Launching the #unstereotype initiative at the Cannes Lions, the company said it planned to "advance" portrayals of gender – particularly women - in its ads with a special focus on three key areas: role, personality and appearance.
"Roles should more broadly represent aspirations and wider achievements beyond product-related responsibilities," Unilever said. "Personalities depicted should shift to become more authentic and three-dimensional. Appearance should be presented as enjoyable and non-critical, creating a positive and creative interest in being whoever you want to be."
Unilever said it was already taking action in this area, pointing to examples such as its Glass Lion Grand Prix winning campaign 6-Pack for Brooke Bond Red Label, which depicts a transgender band in India.
The firm said it was urging marketers globally to "be aware of the outdated stereotypes of gender that advertising still propagates, and the fact that progressive portrayals are proven to not only be better for society, but better for brands".
Unilever has carried out "multiple in-depth studies" around the world that have shown more progressive advertising "generates stronger engagement, talkability and delivers better branded impact".
The announcement was made by at a panel session featuring Aline Santos, Unilever executive VP of global marketing; Hollywood actress Alysia Reiner; Juliana Chugg, chief brand officer at Mattel; Bollywood director, R. Balki; and deputy executive creative director of BBH, Rosie Arnold.
Santos said: "Stereotyping in advertising is a prevalent issue for all genders. However, our research shows that the negative effects are most keenly felt when it comes to representations of females. In fact, 40 per cent of women say they do not identify at all with the women they see in adverts.
"Advertising can be a powerful force in leading positive cultural change. We believe it is our responsibility, alongside the industry, to be at the forefront of this change by positively portraying people as they truly are today – progressive ads will lead us to a progressive future for all."