Kanarys Advisor Steve Bucherati on Coca-Cola’s Transition to Best-in-Class on Diversity and inclusion

 Kanarys Advisor Steve Bucherati on Coca-Cola’s Transition to Best-in-Class on Diversity and inclusion

In part two of Kanarys advisor Steve Bucherati’s presentation on his tenure as global chief diversity officer at Coca-Cola, we learn how the company became best-in-class on diversity and inclusion following their discrimination lawsuit and the work they put in afterward to rectify the culture and policies that led to the suit. 

For an overview of what happened before the company improved its reputation and did the work of becoming an industry leader, read the recap of Steve’s part one presentation

“Data rules the day,” Steve begins as he displays the diversity and inclusion data from Coca-Cola in the year 2000. When he began his role as head of diversity and inclusion (D&I), the concept had no connection to the business and focused instead on cultural awareness and education. Steve saw the lack of data  in diversity and inclusion (D&I) and went back to leadership with the idea of tying D&I excellence to the brand’s spot in the marketplace. He highlighted the popularity of Sprite with Black consumers due to the company’s work in advertising, merchandising and cultural relevance. Coke and Diet Coke were areas of opportunity for the same kind of alignment due to their middle-of-the-road marketing. 

When seeing the numbers related to sales of Coke and Diet Coke and knowing what incremental growth could bring in terms of sales, Steve knew his idea would be well-received by leadership. “The language of leaders is dollars and cents,” he explained. 

Internally, Coca-Cola’s numbers lagged when it came to women in leadership positions, specifically women of color. This is despite women making buying decisions for the very products they sold. Steve cited a saying from Coca-Cola “We want our unfair share of talent,” referring to recruiting, hiring and promoting the best talent. However, when it came to gender, the company was missing quality candidates and Steve knew that had to change. 

Steve’s approach focused on moving from minimizing differences (like gender and race) to amplifying, respecting, valuing and leveraging these differences for the benefit of the business. He knew that a company of only white men in leadership couldn’t see and seize the best opportunities for growth. Finally, Steve shared that while representation mattered, so did orientation toward inclusiveness. 

Coca-Cola then made diversity a market-based opportunity in the marketplace as well, with an understanding that their marketing teams had to be diverse in order to understand the customers and D&I had to be central to how they source suppliers and their philanthropic and community efforts as well.

How they centered diversity and inclusion at Coca-Cola

Among the challenges Coca-Cola faced as they made a significant organizational culture shift to center D&I, they had to acknowledge that the work of D&I is challenging. Personalization matters and it requires an investment of resources of time and funds to do the work well. When changes at this level are made, companies also have to reassure white men and women that D&I is not done at the detriment of their advancement. In fact, it will require white men and women to be champions of D&I in order for the work to be done, so the company began to encourage allyship over competition. 

When looking at how to continue to center D&I and leverage the assets of team and talent in the journey, Steve provided the following advice: 

  • Demonstrate how improving D&I will positively impact the company’s reputation with people and groups outside of the business, including with suppliers and philanthropic organizations
  • Leverage leadership to be part of the solution to hiring by looking at their industry contacts and who they know based on the role they fill (accounting, marketing, etc.)
  • Build and activate a diversity communication plan
  • Provide consultative services to customers

When comparing 2000 to 2015, the results of the work are clear. Coca-Cola went from zero women on their management committee to 15 percent, from women being only 17 percent of the executive workforce to 40 percent, and the percentage of multicultural/POC of the board increased to 28 percent from eight. Lastly, the incremental changes to market share by focusing on D&I led to a $1 billion increase. 

“When you can help the business grow, your D&I function is not considered some ancillary function,” Steve shared. “You become a critical part of the business.” 

We appreciate Steve for sharing his expertise with the Kanarys community. You can view the full webinar and other diversity and inclusion content on the Kanarys Resource page. We also invite you to share your story as an underrepresented professional by providing ratings, reviews and surveys about your current and former workplaces. 


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