WASHINGTON, D.C. – Coca-Cola Chairman Muhtar Kent joined world leaders at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Spring Meetings to participate in a panel discussion titled "Gender and Macroeconomics: What’s Next?”

CNBC Anchor Sara Eisen moderated the panel, which also included IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima, Norway’s Minister of Finance Siv Jensen and United Nations Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed.

Lagarde began the April 21 discussion by demonstrating how gender has shifted in recent years to become a priority for the IMF, “[Gender] used to not be regarded as a macroeconomic factor. It now is.”

The only male on the panel, Kent shared that he’s “a proud feminist” in describing Coca-Cola’s Global Women’s Initiative, which aims to provide development opportunities for women at Coca-Cola and build an internal pipeline of female senior talent.

“When I became CEO almost nine years ago, I looked at who were the shoppers of our products and found that two-thirds were women. Then I looked inside our company, and our women’s leadership numbers were terrible,” he said. “There was a big disconnect.”

A multi-year effort included forming the Women’s Leadership Council and adding the development of female talent to executive incentive programs. 

“It’s good for business, but also it’s also the right thing to do,” Kent said.

“It’s a journey," he added. "It’s hard work.”

IMF Panel
From left: Winnie Byanyima, Siv Jensen, Amina Mohammed, Christine Lagarde, Muhtar Kent and Sara Eisen.

IMF

He also described the company’s 5by20 initiative, which aims to empower 5 million women business owners “outside the four walls of Coca-Cola” by providing access to business skills, finance and mentorship. Kent called 5by20, which is powered at the local level by partnerships with NGOs and governments, the largest women’s empowerment initiative by a commercial enterprise. He said the program touches on all three “Ws” – Women, Water and Well-being – of company’s sustainability strategy.

“It’s a great snowball effect,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you can connect the pieces and, in the end, that it makes sense from a business perspective and creates value for a variety of stakeholders and ultimately shareowners. You can’t do it because it sounds or feels good. You have to tie it to business results.”

Kent said he is often asked how initiatives deliver return on investment. “It’s very simple,” he explained. “Women entrepreneurs in a community strengthen that community. And when a community gets stronger, our business gets stronger. It’s simple algebra that works."