The number of women entering the global workforce has reached an all-time high: there are now a quarter of a billion more women working than there was just a decade ago. However, according to a report published in November 2015 by the World Economic Forum, there is still a long way to go in achieving gender equality in the workplace.

The Global Gender Gap report found that there are only four countries in the world – all in Africa – with workforces that comprise more women than men. Furthermore, despite a reverse gender gap now occurring in higher education, only three countries were found to have more women than men in leadership positions. The same report estimates that it will take another 118 years until the global gender pay gap is closed once and for all.

Women nonetheless represent an increasingly powerful and dynamic economic force around the world. The challenges women face in developing markets are unique, varied and often highly complex. As Myanmar emerges from decades of isolation, its female entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders will play a critical role in transforming the country’s economy and society. 

Since The Coca-Cola Company returned to Myanmar over two years ago, inaugurating its bottling facility in Yangon’s Hmawbi Township and forming Coca-Cola Pinya Beverages Myanmar (CCPBM), it has strived to lead by example by setting new standards for gender balance in the workplace.

Manufacturing has traditionally been a male-dominated industry and remains so in many countries around the world. Only a few companies in this sector have been practively prioritising gender balance. I am pleased to say that CCPBM is one of them.

AYBS

‘Achieve Your Best Self’ helps women build confidence in the workplace and have clarity in their vision and purpose and makes sure their voices are heard.

Coca-Cola Myanmar

CCPBM has a three-year gender diversity plan which includes monthly monitoring of gender metrics and ongoing gender equity pay reviews. We also have an active women’s leadership council, which is made up of nominated female talent from across the business who help guide the company’s gender strategy. In 2015, we hired over 50% more women than in the previous year, bringing over 120 women onto the CCPBM team. By the end of last year, one-third of our supply chain team was made up of women.

While these figures are encouraging, we acknowledge that more work remains to be done. But recognizing the achievements made the past two-and-a-half years, we are proud women are represented across CCPBM’s entire business spectrum: from the production floor, to our sales team, in the finance department and so forth. We are determined to build on our progress and optimistic that our company will achieve long-term equitable change.

Developing the skills of our female employees is a core aspect of our operations in Myanmar. CCPBM’s development programme called ‘Achieve Your Best Self’ helps women build confidence in the workplace and have clarity in their vision and purpose and makes sure their voices are heard, while ‘Leveraging and Inspiring Female Talent’ (LIFT) is a regional programme that cultivates future Coca-Cola senior leaders: 10 women from CCPBM took part in LIFT programmes held in Asia last year.

In December 2015, CCPBM hosted a LIFT session with twenty-five, mid-level female leaders, including seven from Myanmar and others from operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Japan. Myanmar business and NGO leaders, including May Myat Mon Wing, the General Manager of the Chatrium Hotel Royal Yangon, and Dr. Ei Thinzar from Pact Myanmar, participated as panelists, sharing their experience on female leadership in the workplace and the power of effective networking. We support and encourage women to pursue their professional ambitions and believe that one of the most effective ways to inspire women is by creating role models. 

Coca-Cola also empowers women entrepreneurs in Myanmar. Since 2012, Coca-Cola has partnered with Pact on Swan Yi, a savings-based empowerment programme, Swan Yi, to enable more than 27,000 women in Yangon, Mandalay and Sagaing regions to gain financial literacy skills and savings. The Swan Yi partnership was recently extended another three years through mid-2018 with a USD$2 million from The Coca-Cola Foundation. Consistent with the approach of The Coca-Cola Company’s global 5by20 initiative, CCPBM knows that when women succeed, the ripple effect uplifts entire communities, leading to improved livelihoods.

CCPBM remains committed to closing the gender gap in our workplace not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. Research has proven time and again that a direct correlation exists between women’s empowerment and GDP growth. That a diverse workforce leads to a high performing workforce. With the right infrastructure, opportunities and incentives in place, women can become one of the biggest growth drivers of a country’s future, and its future generations.

We hope CCPBM’s actions will help bring about positive change in Myanmar’s workforce. We understand that we are only a small part of the big picture and realise that achieving gender balance in the workplace will require a collective effort from the private sector, civil society and government. However, CCPBM has made strides to establish a reputation among women as a place they can cultivate their long-term careers and we take pride in creating an appealing and supportive work environment. The provision of childcare, benefits, culture and development programmes all play a vital role. But perhaps, what’s most important is the fact that we empower female employees to disregard conventional ideas about the types of work that are suitable for their gender.

I am often asked whether it’s too early to expect rapid change in a newly developing economy and whether CCPBM can actually close the gender gap. I am optimistic we can; especially in Myanmar, where I see smart, hardworking women all around me. I recognize that progress will take time. But I believe the women of Myanmar are more than up to the challenge. 

Margaret Stewart is director of human resources for Coca-Cola Pinya Beverages Myanmar (CCPBM)