Unilever Bangladesh Limited (UBL) in partnership with UN Women Bangladesh hosted the launch of a joint celebration of International Women’s Day 2019, at the Radisson Blu Dhaka Water Garden on Monday morning. With the objective to spark a movement for unlocking opportunities to achieve gender equality and promoting women empowerment across sectors, the launch ceremony marked the inauguration of a series of 4 events leading up to 8th March.
The event brought together the senior management from 11 organizations – Berger Paints Bangladesh Limited, BRAC, Citibank N.A. Bangladesh, Grameenphone, GSK Bangladesh, HSBC Bangladesh, Marico Bangladesh Limited, Microsoft Bangladesh, Nestle Bangladesh Limited, Robi Axiata Limited and Standard Chartered Bank Bangladesh, and Vice Chancellors, Deans and Directors from 5 universities – North South University, BRAC University, Independent University Bangladesh, Islamic University of Technology and Jahangirnagar University along with partners and donors from the development sector such as BRAC and Terres Des Hommes. The event commenced with the opening remarks by Kedar Lele, CEO and Managing Director of UBL, and Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative of UN Women in Bangladesh, followed by keynote address from Mr. Paul Polman, Unilever CEO for the last 10 years.
Speaking of Unilever’s dedication to achieving gender parity in the workplace, Kedar Lele noted that women’s corporate participation in Bangladesh has witnessed a decline to 60 percent from 80 percent indicating that, “educational progress is not translating into [higher] participation levels.”
With regards to UBL’s efforts towards achieving gender balance, Lele highlighted three areas in which the company has made commendable strides. “We have hired our first woman Regional Sales Head, and our first female C-Shift Manager. Gender balance [at UBL] has gone from less than 10 percent to 30 percent at leadership level, within 2 years. We’ve achieved this through conducive policies that enable women’s participation at workplace.”
Shoko Ishikawa went on to say that “Building on the global partnership of UN Women and Unilever, this year the two organizations have teamed up here in Bangladesh with the aim to highlight the important role that businesses can play in driving gender equality and empowerment of women, which is not only the morally right thing to do, but ultimately has a multiplier effect in creating a prosperous society that is good for business.”
In his keynote speech, Polman called for an urgent need to “unlearn the mental barriers preventing us from achieving our full potential.” He placed great importance on, “making sure that a business’s entire value chain is gender balanced to protect the interests of female employees and emphasized on the need for building skills for women, creating opportunities and establishing rights.”
He called on the corporate CEOs to be pro-active in the future, saying, “Personally owning this agenda, garners enormous results.” According to him, gender inequality in the workplace will also have larger developmental ramifications if not addressed soon: “We can never achieve the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals unless we work under complete inclusion. It must be about not leaving anybody behind.”
The event called for private sector companies to exercise a deeper understanding and responsiveness of gender-sensitive issues in the workplace and business sector at large by pledging to collaboratively work together to spread awareness, create equal opportunities and empower girls and women in their respective arena.
The ceremony concluded with the CEOs of the participating organizations and the esteemed academicians of the participating education institutions signing the pledge - “I commit to be an advocate for change and accelerate gender equality for my organization/institution and for Bangladesh”.