Every company wants to gain a plural customer base. Excluding consumers is never a good idea. Promoting inclusion, in turn, proves to be a profitable strategy, as attested by consumer goods giant Unilever, which has been working on the theme of diversity both inside and outside the company for some time. But, to what extent should a company verbalize its positions, in the face of controversial issues that polarize society?
For corporate diplomat Suelma Rosa, who has just taken over as sustainability director at Unilever, neutrality is not possible. “Neutral is our detergent, you need companies that take a stand on important issues, not for consumers, for society”, says the executive. “We cannot be silent about racism, for example.”
Unilever is known for challenging values and stereotypes. Only in July, she released a campaign to discuss masculinity, rejecting the figure of the “male” and bringing the subject of personal care to the agenda. The company also removed Ben & Jerry’s products, an ice cream brand, from the territories occupied by Israel in Palestine. The Israeli government reacted violently, promising “serious consequences to the company if it does not review the position.
Opposition, says Rosa, will always exist. “There are people, I don’t know where they get these ideas, who believe in white superiority. I can’t agree with them,” he says. “When we choose to be this sustainable company, we also choose to be a company with brands with purpose. It is necessary to act.”
the paradox of tolerance
Rosa quotes the philosopher Karl Popper, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, formulator of the Deductive Hypothetical Method, standard used by science, and the Paradox of Tolerance. Born in Austria and of Jewish origin, Popper became a naturalized British citizen. In the book “The Open Society and its Enemies”, he criticizes the philosophy that gave rise to fascist movements in Europe, such as Nazism. One of the discussions revolves around absolute freedom and whether, in the name of tolerance, it is necessary to accept intolerance.
Popper claims that unlimited tolerance will lead to the disappearance of tolerance. “If we extend unlimited tolerance to the intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend the tolerant society against attack by the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, along with the tolerance,” he writes.
This idea was wrongly used to defend censorship and repression in many internet memes. However, Popper states that the verbalization of intolerant philosophies should not be suppressed, “as long as we can contradict them through rational discourse and fight them in public opinion” and reserve the right to suppress them by force.
For Rosa, the key is in values and in understanding that the situation should not change the trajectory of . “The most important thing is to keep the pillars of democracy intact, that is, the institutions. The situation is accepted”, he says.
Diversity doesn’t work without inclusion
Few companies in the world defend diversity as passionately as Unilever. The head of sustainability, however, says that the time is now to take a step further. It is necessary to consider not only women and blacks, but transgender, indigenous and refugee populations. At the same time, there is no point in hiring people differently, without including people.
“I was once the only woman on an all-male board. But I have no idea how difficult it is for a black woman. We need to make people feel safe in the work environment”, he says.
In April of last year, the company announced that 50% of managerial positions in global businesses are now represented by women, in 2010 Unilever had set a target to be met by the end of last year.
After reaching the goal of gender equity, Unilever has other challenges such as the representation of blacks and people with disabilities. Because of this, the company has been working on applications for AfroCamp, an innovation challenge focused on self-declared black and brown undergraduate students, in October last year.
Part of the inclusion initiatives takes place in entry programs. In the last internship recruitment, 5% of those hired are people with disabilities, 76% are black and there is also LGBTI+. People over 50 can also join the company in a senior internship program.
Changing the profile of employees takes place through a series of measures such as blind selection, partnerships with consultants and entities, training employees to break unconscious biases, actively seeking out specific groups such as transgender people, and more.
Who is Suelma Rosa, new head of sustainability at Unilever
Born in Maranhão, Suelma Rosa spent a good part of her life on the move. She has lived in 11 countries including Japan, China, India and Sierra Leone. In her 20-year career, the executive has already worked in the third sector, in the public sector and, more recently, migrated to the private sector. His performance has always been linked to the themes of sustainability, environmentalism, human rights and diversity. She is also a singer, pianist and chess player.