I was recently golfing with my wife, Deirdre. I won’t tell you who was ahead, but a little conversation was going on regarding the increasing number of women playing the sport.

As I often find, casual conversations cause me to reflect on the issues that drive Coca-Cola’s business. This time, it was the need for us to increase the number of women within our bottling operations. 

Sunday, March 8 is International Women’s Day. As Deirdre and I lined up putts, we began talking about gender balance in the Coca-Cola system and what that means to different people. 

Because the organization I lead, the Bottling Investments Group (BIG), is largely focused on manufacturing, sales and distribution, we discussed if we have a more challenging time in achieving gender balance than our colleagues on the marketing side of the business. Traditionally, and especially in developing countries, women have had a tougher time moving up the ranks of manufacturing and sales structures. But, as I reflected on what BIG has accomplished in recent years, I realized there was a lot to be optimistic about for women in our operations. 

We are diligently working to hiring and developing women for all kinds of jobs in our operations – senior operating positions, sales team leaders, production line workers and forklift operations. These jobs are traditionally held by men. We are happy to now have a number of women in senior supply chain and commercial leadership roles, roles also historically held by men. We’ve had a number of "firsts" in our operations in 2014 and across BIG, and we now have an example of a woman doing pretty much every job in bottling – we just need more of them! 

Andry McCubbin
Andry McCubbin, general manager of Coke's Uruguay Bottler, leads a recent session.

Our path was not dictated by accident. We have taken actions that include hiring a disproportionate number of female management trainees and apprentices, establishing the BIG Women’s Leadership Advisory Council, whose main role is to advise me and other senior leaders on actions to take and to ensure we have representation on The Coca-Cola Company’s Global Women’s leadership Council. We also have a number of inward- focused programs aimed at closing the gender gap in our operations. 

In any organization, 90 to 95 percent of skills are the same for women and men, and the focus of one of our programs is on the 5 to 10 percent of skills (historically male-dominated) that will enable women to be more successful in the bottling environment. We also have a number of diversity awareness sessions in all our of our leadership programs.

Female staff members at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Uruguay.

Perhaps most importantly, our leaders are increasingly convinced that the more diverse talent we have in our business, the better our business outcomes. And female talent is the opportunity staring us in the face. We want to benefit from having male and female approaches to getting things done, and this is especially important in markets where most of our customers are female. Each of our operations is on a different journey, with different starting points. 

Overall, we are committed to becoming a great place for women to pursue their career ambitions, and we know we can only do so by continuing to be diligent in our recruitment, development, engagement and retention efforts. 

As the proud father of two young adult professional daughters, I also want to feel proud that our bottling operations can become an attractive career option for women in all kinds of roles, including the highest-level leadership positions. I will continue to hold our leaders accountable to improve our gender balance in 2015.

Irial Finan is executive vice president, The Coca-Cola Company, and president of bottling investments and supply chain.