BusinessDay

How Coca-Cola’s DEI Strategy helps women break career glass ceiling

The urgent need to break gender inequality and discrimination against women in the contemporary world has become a recurring decimal, even in Africa.

Recent reports from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which show that Nigerian women do not enjoy equal access with men in decision-making and power-sharing, came as no surprise to many. As the NBS pointed out, nothing speaks to the gender imbalance in Nigeria more loudly than the number of representations in the various arms of government and most corporate organisations.

Women constitute about 50 percent of the Nigerian and South African population. That easily speaks to the importance of including one-half of the population for contributions to national prosperity and wellbeing. To deal with the discrimination against women in our society, there must be a clear roadmap to proffer multi-sectoral and coordinated solutions.

Attaining this goal would require adopting, strengthening, and implementing legislations that would promote gender balance in all aspects of our national life. And the private sector would need to join the fray with global standard corporate policies to drive gender parity.

This could explain why corporates in Africa converged to share best practices for leadership, gender diversity, and inclusion, all to celebrate success and learnings at the 2022 Edition of the ‘Break the Ceiling Touch the Sky’ leadership summit hosted by House of Rose Professional (HORP).

The success and leadership summit for women, inspired by the book “Break the ceiling touch the sky: success secrets of the world’s most inspirational women” written by Anthony A. Rose, chairman and CEO, HORP, proved a good opportunity to showcase The Coca-Cola System’s social impact initiative, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

The summit serves as a strategic pillar of HORP’s MISSION ‘2029 For A Better World’ – a 10-year global initiative to shape a better world through better (gender) diversity and inclusion with the ambitious goal of quintupling the number of Female CEOs (from 14 in 2020 to 70 in 2029) and doubling the number of Male CEOs (who actively advocate for diversity & inclusion) in the world’s 500 largest companies by 2029.

On how women can evolve their skills, capabilities, and learning experience to be more effective in their career, Vice President of Coca-Cola Nigeria, Alfred Olajide, acknowledged that it’s quite refreshing for him to see more women emerging in leadership positions, pushing boundaries, utilising their skills and knowledge for career breakthroughs.

He said, “I have come to realise that women are equally ambitious, if not more than men. But in a number of cases, people get held back due to a lack of confidence that they can succeed in the bigger challenges they foresee. In some instances, I have found people settling for roles that they have a higher level of capability for.

“In some instances, we’ve noticed that some women found it difficult to take risks; there is always this second-guessing whether they can do it or not. I think more women should build their self-confidence in the skills and values they bring and trust their abilities to do the job.

“Looking back at my career journey, I can say that the times I have accelerated most in my capabilities were mostly during my time working with female leaders. I can speak to this personally as I believe having the right confidence and drive goes a long way in bringing your goals to life.”

In her keynote address, vice president, Coca-Cola South Africa, Phillipine Mtikitiki, shared key highlights of her career journey, bringing to the fore how her personal goals harmonized with that of the company, which saw her rise. The Coca-Cola Company’s global goal is for women to hold 50% of leadership positions by 2030. While women make up 54 percent of the workforce in the Africa Operating Unit (AOU), six of the 18 leadership team members are female.

She observed that there were no women in the supply chain function when she started her career with the company and pointed out that as she progressed, she became the first female supervisor, while her other colleagues were men, but that did not deter her.

According to her, the workplace has evolved over time, because there was a time when women were thought to be incapable of performing certain roles; based on existing challenges, stereotypes, and the societal beliefs which constituted barriers in general. “Some roles were perceived to be too masculine for women”, she noted.

“Fortunately, there are many women in such positions today, including sales, marketing, and supply chain, doing excellent work”, she added.

On the contribution of The Coca-Cola Company to women empowerment and career fulfillment, Mtikitiki highlighted two things that worked well for her in becoming a better professional.

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She said, “First and foremost, the company’s mission was congruent with my personal mission of making a difference. And having got to where I am today, I believe we should always bear in mind how to use our current positions to be a voice for what we believe in. I am adamant that we should empower the continent’s women and youth because there are so many of them”.

“The second aspect that interests me is the mantra of the organization which focuses on doing business the right way. As an organization, we are extremely committed to sustainability. We recently launched JAMII, our Africa-wide Sustainability platform, which drives our sustainability agenda across the continent.

“As a result, we are focused on waste management, water stewardship as well as wealth creation for women and youth. This is a true passion for me, and it still speaks to me today”.

Other speakers at the online forum included, the Head of Life and Health Reinsurance, Southern Africa, Swiss Re, Carli Jacobs, who shared key highlights saying, “You cannot make time, you have to take time. Set boundaries of what you do and when you do it. Start with better equality in your own life – share responsibilities at home more equally to allow you to lean into the role you would like to play in the business world. Change the narrative, it is absolutely possible to thrive in your business and personal life as a female leader. Men should be part of the conversation, as allies at work and at home”.

Similarly, Regional President, North Africa, Egypt, Russia and CIS, Viatris, Dorsaf Essoussi, said, “Lead with empathy. Be resilient. Avoid bias selection. Raise your hand and believe in yourself”. Bringing another dimension into the conversation, Vice President: Home Care, Africa at Unilever, Lethepu Matshaba, said, “Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities. Stay curious. Be self-aware”.

The 2022 Edition of the ‘Break the Ceiling Touch the Sky’ Africa Conference has come and gone but what would endure in the minds of the numerous participants who tuned in from across the world is how Coca-Cola’s DEI strategy continues to position women such that they are able to break the ceiling and touch the sky.

Olabode, a social commentator, writes Lagos

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