‘Having a diverse and inclusive environment where every person can bring their full and authentic selves to work is something we want Unilever to be famous for.’
Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever
Unilever, a global brand that employs more than 150,000 people worldwide, has been moving towards fulfilling this bold commitment by putting many of its senior staff in Bangladesh through workplace disability and inclusion training.
More than 250 employees from Unilever Bangladesh team joined across three separate sessions in April.
The sensitisation sessions were delivered digitally – due to the COVID-19 outbreak – by the Bangladesh Business and Disability Network (BBDN) as part of broader engagement to ensure businesses across the country are supportive of employing women and men with disabilities and that their needs are adequately met.
Each webinar included presentations on: definitions and different types of disability, myths and facts about disability, barriers facing persons with disability, lived experiences of persons with disability in Bangladesh and steps to follow for disability inclusion in the workplace.
Murteza Khan is the CEO of BBDN, launched in 2016 with a vision of an inclusive workforce leading to an inclusive society.
‘It’s very encouraging to see a multinational company like Unilever coming forward in such a positive way, particularly under the current circustances with COVID-19,’ he said.
‘We’re really keen to see how we can learn from Unilever and improve our approach as well. This is a really mutually beneficial process which we hope will inspire other employers to proceed in a similar way to becoming disability confident.’
The training for companies is a component of two consortia promoting economic inclusion – i2i (Innovation to Inclusion), led by pan-disability charity Leonard Cheshire and Inclusion Works, led by Sight savers. Both are funded by the UK’s Department for International Development.
i2i will engage with at least 80 companies in Bangladesh and Kenya to create inclusive employment opportunities for women and men with disabilities. Another goal is for companies to create 1,000 job placements, internships and apprenticeships opportunities across the two countries.
‘Our approach is to have a more inclusive labour market system,’ Murteza added. ‘The idea is to leverage the expertise of different agencies to provide a holistic movement for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.’
‘It starts with these sensitisation sessions which prepare businesses with a more in-depth induction on inclusion.’
Nazmus Sakib, of the Physically-challenged Development Foundation, is visually impaired and also a jobseeker. He presented at the Unilever sessions.
‘I want to be an employee and contribute to society,’ he said. ‘As a disabled person, all the time we adapt to the environment. That’s our optimism. I am glad to hear that Unilever and other companies care.’
Ashrafun Nahar Misti, Executive Director of the Women with Disabilities Development Foundation, Bangladesh, added: ‘We feel you [Unilever] will be a good stakeholder who sees people with disabilities not as a burden on society but as people who can contribute to economic growth.’
Unilever’s aim is to be the number one employer of choice for persons with disabilities and to have 5% of its work force represented by employees with disabilities by 2025.
Promoting the training to staff, Sakshi Handa, Human Resource Director of Unilever Bangladesh said: ‘It is an important responsibility for us to foster a culture for diverse talent.’
‘Going forward, we want to be able to welcome persons of disability. It is the right thing to do and we also want to lead by example in the industry disability and inclusion space.’
Nazmul Bari, Director of the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD) said: ‘Having the right attitudes about disability, that positive attitude, is very important. But that can’t just be on paper, it has to be implemented.
‘Everyone wants to be respected, everyone wants to be dignified and everyone wants to make a contribution.’
Sight savers’ Global Technical Lead Simon Brown said: ‘We find many companies want to employ people with disabilities but struggle. They are trying to be inclusive but it’s just not working.
‘The biggest barrier is conversation. Once that conversation starts, we can really understand the barrier that causes that disconnection. We can get amazing results and talent pools for companies that have never been there before.’
Leonard Cheshire’s Regional Representative Revathy Rugmini added: ‘It’s about getting the right candidates in the right positions in the right companies and embedding disability inclusion in the entire planning process.’
The webinars ended with interactive Q & A sessions where questions from the Unilever team members were addressed by the different representatives from i2i and Inclusion Works.