What makes Coca-Cola’s Global Women’s Initiative: Women as the Real Drivers of the 21st Century worthy of our prestigious Catalyst Award?

(a)    It has the strong support of senior leadership, including Coca-Cola’s CEO, Muhtar Kent.

(b)   Senior leaders are held accountable for producing measurable results.

(c)    It’s been applied at all levels and throughout many company units around the world, as well as successfully adapted for local implementation.

(d)   It embodies Catalyst’s vision of “Changing workplaces. Changing lives,” by transforming the lives of employees and their families, communities, economies, and societies.

(e)   All of the above.

The answer, of course, is (e).

CEO Muhtar Kent launched Women as the Real Drivers of the 21st Century for two simple reasons: it’s the right thing to do and it makes good business sense. Women buy Coca-Cola’s products for themselves and their families. In fact, they make over 70 percent of consumer purchasing decisions on these products worldwide. What company wouldn’t want to advance the interests of its most important customers and reflect the marketplace in its leaders?  

We were also impressed by two specific aspects of the program: the global Women’s Leadership Council that oversees it and the regional sub-councils that help customize it to meet local needs. Coca-Cola has made women’s advancement a priority around the world—but it understands that different regions require different strategies.

Coca-Cola’s ultimate goal is to achieve gender parity at all levels of the organization by 2020, and it is well on its way to meeting this ambitious target: between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of women leaders increased from 23 to 29 percent among senior-level women and from 28 to 34 percent among immediate pipeline women. Furthermore, the company’s recruitment of women in senior leadership rose from 13 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2011.

The initiative is also unique in that it seeks to economically empower women externally. For example, the 5by20 program is Coca-Cola’s global commitment to support 5 million women entrepreneurs in its value chain by 2020.

Each year since 1987, Catalyst has honored exceptional business initiatives that advance women in the corporate world with the Catalyst Award. We are very proud to celebrate Coca-Cola’s far-reaching initiative in 2013.

At Catalyst, we believe that closing gender gaps in opportunity, leadership, and pay will improve the world for everyone—women, men, business, and communities alike. We applaud the women and men at Coca-Cola who have worked so hard to create inclusive workplaces by advancing talented women to leadership.

Ilene H. Lang is President and Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst, the leading research and advisory organization working to change workplaces and improve lives through advancing women into business leadership.