Unilever Canada Inc.’s fulsome approach to diversity, equity and inclusion led to its win in the diversity program category at Benefits Canada’s 2021 Workplace Benefits Awards on Oct. 14.

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Unilever Canada adopted the mantra “we’re navigating the same ocean, in different boats.” The adage, which created a shared sense of vulnerability among employees, sums up the company’s expansive approach to its DEI efforts, which focused on its people, culture and community, says Bronwyn Ott, Unilever’s well-being, equity, diversity and inclusion leader.

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During the pandemic, the organization moved to ensure employees had equitable access to the supportive benefits and policies they required to prioritize their well-being, including adding more funds to a lifestyle spending account, says Ott. Employees received the same amount and could choose how to spend it to achieve their overall health and well-being goals.

Also, during 2020’s summer of global social justice unrest, Unilever Canada announced its commitment to addressing systemic racism in Canada and sharing its workforce’s diversity statistics for transparency. Its five-year DEI goals include having a diverse makeup that’s reflective of the Canadian population, says Ott.

To foster an inclusive workplace culture, Unilever Canada created a DEI advisory council comprised of employees from diverse functions, ages, gender and ethnicity. “We wanted to bring people together to ensure that what we’re designing or the decisions that we’re making as an organization is reflective of our employees’ needs,” notes Ott.

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One of the council’s initiatives was immersive DEI training for the organization’s senior leadership team, which included a focus on race, ethnicity and leading with inclusivity. Ott says 100 per cent of senior leaders went through the multi-session program and they’re cascading the learnings throughout the business.

In addition, all employees were engaged in quarterly virtual DEI training sessions focused on four themes: unconscious bias, psychological safety, micro-aggressions and cross-cultural competencies and communication. Although the sessions were voluntary, the company actively communicated the programs and set aside a Friday of every month for them so all employees had time to participate.

Unilever Canada also created a toolkit to help leaders have meaningful one-on-one conversations with staff, as well as “healthy working commitments,” which included flexible working to encourage its office-based employees to work together and recognize and support each other’s unique needs through the public health crisis.

As well, the organization held a day of service so employees could give back to their communities and matched employees’ personal donations to a number of charities. As part of its holiday care package to employees, it included a gift from one of three small businesses that are Black- or Indigenous-owned.

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