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How Coca-Cola’s DEI initiative aid women break career glass ceiling

by Goddy Ofose
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The urgent need to break gender inequality and discriminations against women in the contemporary world has become a recurring decimal, even in Africa and Nigeria.

Recent statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that Nigerian women do not enjoy equal access with men in decision making and power sharing came as no surprise to many. As the NBS pointed out, nothing speaks to the gender imbalance in Nigeria more loudly than the number of representations in the various arms of government and most corporate organisations.  

Women constitute about 50 per cent of the Nigerian population. That easily speaks to the importance of including one half of the population for contribution to national prosperity and wellbeing. To deal with the discrimination against women in our society, there must be a clear roadmap to proffer multi-sectoral and coordinated solutions.

Attaining this goal would require adopting, strengthening, and implementing legislations that would promote gender balance in all aspects of our national life. And the private sector would need to join the fray with global standard corporate policies to drive gender parity.

This could explain why corporates in Africa converged to share best practices for leadership, gender diversity, inclusion to celebrate success and learnings at the ‘2022 Break the Ceiling Touch the Sky® list of Africa’s Most Inspirational Women’ in leadership. 

It was a good opportunity to showcase The Coca-Cola System’s social impact initiative, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The success and leadership summit for women, inspired by the book “Break the ceiling touch the sky: success secrets of the world’s most inspirational women” written by Anthony A. Rose, Chairman and CEO, HORP.

The summit, which serves as a strategic pillar of HORP’s MISSION 2029 FOR A BETTER WORLD – the 10-year global initiative to shape a better world through better (gender) diversity and inclusion with the ambitious goal of quintupling the number of Female CEOs (from 14 in 2020 to 70 in 2029) and doubling the number of Male CEOs (who actively advocate for diversity & inclusion) in the world’s 500 largest companies by 2029.

On how women can evolve their skills, capabilities and learning experience to be more effective in career, Managing Director/Vice President of Coca-Cola Nigeria, Alfred Olajide, acknowledged that it’s quite refreshing for him to see more women emerging in leadership positions, pushing boundaries, utilising their skills and knowledge for career breakthroughs.

He said, “I have come to realise that women are equally ambitious, if not more than men. But in a number of cases, people get held back due to lack of confidence that they can succeed in the bigger challenges they foresee. In some instances, I have found people settling for roles that they have a higher level of capability for.

“In some instances, we’ve noticed that some women found it difficult to take risks; there is always this second-guessing whether they can do it or not. I think more women should build their self-confidence in the skills and values they bring and trust their abilities to do the job.

“The period where I have accelerated most in my capability, many of them was when I had female leaders. These are the things I have experienced myself and I believe that the confidence and believe to go for it will go a long way and make a big difference on this journey.”

In her contribution, Vice President, South Africa Franchise, the Coca-Cola Company, Phillipine Mtikitiki shared her career journey experience bringing to the fore how her personal goals harmonized with that of the company, which saw her rise. She expressed optimism that she would rise higher.

She observed that there were no women in the supply chain when started her career with the company and pointed out that as she progressed, she became the first female supervisor, while her other colleagues were men, but that did not deter her.

According to her, the workplace has evolved over time, because there was a time when women were thought to be incapable of performing certain roles; based on existing challenges, stereotypes and the societal beliefs which constituted barriers in general. “Some roles were perceived to be too masculine for women,” she noted.

“Fortunately, there are many women in such positions today, including sales, marketing and supply chain, doing excellent work,” she added.

On the contribution of the Coca-Cola Company towards female empowerment and career fulfilment, Mtikitiki highlighted two things that worked well for her in becoming a better professional.

She said, “First and foremost, the company’s mission was congruent with my personal mission of making a difference. And having got to when I am, it’s now about how to use your current position to be a voice for what you believe in, in my opinion. I am adamant that we should empower the continent’s women and youth because there are so many of them.

“The second aspect that interests me is the mantra of the organization which focuses on doing business the right way. As an organization, we are extremely concerned with sustainability. We recently launched JAMII, which is a sustainability platform. We deploy this platform to orchestrate, coordinate, and drive our sustainability agenda.

“As a result, we are focusing on water and waste management, as well as empowering women and youth. This is a true passion for me, and it still speaks to me today.”

Other speakers at the online forum include, Head of Life and Health Reinsurance, Southern Africa, Swiss Re, Carli Jacobs, who said, “You cannot make time, you have to take time. Set boundaries of what you do and when you do it. Start with better equality in your own life, share responsibilities at home more equally, to allow you to lean into the role you would like to play in the business world. Change the narrative, it is absolutely possible to thrive in your business and personal life as a female leader. Men should be part of the conversation, as allies at work and at home”.

Similarly, Regional President, North Africa, Egypt, Russia and CIS, Viatris, Dorsaf Essoussi, said, “Lead with empathy. Be resilient. Avoid bias selection. Raise your hand and believe in yourself.” Bringing another dimension into the conversation, Vice President: Home Care, Africa at Unilever Lethepu Matshaba, said, “Don’t prioritize your schedule, schedule your priorities.  Stay curious. Be self-aware.”

The the ‘2022 Break the Ceiling Touch the Sky® Africa Conference would have come and gone but what would endure in the minds of the numerous participants across the world is how Coca-Cola’s DEI is helping women break the ceiling and touch the sky

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