As more and more businesses in Australia embrace the push for gender equality in the boardroom there can be no doubt that a diverse workforce is good news for both companies and our society.
Empowering women isn't just the right thing to do. It is essential to drive social and economic progress, and sustainable business growth.
In Australia, research by La Trobe University found that over a seven-year period, listed companies with greater board diversity delivered better performance.
Furthermore, a 2015 report looking at 4,000 public companies globally found that companies with strong female leadership* generated a return on equity of 10.1 percent per year vs. 7.4 percent for those without.
The business case for gender equality has never been stronger.
As the world becomes more complex and uncertain we need more diverse voices and opinions around the table (in both business and government) to tackle the challenges facing our society and ensure long-term business success.
Throughout my working life, all of the teams I have been part of have performed better when women were involved in the decision making.
Yet despite the rhetoric and evidence, we still see huge inequalities around the world and in the workplace today. A recent ABS Workplace Gender Equality report shows the pay gap in Australia is 17.9 per cent and if we closed the gap between male and female employment rates it could boost our GDP by 11%4.
Globally, if we continue at the current rate of progress, it will be 2096 before women have the same economic opportunities as men. This is far too slow and for some businesses could be far too late - we clearly have much work to do.
As a father to two daughters (and a son), I believe that companies, and leaders, have an important role to play in driving change and disrupting the status quo. We have the ability to take action and create gender-balanced organisations but we need more leaders getting on board to make it a reality.
At Unilever, we have a unique opportunity. Women account for 77 per cent of our sales, 100 per cent of our growth and more than 40 per cent of our management teams. Women control 65 per cent of consumer spending and are the fastest growing group of shoppers in the world today.
In order to be successful and truly understand the needs, wants and concerns of our consumers we must build an organisation that reflects the people we serve; those who buy and use our products. That's why have set ourselves a goal to empower 5 million women connected to our value chain and build a gender-balanced organisation by 2020.
In Australia and New Zealand we are making good progress, taking steps to support our employees in the workplace and creating a culture and environment which encourages employees to lead healthy and balanced lives.
Flexible and agile working is becoming integral to the way we operate. We respect different work-life rhythms and actively encourage flexible work options such as job sharing and part-time. We equip our employees with the right technology so they have the ability to work anywhere, at any time as long as the business needs are met. Our new enhanced maternity and paternity program also helps to support new parents returning to work.
The momentum for a paradigm shift is here.
These options are also available for our male employees.
In 2015, a report by Bain in Australia showed that men increasingly want more flexibility in their jobs so they can play active roles as caregivers.
We want to give both women and men the flexibility they need to be able to share the caregiver role and choose how they balance different priorities in their lives, whether that be family commitments, individual pursuits or their own health and well-being.
A growing understanding between employer and employee is happening not only at Unilever but many other leading companies - and with it, we will be able to unlock the power of diverse and inclusive teams. The momentum for a paradigm shift is here.
With the signing of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, the international community recognises the importance of gender equality in achieving a more equitable and sustainable world. Yet there is no easy or quick fix to achieving gender parity in the workforce.
We must continue to work together, both men and women, and challenge ourselves as individuals, businesses and leaders to find innovative ways to make progress. There is no excuse for those companies who don't step up and take action. A truly equal world will be a better world for everyone.
• The research designated a company as having strong female leadership if the company's board had three or more women, if its percentage of women on the board is above its country average, or if it has a female CEO and at least one woman on the board.