Being a Diversity-Focused Business is No Longer an Option


Carlton Curtis, vice president, industry affairs of Coca-Cola Foodservice, is the current chairman of the International Franchise Association Educational Foundation’s Diversity Institute and a member IFA’s board of directors. He recently met with his colleague, Steve Bucherati, Coca Cola North America’s chief diversity officer, to discuss the company’s global diversity programs. The key message:  whether you operate in only one community or, like Coca-Cola, in more than 200 countries in every corner of the globe, being a diversity-focused business is no longer an option

Bucherati: How have diversity efforts in the marketplace changed since Coca-Cola first founded its diversity initiatives?

 The multi-cultural consumer has always been extremely important to Coca-Cola. Diversity is at the heart of our business, and diversity efforts reach across every aspect of our business − workplace, marketplace, supplier relationships and community. Beginning more than 50 years ago, our diversity efforts were focused on marketing a few of our major brands to ethnic consumers in the United States.  Today, marketing to multi-cultural consumers is a very significant portion of our total business, and will continue to provide significant growth opportunities in the future. Coca-Cola’s Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent likes to say that “Everything we do in terms of diversity is based on a simple, powerful and global premise: our diversity should be as inclusive as our brands.”

Bucherati: Why does/should diversity remain a top priority for established and emerging companies?

 Diversity is no longer an add-on program. Having a diverse workplace and recognizing we live in a multi-cultural world is critical to the sustainability of a company and its business. It’s about retaining and growing market share. It’s about protecting and growing a brand’s reputation in the communities in which it operates. And it’s about retaining and attracting a highly diverse work force that can “see and seize” the opportunities in both the marketplace and the community. When companies have a culture of diversity, inclusion and fairness, they can yield the real power of diversity − the synergies that result when different people and cultures come together united behind a common goal of winning and creating shared value.

Bucherati: Diversity is often defined by ethnicity or gender. How does Coca-Cola define its efforts?

Curtis:  We define diversity very simply − “difference.” We have a strong focus on ethnicity and gender, but our hiring and marketing efforts are inclusive of different generations, sexual orientation and gender identities, learning styles, and so forth. In essence, we recognize that “difference” is something that should be respected, valued and leveraged.

Bucherati: Since launching the global diversity mission, what changes have you seen at Coca-Cola? Are there best practices you’ve encountered? Are there any failures that might help companies that are setting up similar initiatives?

 We launched our global diversity work with our Global Women’s Initiative in late 2007. This initial work was focused on accelerating the development and movement of women into leadership roles in the more than 200 countries in which we do business. The most important learning throughout our first six years of this work is that while this is a global initiative, the approach we take must be relevant locally − across cultures and geography. So while we have developed a number of global strategies, initiatives and actions in support of the GWI, we know that implementing them across geographies will be most successful when the work is further built out by local staff in a way that meets the needs of the business at that location at that moment in time. This creates a cascading effect and it is more authentic and impactful. Our work with GWI led to the launch of our 5by20 Women’s Economic Empowerment Program. The Coca-Cola Company committed to economically empowering 5 million women across our entire business system by 2020. This is a lofty goal, and we are seeing great success. We’ve more than doubled the number of women in our assessment and development programs. We credit the success of this program to our local approach, similar to the GWI, working with one woman at a time, in one community at a time, but across the globe.

Bucherati: How has Coca Cola’s inspired efforts to gain a work force more reflective of the population benefited the workplace/culture? How have they benefited the company’s performance?

 A more diverse work force, with its breadth and depth of diverse perspectives, has created an environment where we are able to see a wider variety and number of business opportunities, we are able to better innovate and we are able to better problem-solve. This allows everyone in our work force to contribute in more meaningful ways. As a for-profit company, we also have to look to our marketplace and mirror our consumers. As an example, we founded our 5by20 women’s initiative because of the numbers − women are the drivers of the commerce in the 21st century, controlling $20 trillion in spending. It just makes good business sense to economically empower women − whether that’s through gender parity within our organization or to support female entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets.

Bucherati: What would you say are the top considerations for franchisees just starting a diversity initiative?

 Start by thinking about the consumers you serve, and ensuring your company is relevant to them in every way. Think about your marketing − is it speaking to them in their “cultural language?” Does your work force reflect your consumer base at every level, including top leadership? Do your community-based efforts connect to your customers in authentic ways? Asking these questions of your business will help retain current consumers and attract new ones. After your business has achieved relevance to the current consumer, then successful companies and franchisees should look to those consumers you may not be serving today and develop strategies and initiatives − including the marketplace, workplace and community − that will engage and enroll those additional consumers.

Bucherati: Are there any roadblocks that the franchise community should watch out for?

 As I’m sure the franchise community already knows, the competition for talent in today’s marketplace is fierce, so establishing a strategic talent acquisition, development and retention plan is critical. Acquiring talent sounds like the easy part, but in today’s competitive marketplace, we advise our partners to think about hiring in the same way they would think about marketing − identifying what sets them apart from the competition, then communicating that to potential candidates. It’s also important to “fish where the fish are,” meaning that you can’t just source and recruit from the general market and expect to do well in attracting diverse talent. Successful companies understand both where strong, diverse talent is looking for career opportunities, and, in today’s digital landscape, how they are finding opportunities. Once that is established, successful companies can develop a strategy that allows them to source from that well of successful, diverse candidates.