Unilever’s Emily Pittman

26th July 2021

Posted In: The Interview

Emily Pittman’s native country, New Zealand, is over 18 thousand miles away. However, two years ago she made Dublin her new home with a few career stops along the way. Now the Vice President and General Manager of Unilever Ireland, Emily admits she has fallen for its city charms, “I cannot believe I have been nearly two years in the role now.  I love living in Dublin.  It’s such a vibrant, connected, and beautiful city. It’s been such a wonderful experience so far.  The move to Dublin was at the right time for my career and my family and I’ve never looked back”, she admits in her recent interview with WMB.


Heading up a territory of a massive entity like Unilever is no mean feat.  Emily has been with the company for four years having moved from her previous role in Leatherhead, Surrey as Strategy & Revenue Management Director UK and Ireland. The mother of two has a great track record of working for successful brands since graduating from Auckland University of Technology with a BA in Social Sciences, Economics and Politics.  Before joining Unilever, Emily worked for another major entity – Coca-Cola, as Head of Commercial (UK and Ireland).

As a woman in leadership WMB is curious to know if her gender matters?

“Being a woman leader is a superpower.  What really matters in leadership today is that you can bring your whole and true self to work and feel seen and accepted”, she replies.

And visibility is key in her opinion, “I also think having visible women leaders to look up to is so important.  If you can’t see it then it is hard to believe you can do it too”.

Unilever put an emphasis on D&I and for Emily this is important, “Embracing diversity in all its forms is business critical for Unilever. The good news is that we have gender parity among our managers, globally. But this is not enough.

We have to do more to improve the gender equality of our very top managers and leadership teams too.

In Unilever we are driven to create the opportunity for women to succeed and be heard through our industry leading policies and programmes that build women up and helps create greater equity in the home.”

Making Sustainable Living Commonplace

For Emily working with brands that have purpose is key and Unilever’s purpose is to make ‘sustainable living commonplace’. Established over a century ago, Unilever are one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies. “We are known for our great brands, a global footprint, and our belief in doing business the right way,” she declares. “We are a truly global business; our products are available in over 190 countries. 2.5 billion people use our products every day.”

In Ireland, Unilever are one of the largest manufacturers and have a deep and long history of serving the nation with brands like Knorr, HB, Persil, and Dove.  Most of us can identify with Dove’s ‘Real Beauty Campaign’ which has stood the test of time since its launch in the early 2000s.  A cursory look at a more recent campaign ‘Reverse Selfie’ is set to ensure the continued success of this $5 billion brand with the crucial issue of women and girls’ self-esteem once again at the top of the agenda. This time, Dove uses its new global platform to highlight the widespread damage caused by the trend for heavily edited selfies in Ogilvy’s new creative.

Doing business in Ireland is ‘energising’ and its size allows for a faster pace according to Emily. “There is certainly an entrepreneurial spirit so lots of testing and learning, like Drone delivery of B&J ice cream. Also, the population reach means that we can do so much through our brands, like the Dove Self-Esteem Project reaching 1/3 of all 11–14-year-old girls, Lifebuoy contributing to healthy handwashing and Persil offering fully plant-based formulations.  You can see how we are living Unilever’s purpose here”, she proclaims.

A More Balanced Approach

With only c30% of women holding senior executive positions across industries in Ireland (CSO July 2021), there are plenty of ways to work towards better gender balance in business and Unilever have various initiatives in place to lead the challenge. Examples include advanced leadership training to senior female executives; gender-balanced lists of candidates for all senior appointments when considering succession; Outreach programmes that encourage young students to consider careers in STEM, and annual parental webcasts which provide support to employees balancing work life and being a parent.

On the topic of gender bias, Emily acknowledges that it plays a part when reflecting on the inequality that exists and admits that through her career, she has experienced it.  To combat bias, she believes education is part of the solution, “Education is so critical here and really working on awareness and empathy to break bias down”.  Recently Emily together with the UKI Unilever board went through intensive Equity, Diversity and Inclusion training.  “Part of this training was around bias, historical, and learnt, Emily says, and

“I believe every one of us has a job to do on our own personal bias.”

Purpose and Legacy

Emily has a ‘can do attitude’ and manages to balance career and caring responsibilities with great purpose. “If you know what your purpose is then it’s easier to connect back to centre”, she advocates. “My purpose is to make great stuff happen, making impossible – possible. That drives me and keeps me in check. I also have support around me and make boundaries really clear with my family and work. Then I work on being present the best I can be.”  Her role model is her dad who has helped her be the person she is today, “He was an entrepreneur and used to take me to work with him all the time. He taught me about standards and hard work but always with a humble approach”, she reveals.

On the topic of legacy she says,

“It’s about leaving something behind in better shape than you received it.

So, planting seeds that bridge Unilever closer to making sustainable living commonplace is critical, further digitising the business to be future fit whilst building lasting and strong relationships with our retailers and consumers is key”.

It’s hard to imagine that Emily has much downtime. However, she manages “Walks by Dublin Bay (I love the water!), football in the garden with the kids and cooking – I love food and making it for others”.

Off the Cuff

•Best business lunch date – who would it be with (alive or in spirit!).

Nelson Mandela

•Ability to bring about change – what would it be?

That the next generation of women would have more confidence than those before them. I’m working on making this change with the Dove Self-Esteem Project!

•Your alternative career path?

Chief tasting officer – a good blend between science and food!

And finally, best advice to pass on –

“Take time to find out your why, your purpose”.