Kathleen Ciaramello

Kathleen Ciaramello

When Kathleen Ciaramello graduated from Boston College in 1985, her marketing professor advised her against accepting a position with Coca-Cola. "He didn't think Coke was good for women like myself," she recalls.

She says her professor felt the company’s culture was prohibitive to women at the time. Now, 28 years later, Ciaramello is preparing to celebrate another anniversary as vice president with the same company, Coca-Cola Refreshments. And she will be the first to tell you that Coke is a much different company today than the one she started with all those years ago. As a member of Coca-Cola’s Women’s Leadership Council, she and other women leaders have transformed the culture into one that develops, promotes and empowers women. 

Regina Maria Silva Gomes

Regina Maria Silva Gomes

Nearly 5,000 miles away from where Ciaramello works at Coca-Cola headquarters, just outside of Rio de Janeiro, Regina Maria Silva Gomes, a widow who spent years as a recycler, rummaging through trash to support her five grandchildren, is a successful entrepreneur and the proud new owner of her first home. 

These two women, seemingly unrelated -- living in two very different worlds -- are connected through Coca-Cola’s 2013 Catalyst Award-winning Global Women’s Initiative (GWI). The program is the brainchild of Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, who established the initiative in 2007 to develop and promote female business leaders inside Coke as well as empower women entrepreneurs across Coke’s global value chain. 

Building Women Leaders From the Inside 

At the head of Coke’s Global Women’s Initiative, 17 senior women leaders run the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), which develops strategy, initiatives and metrics around increasing women leadership roles at Coke. The group's results speak for themselves. Since creating the GWI, senior-level positions held by women have increased from 23% to nearly 30% globally. It’s an increase Chief Diversity Officer Steve Bucherati says wouldn’t have been possible without boots-on-the-ground work. “We had to hold a mirror up and realize that what we looked like internally didn’t match what our consumer proposition was," he said. "The fact that women were buying or influencing 70 percent of our purchases, yet only represented 23 percent inside the organization ... it just didn’t match.” 

Catalyst growth chart

Empowering Women in the Marketplace

Kathy Waller, Chair of the WLC, describes the outward-facing portion of the initiative. “This isn’t just about better placement for women in our company," she explains. "This is a worldwide activation across our value chain, and it is making a tangible difference.” That tangible difference can be felt in emerging and developing markets, where women like Gomes, who have traditionally struggled to make ends meet, are thriving through Coke’s 5by20 initiative to empower 5 million entrepreneurs globally by the year 2020.

Chief People Officer Ceree Eberly has witnessed that difference firsthand. On a trip to Brazil, she met Regina Gomes. Gomes, having lost her husband and two sons, sorted through the trash-littered streets of her favela outside Rio de Janeiro in search of recyclables.

Because of her occupation, “Regina was an outcast of the community because they called her a garbage collector, and they would not associate with her," Eberly says. “She talked about the humbleness of just having to forge ahead and do the work, knowing it was going to be sustainable.” 

Collecting recyclables gave Gomes “a reason to live” and introduced her to two 5by20 programs: Coletivo Recycling, which helps formalize and streamline recycling cooperatives, and Coletivo Artisans, which offers design training and sales channels to artisan groups.

Now, four years later, Gomes’s business and life have dramatically changed. She runs a recycling center and art store, where she sells handcrafted pieces made from recycled material. Her businesses unite the community, keep the neighborhood clean and protect the environment.

She’s no longer an outcast. She owns her own home, and people not only want to associate with her; they want to work for her. “She went from a garbage collector to being a real independent entrepreneur and leader of her community and really making a difference for those families,” Eberly adds.

Across 12 countries where 5by20 is in operation, women entrepreneurs with success stories just like Regina’s abound. “It’s something bigger than me," Eberly concludes. "It’s something bigger than all of us. And it’s a chance in this world to make a difference.”

To meet our leadership and learn more about Coca-Cola’s Global Women Initiative, watch our video: