Equality: How Coca-Cola Europacific Partners is empowering multicultural colleagues

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Article provided by Rizwana Ahmed, Senior People & Culture Business Partner – Inclusion, Diversity & Equity GB at CCEP

Coca-Cola has long been associated with tolerance and cultural diversity – perhaps most famously with the iconic “hilltop” advert, first aired 50 years ago.

Yet, at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), the largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola globally, we recognised several years ago that we needed to do more to create an inclusive and equitable workplace where Everyone’s Welcome.

A key element of that journey has been recognising that simply aiming to create equality in the workplace fails to take into account that not everyone starts in the same place and some people face barriers that others do not. Instead of trying to treat everyone the same, we instead need to create equity.

This was the aim of the Equity Programme, which was launched in GB in 2019 and I both led and participated in. It was the start of a journey which I hope can inspire and assist other organisations to follow our lead.

Listening and learning

We understood that to create positive change we first had to listen to our multicultural colleagues to fully understand the barriers they face in their daily lives and, from that, create a programme which would help break down those obstacles.

We started by hosting small group sessions with multicultural employees from across CCEP, which highlighted some common themes, including a lack of belief in opportunities for multicultural staff and the sense of a lack of multicultural representation in management.

This was the genesis of the Equity Programme.

As the name suggests, at its heart it’s designed to give our multicultural colleagues a sense of ownership and belonging – a feeling that they are valued and can be themselves.

The initial pilot brought together twenty-five colleagues from underrepresented ethnic groups across the business and their managers to learn, listen and create opportunities that empower staff from all backgrounds to thrive.

Communicating and collaborating

The six-week programme has two main parts.

Learning is key and the programme includes structured modules focused on the challenges faced by people from multicultural backgrounds.

All people managers receive inclusion training to really help them understand their colleagues’ lived experiences, including the biases, stereotypes and microaggressions they suffer.

Multicultural team members then progress through a programme of virtual learning with their managers, working in partnership to collaboratively build solutions for equitable change.

At the end, each multicultural team member leaves with a bespoke career development plan designed to help them achieve their full potential, as well as a manager who understands their ambitions, recognises the challenges they face, and has their back.

It’s important to have these actionable, measurable objectives and accountability to prove that an organisation is sincere in its desire to change and show participants that it is worth getting involved.

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A life-changing experience

My own personal experience in the Equity Programme was life changing.

Before it started, I definitely wasn’t being my full self, but my faith is really important to me and the Programme empowered and encouraged me to wear my headscarf with pride and be my true authentic self at work.

The actions and achievements that have come out of the Programme are wide ranging and are creating real positive change across the business already. But from my perspective, I would say the biggest change is that it’s given me a voice and the confidence to speak out about what’s important to me.

Perhaps the most important outcome of that for me personally is that I’ve been able to challenge my leaders harder than ever, for example on recruitment. It’s really important to me to ensure that we have diverse interviewing panels, so we can help to bring diverse talent into the business.

Committed to change

We came away from the pilot programme with six key areas where we want to drive change in the business: improving learning and development opportunities for multicultural staff, equity in recruitment, creating a community of cultural ambassadors as allies, data and accountability, and mentoring, role modelling and storytelling. By having these direct outcomes, we can make sure that the Programme creates change where it’s needed the most.

So far, 50 people from across the business have completed the programme, which we now plan to roll out across CCEP GB. However, this isn’t a process that just ends after six weeks.

We never stop trying to learn and we are always open to new ideas and perspectives.

That can sometimes mean hearing some uncomfortable home truths, but if you are truly committed to change and not just ticking boxes, it’s the only way.

My ambition now is that every single manager experiences the Equity Programme in the next year and for all my multicultural colleagues to have their lives changed for the better, just like I did.

But the ultimate happy ending will be to create an organisation that lives and breathes equity naturally, without having to make a conscious effort. Now that’s perfect harmony!

Rizwana AhmedAbout the author

Rizwana Ahmed is a Senior People & Culture Business Partner – Inclusion, Diversity & Equity (ID&E) GB at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP), the largest independent bottler of Coca-Cola globally.

She is a British Pakistani Muslim female who champions diversity and inclusion across the business. She leads the company’s JustBe allyship programme, as well as its 500-strong Cultural Ambassadors group. Rizwana was recently shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards.

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