We’ve rolled out a global maternity leave policy of a minimum of 16 weeks, going beyond the minimum requirements in 50% of the countries we operate in,” says Aline. “We recognize that gender equality is about both genders, so we launched a global paternity leave of three weeks this year.”

Leadership isn’t about age, title or position; it’s about action. It’s up to each and every one of us to help create a workplace that works for us.


For more on how to make equality a reality in the workplace, check out:

10 Things You Can Do Right Now To Make Your Workplace Better

Why We Need To Redefine Masculinity At Work—And In The World

Women Rising: How To Succeed In Male-Dominated Industries