Deauville, France -- Empowering women and supporting gender equality is crucial on both moral and practical grounds, the chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company said this week during a keynote interview and panel at the Women’s Global Forum Meeting.

In a session titled “Why I am a Feminist,” Muhtar Kent said advocating for women is not only the right thing to do but can also help companies, communities and nations grow and succeed. The 21st Century, he said, will be “the century of women” as more women have greater opportunities to succeed professionally and as entrepreneurs.

“Over the last 20, 30, 40 years, there has been tremendous progress made in this area. So I think we should build on [that] and see how we can all take it to the next level,” Kent said.

The Coca-Cola Company has been on a productive journey in women’s leadership in recent years, from establishing a Women’s Leadership Council, Women’s LINC and other internal initiatives, to the ongoing progress of 5by20, Coca-Cola’s external commitment to help empower 5 million women entrepreneurs globally over the course of this decade.

Inside Coca-Cola, women now account for 32 percent of senior leadership roles, up from 23 percent in 2008. Meanwhile, the number of women in mid-level management has risen from 28 percent to 36 percent. Separately, Coke's Women-in-Leadership program has accelerated the development of more than 500 women employees.

Explaining the rationale behind 5by20, Kent said, “Working inside the company for an organization as international and diverse as ours is not enough.”

By the end of 2015, the Coca-Cola system and its partners had reached 1.2 million women entrepreneurs with business training, mentoring and improved access to capital.

Muhtar Women's Forum

From left: Nang Lang Kham, group executive director, KBZ; Claire Doole, former BBC correspondent; Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Company; Brandi DeCarli, founding partner, Farm from a Box.

For the first half of the session, Kent was interviewed by Claire Doole, a former BBC correspondent. Later, the two were joined by KBZ Group Executive Director Nang Lang Kham and Brandi DeCarli, founding partner of Farm from a Box.

In a wide-ranging discussion with his fellow panelists, Kent shared his strong support for “golden triangle” solutions that bring together the distinctive expertise of business, government and civil society organizations.

Asked about the greater gender diversity of Coca-Cola’s board of directors, Kent said, “To make it sustainable and successful, you’ve got to believe in it and recruit the right people on your board [and] we’re not going to sit still.”

Kent noted the importance of key women in leading Coca-Cola’s global system and stressed that educational systems need to evolve to ensure that the training they provide matches up well with the world’s evolving employment needs.

Muhtar Kent meets with Coca-Cola France associates after the forum.

After the session, Kent met with a small group of local Coca-Cola colleagues. He outlined the company’s commitment to marketing not only its beverage brands but also the category of ready-to-drink beverages and the company itself.

Mentoring, Kent said, will continue to be a key part of helping women achieve their full potential at Coca-Cola. He also encouraged the local team to make time to listen to the perspectives of millennial consumers.

On the subject of enhancing and protecting Coca-Cola’s reputation as a business, he said it was essential to “do the right thing first” and later decide how best to tout those achievements.