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Coca-Cola Diversity Chief Shares Recipe for Corporate Activism

By Dave Armon


Microsoft employees called for the company to stop selling technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Amazon workers have spoken up to halt sales of facial recognition software to law enforcement.

Googlers demanded the search giant end its involvement with a Pentagon research program that sought to use artificial intelligence to improve object recognition in military drones.

Corporate America has come a long way from the days when the only way a good idea could reach the C-suite was via the company suggestion box.

The gravity of issues has also moved well beyond lobbying for vegetarian options in the cafeteria or the addition of pet insurance to the benefits roster.  Previously taboo topics like race, immigration and LGBTQ+ rights are now mainstream.

“People are no longer checking those issues at the door,” says Andrew R. Davis, global chief diversity officer for The Coca-Cola Company, who addressed the Brands Taking Stands movement at the Charities@Work conference in New York.

At Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, Davis works with a seven-person diversity and inclusion team that strives to give its 700,000 employees a voice.

For many years, the massive advertising budget for Coca-Cola allowed the company to inject diversity messaging.  The iconic Hillside Singers chorus from 1971, along with a 1969 ad showing black and white boys sitting on a segregation bench, are examples of the brand projecting inclusion as a core value.

Employee expectations today are that the $35 billion company can use its influence on issues like immigration.

An impassioned plea from the head of Coca-Cola’s Hispanic leadership business resource group, Humberto Garcia-Sjogrim, prompted the beverage giant’s leadership to join 800 CEOs in signing an open letter opposing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) in January, said Davis.

In addition to relying on employee teams to spur leadership into action on social issues, Coca-Cola mobilizes using WhatsApp and has designated a quick-response task force to decide when to spring into activism mode.

Those involved in deciding when to issue a statement are Davis, the eight presidents of Coca-Cola’s business resource groups, the heads of legal, communications and human resources, and the company’s business leadership, which includes Beatriz “Bea” Perez, the company’s chief public affairs, communications and sustainability officer.

Don't miss our interview with Davis during Charities@Work:

Dave Armon headshot

Dave Armon is the Chief Executive Officer of 3BL Media, which produces the 3BL Forum and ranks the 100 Best Corporate Citizens. A former journalist, Dave spent 20 years in management at PR Newswire, where he was president and COO.  

Read more stories by Dave Armon