The Coca-Cola Company is commemorating International Women's Day by celebrating the increasingly important role women around the world are playing in our growth story, and by increasing our focus on female empowerment and professional development.

Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, along with Chief Sustainability Officer Bea Perez and Global Women's Economic Empowerment Director Charlotte Oades, are participating in several events this week in New York and Washington, D.C. to reinforce our commitment to global women's initiatives.

Women are the most dynamic, fastest-growing economic force in the world, controlling more than $20 trillion in annual spending worldwide. In some markets, women own or operate 70 percent of the neighborhood stores that sell our products. And from a consumer perspective, they make an estimated 70 percent of all household purchasing decisions. As a result, women are integral to the pursuit of our 2020 Vision to double our business this decade; to our commitment to being a great place to work; and being more focused on our consumers, customers, communities and the environment.

Our commitment to women's empowerment starts within the walls of our Company. The Women's Leadership Council (WLC) was created in 2007 to accelerate development and advancement of women at Coca-Cola. The council of 17 women in leadership roles across the globe provides guidance on strategy and program development. Over the last four years, the WLC has worked mostly behind the scenes.

According to TCCC Controller Kathy Waller, who chairs the WLC, that's about to change.

"In 2012, and in the spirit of International Women's Day, we will be sharing more with the women and men of Coca-Cola about why we began this work and how it will help shape our Company," she said. "Our goal is to increase awareness and make our progress more visible."

Global women's networks will be introduced across our operations over the coming months, Waller added. These groups will be modeled after our U.S.-based Women's Linc organization and similar pilots currently underway in the South Africa and Middle East/North Africa business units.

A global People Plan also is driving our 2020 Vision to ensure we support the business through recruitment, development, advancement, recognition and rewards for all associates -- including a focus on women.

"Our global focus is having the right leaders, the right talent, with the right capabilities -- all operating in the right workplace that respects and values diversity and inclusion for everyone," said Ceree Eberly, Chief People Officer.

Our commitment to building a brighter future for women also stretches into the communities we serve. In 2010, the Company launched 5 BY 20 to enable the economic empowerment of five million women entrepreneurs across our global value chain by 2020. The ambitious initiative provides resources, including access to business training courses, financial services and support networks, to help women business owners reach their potential, support their families and strengthen their communities... and inspire millions more to do the same.

"Through 5 BY 20, we're helping break down the barriers women face when trying to succeed in the marketplace," Perez said.

Kent, who will speak at the Newsweek/ Daily Beast Women in the World Summit in New York on Friday, said we are making progress in these areas but are not satisfied.

"I'm personally committed to building our diversity overall and expanding opportunities for women inside and outside our global Coca-Cola system," Kent said. "It's good for our business, it's good for our communities, and it's the right thing to do."