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Celebrating women in STEM

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"There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish." – Michelle Obama. This powerful statement resonates deeply at Unilever, where innovation isn't merely about products but about building a brighter, more equitable, and sustainable future. At the forefront of this mission stand 780 brilliant scientists and engineers based in R&D in India, about half of whom are women. This defies the patterns where the share of women in R&D jobs in India, even in the private sector, is only 16% i.e. 1 female scientist for every 6 male scientists.

An illustration of a scientist looking through a microscope

This commitment to gender equality is a steadfast philosophy in our core values. It is meticulously woven with threads of meaningful work, flexible policies, and empowering leadership.

Addressing this subject, Saswati Pujari—Senior Research Scientist, Product Engineering, Unilever—made a poignant observation about how prevalent stereotypes have often gotten in the way.

"In India, the number of women in STEM roles is skewed because often women carry a disproportionate burden of child-care and household work.”

  1. The need for positive female role models

    It is abundantly clear that for most STEM professionals, their journey started right from childhood. The journey of Shruti Kashyap, Chief IT Officer, Hindustan Unilever Limited, was no different.

    Image of Shruti Kashyap, Head IT, Unilever, South Asia

    As a child, I was always fascinated with "how things work" – whether it was the human body, a TV set or a cassette player. When science became a formal subject in our classes, I used to find it a lot of fun going to the labs for experiments. That was what formed the basis of my biology preference in undergraduate and electronics and computer science as a graduate.

    Shruti Kashyap

    This underlines the importance of flaming the fire of curiosity and nurturing it as a vital process for young enthusiasts to develop into STEM professionals. Having the right role models to guide the children, especially female role models for young girls, is key in helping them visualise a journey for themselves.

    Supriya Punyani, Head R&D Hair, Unilever, South Asia, embodies the spirit of HUL's unwavering commitment to women in STEM. Fuelled by childhood curiosity and a desire to make a difference, she navigated the STEM landscape, drawing inspiration from female role models who instilled in her the values of assertiveness, pragmatism, and compassion.

    Image of Supriya Punyani, Head R&D, Hair Care, Unilever, South Asia

    The drop in the number of women in STEM after graduation could be due to lack of guidance, work-life balance pressures, and limited role models

    Supriya Punyani

    She advocates for exposing girls to diverse STEM fields through initiatives like bringing them to spend a day in the corporate world, showcasing vast opportunities, and interacting with STEM role models at all levels. Additionally, creating opportunities in remote areas for STEM women is crucial to bridging the gap and unlocking their potential.

  2. HUL's active advocacy for empowering women in STEM

    HUL CEO & MD, Rohit Jawa along with the HUL STEM scholars.

    Recognising the need to nurture future generations of female STEM leaders, last year, we launched the HUL Women in STEM fellowship. This initiative empowers pioneering scientists like those in reputed colleges such as IISc Bangalore, supporting their research aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

    HUL actively tackles challenges through concrete initiatives and flexible work hours that empower mothers to excel in their careers while balancing personal commitments. Daycare facilities provide crucial support for working parents, and access to parallel higher education opportunities empowers talented individuals.

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    HUL’s merit driven culture is what has empowered me the most. The fact that no one looks at my work through the lens of what gender I am, but rather how well I am doing it, inspires me to shoot for excellence in every endeavour.

    Saswati Pujari
  3. Empowering women in STEM for a sustainable future

    Alongside, Srilaxmi Medepalli—Principal Research Scientist, Home Care—stands as a beacon of empowerment in STEM. Her words echo with resilience and determination as she champions the message of believing in one's capabilities and breaking barriers.

    Image of Srilaxmi Medepalli, Principal Research Scientist, Home Care, Unilever

    Believe in your capabilities, empower yourself by tackling challenges with unwavering determination, and finally, don't hesitate to break the norms.

    Srilaxmi Medepalli

    Srilaxmi's journey in science and technology is not just about personal success but about paving the way for others, showing that any challenge can be overcome with unwavering determination.

    Another shining example of women innovating for a sustainable future is Saswati Pujari. She embodies the ethos of HUL's dedication to environmental stewardship. Her quest to infuse skin cleansing products with environmentally benign ingredients underscores her scientific prowess and her deep-rooted passion for preserving our planet. With every formulation she crafts, Saswati is not just creating products; she's crafting a greener, more sustainable future for future generations.

  4. Overcoming biases and paving the way

    HUL is on a journey towards a more inclusive and equitable future for women in science and technology. By tackling biases, providing opportunities, and nurturing talent, we aim to create a world where STEM thrives on the brilliance of diverse minds, regardless of gender. It is important to celebrate the women who are already leading the way and empowering the next generation to follow their dreams, proving that science and technology are playgrounds for innovation and impact, open to all.

    "The struggles for women at work are the same whether it's a STEM career or Finance or MBA. A lot more work can probably be done around building more awareness of STEM careers," says Shruti Kashyap, hammering home the point about the need for greater awareness for young women about the possibilities in STEM.

Science and technology are not just tools for progress but catalysts for change. By empowering women in STEM and creating a culture of inclusivity, HUL is shaping a future where sustainability, innovation, and equity go hand in hand.

Image of Neha Srivastava, Product Design & Development Group Leader, Health Food Drinks, Unilever, South Asia.

STEM has unimaginable opportunities to offer, not only there is a lot to learn, but it provides an opportunity to make a difference to the society at unprecedented scale.

Neha Srivastava, Product Design & Development Group Leader, Health Food Drinks, Unilever, South Asia

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