John Murphy has been influenced and inspired by women throughout his life, dating back to his childhood in Ireland.

I've always been surrounded by strong women,” said Murphy, a 31-year Coca-Cola veteran who was appointed as chief financial officer and executive vice president of the company in 2018. “The women in my family, on both my mother and father’s side, were all strong-willed… and good people – and my family was equally split with three boys and three girls. So it always seemed natural to me that men and women should have the same runways and be treated equally.”

Murphy’s first job out of college was with Price Waterhouse in Dublin, where he worked as an auditor. “I remember working for female partners back in the ‘80s, which was the start of a new era when there were a lot more female professionals coming through the accounting and tax profession,” recalled Murphy. “It was common to work alongside or for women. So that experience reinforced my upbringing.”

This passion and commitment has followed Murphy throughout his career at Coke, which has included a variety of general management, finance and strategic planning roles around the world. We spoke with him recently to learn more about the company’s commitment to gender parity, which includes pursuing an ambitious goal to be 50% driven by women by breaking the glass ceiling and creating a culture where equal leadership is celebrated and balance is a common goal.

Why are gender diversity and women's empowerment key business priorities for the company?

For starters, the numbers are compelling. Females account for half of the world’s population, and they have a significant influence on economies at both a macro and micro level. When I was working in Latin Center, from 2008 to 2012, on the back of the inception of the Global Women's Leadership Council, we formed our own council. We consulted with a well-known leader in the inclusion and diversity space, and it was interesting to have an outside-in perspective on the benefits of an inclusive and diverse organization, especially at the leadership level where decisions are made. What I took away from that experience in Latin America, which was supported by similar insights I was hearing from my colleagues in North America, is the importance of developing the talent pipeline early on as the primary means to reach your destination. Because getting from zero to perfect overnight is a bit of a pipe dream.

Is that where you’d say we have the most work to do?

I think we've made progress, but it takes time for the pipeline to bear fruit. And part of the challenge I think we have is making sure associates in the pipeline stay motivated and feel like we're making progress and remain committed to reaching the destination we’ve been talking about for many years.

Members of The Coca-Cola Company's Global Women's Leadership Council

Speaking of the destination, the Global Women’s Leadership Council’s aspirational goal is for the company to be 50% driven by women leaders. How far are we from that goal, and what steps can each of us take to reach it?

We're a good distance from the goal. If you work the math relative to the turnover we have in those senior positions, it's a stretch to get us there. That said, there has been an uptick in focus on and commitment to the topic, evidenced by the appointment over the last 12 months of three superb female leaders: Darlene Nicosia in Canada, Lana Popovic in Central and Eastern Europe and Galya Molinas in Mexico. In addition, Christina Ruggiero is running the bottler in India. These leaders are role models for the way we want to do business and, I think ultimately, will be seen as catalysts for the progress we will make over the next two or three years. So I'm confident that we'll see continued progress. Whether the math works exactly like the ambition becomes a secondary point. Because once the momentum is there, and people see tangible evidence that leadership is committed to inclusion, we’ll know we’re on the right track.

How will the council help the company achieve this goal over the next few years?

The council has been charged to play a strong activist role to help leaders “walk the talk" in supporting the actions needed to achieve this goal. For example, on the recommendation of the council, each member of the Executive Leadership Team is now participating in a sponsorship program to help female talent navigate their career progression.

One best practice we see around the world is that active sponsorship of individuals is an effective catalyst for progress in all aspects of diversity. We’re still in the early stages, but it's really interesting and exciting to be a part of.

What role and responsibility do male associates at all levels have in terms of supporting our women?

I think of it more as what our collective responsibilities, men and women, are to create and support an environment where everybody feels included in the conversation. When I think about the responsibility someone in my position has, first of all, it's to be an active supporter and proponent of inclusion at a macro level. But secondly, it is to personally contribute to areas where you can have a direct influence. In my case, I'm very proud of work I've done on mentoring up-and-coming executives. Of the associates I've had the great privilege of investing time with and mentoring either formally or informally over the last five years or so, a large percentage have been female. If you were to challenge the top 50 leaders of the company to mentor 10 people over the next five years, that becomes a scalable number. And I think being part of a multiplier effect can be incredibly motivating.

And I’m assuming you get a lot out of the mentoring process, too. It’s not just your wisdom you’re passing on.

Absolutely. It only truly works when it's a two-way process. And in many cases, lessons learned during the mentorship process can translate beyond your job and career and into other parts of your life.

What does a good mentee mentor relationship look like?

Trust underpins any relationship. It’s the responsibility of the mentor to create, very early on in the process, an environment where the mentee feels like they can speak their mind and open up about topics that are important to them; a mentor should be a sounding board. It’s important to understand that the objective is not necessary to coach, teach or tell the mentee what to do or not to do. And those objectives can vary dramatically from person to person, so it’s important for mentors to adapt and adjust to both the content, but also in some cases, the dynamic. Some people are very organized and come into it with an agenda. Others like to show up and have a conversation. Neither are right, and neither are wrong. I'm less interested in the format. And I'm much more interested the substance.

Is there a difference between mentorship and sponsorship?

Yes. Mentoring is about being there for an individual to support whatever his or her needs are. Over the course of any given time, a mentor can be a sounding board, an advisor or just a good listener. Sponsorship takes things a step further and says, “I’m going to go out on a limb to help this individual achieve his or her career goals.” If you're sponsoring somebody who aspires to secure an overseas assignment, for example, you take it upon yourself to actively help her or him get there. To open doors and more. Of course, you have to believe in the candidate. It’s a different dynamic. Underpinning sponsorship is a commitment to investing in and really getting to know the person, and maybe as part of that you can guide and advise them to as to how to be ready when the moment comes.

Why is it important for female leaders to have both male and female advocates?

That’s a great question. When we formed the council in Latin center in 2010, the consultant advising us said to make sure to include a mixture of men and women. Initially, the men had no idea why they were being invited to participate in a women's leadership council. I've learned over the years that there's tremendous value to having insights from different lenses. And invariably, both the output and the solutions that get created as a result of that process, are better than if you have done it through a single lens.

Your career with Coke has taken you all around the world. How has this international exposure to the business shaped your perspective on the role women play in our growth vision?

It has been fascinating to live in so many different places and see how different cultures are at different stages of progress. North America and some European countries are much more advanced in their work to develop female leadership pipelines, but my sense is that women in many developing markets are on the cusp of really exploding with respect to representation in senior positions. Regardless of where you are in the world, investment in the pipeline and leadership sponsorship are universally important.

As a husband and a father of three daughters, why is this especially relevant and important to you?

It's more challenging to be objective about your own family. And sometimes it's not a bad thing to be subjective. I think it stirs passion and gets people more invested and excited. But one objective my wife and I have with our daughters is that they grow up believing the world is their oyster. That there should not be barriers in their way because of their gender. And when something like this becomes personal, you never lose sight of it. You become even more passionate about it.