Inspirational Woman: Rizwana Ahmed | Senior People & Culture Business Partner, Inclusion, Diversity & Equity, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

Rizwana AhmedRizwana 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.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am a British Pakistani Muslim female. I’m currently 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.

I studied HR Management and Employment Law at Middlesex University and my career has always been in HR. I joined CCEP three years ago as a business partner in supply chain, before moving into my current role in commercial and taking on ID&E as part of my role. This has seen me head up JustBe, CCEP’s 500-strong internal allyship programme, which aims to create a working environment where everyone’s welcome to be themselves, be valued and belong.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’m hugely ambitious – I always have a three-year career plan mapping out where I want to be, use vision boards to plan out my development, and set goals each year to help me achieve everything.

From early on in my career, being in a leadership role has been an important part of my plan. I want to be a role model to other multicultural employees, so they can see themselves represented at a leadership level.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Supply chain is a traditionally male-dominated discipline, so when I joined the industry, I was one of the few women working in my department, and certainly the only multicultural female, which was challenging. I also became a business partner at just 24, and I felt that people were questioning how I had got there and whether I was qualified to do the job at such a young age. My hope is that, by driving equity in recruitment, no one will feel this way when stepping into a role in the future.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

One of the biggest achievements of my career has been participating in and rolling out CCEP’s Equity Programme. The programme brought together twenty-five colleagues from underrepresented ethnic groups across the business, including myself, with our managers to take part in listening sessions and a structured programme of learning. It aims to understand the barriers that multicultural colleagues face in their daily lives and create actions to tackle them. It’s now being rolled out to all managers across CCEP GB and will create real positive change.

The other thing I’m most proud of is being shortlisted and highly commended for the Women of the Future Awards. I didn’t expect it at all, but it’s incredible to be recognised for the hard work I’ve put in on ID&E, driving equity and challenging leadership.

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What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I spent much of my childhood on the move and my mum was a single parent. I was the first in my family to go to university, and the first to achieve a First Class degree. This has given me huge determination and ambition to succeed, to ensure that I’m always financially independent. It’s driven me to champion multicultural employees and work to create social mobility for people from all backgrounds.

Allies have also been a vital ingredient in my achievements. One of my most important allies once told me that once you see the obstacles and microaggressions that some people face, you can’t unsee them. By creating a community of allies who truly understand the experience of multicultural employees and want to help us break down these barriers, I’ve been able to achieve my full potential.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I believe mentoring is one of the most valuable things you can do, for both yourself and others, and I’m always looking for opportunities to do more of it.

I have a longstanding mentor, Xiaolu Zhang-Coenen, who is incredible. She’s an Asian associate director based in the Netherlands, and she has played a key role in helping me to develop and progress.

I’m currently also participating in a mentoring programme with KPMG, mentoring an apprentice, which has been a fantastic experience, coaching her and supporting her in her career. I’m also part of a reverse mentoring scheme through the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), where you’re matched with someone working in a similar area in a different business. My mentee works in the commercial team at Bacardi, and we’re able to share experiences and learn from each other.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

In the future, I’d like to see every company have a truly equitable recruitment process, from start to finish, including diverse interviewing panels and inclusive job descriptions.

I want women from all walks of life to feel they can apply to a job – from single mothers, to those from non-traditional backgrounds, minority ethnic groups, and those with disabilities. This is the only way we’re going to create a truly diverse and fair workplace.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Despite my faith being incredibly important to me, prior to joining CCEP I’d never felt confident to wear my headscarf. I worried I might be judged negatively for my background or beliefs, or that it might hold me back in my career. But taking part in the Equity Programme empowered me to overcome my fear and start wearing my headscarf at work.

To my younger self, I would say: don’t be afraid to be your authentic self. It won’t hold you back in your career, and if it does then it’s not the organisation you want to be a part of.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is the roll out of the Equity programme for all managers at CCEP in GB. We’re also working on an ID&E survey. Data is power, and with accurate insights we can measure the pace of change and identify where we still have work to do.

More generally, I want to keep up the momentum on ID&E, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic, and ensure that CCEP continues to do all it can to be a truly equitable organisation, where every employee feels they can belong from day one.

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