Skip to main content
U.S. Edition

Building diversity at a global giant

CEO Neville Isdell said he remained "personally committed" to increasing diversity.


Global Office
Coca-Cola Company
Civil Rights
Corporate Governance

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- After paying more than $200 million in settlements of a series of discrimination lawsuits, Coca-Cola agreed to establish a diversity task force to ensure more minorities were represented in the company's management.

The task force, which represents both the world's largest drinks maker and the plaintiffs of one discrimination case, has been reporting annually since 2002.

In its most recent report, released this month, the task force said Coca-Cola made "notable" improvements in increasing diversity among its employees and management, but "strict oversight" was needed to prevent those gains being lost.

In a memo to staff which contained a summary of the report's findings, CEO Neville Isdell said the company remained fully committed to diversity.

The task force's report makes interesting reading for any manager looking at how to increase the diversity of the workplace -- and the ideas it produces.

It said the company had made substantial improvement in hiring minorities for management positions, as well as at lower grades throughout the operations.

"More than 51 percent of new hires at grade 14 and above were minorities, with African Americans accounting for 35.9 percent of the new hires. Women accounted for one-third of new hires at salary grades 14 and above," the task force chairman, former U.S. Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, wrote in his report.

He said the company had also made progress in hiring minorities in senior elected and appointed positions.


Herman said Coca-Cola management had successfully rebounded from an "across-the-board" decline in employee perceptions of the diversity climate in the company during the period of a reduction in staff numbers during 2003.

But he added that in many cases, minority employees' perceptions of the company's efforts were selling management short and urged improved internal communication.

"Perceptions of fairness are lagging actual company accomplishments," he said.

"Engaging with employees to address these perceptions, particularly with minority and women employees, should be an essential element of the company's efforts."

Herman, who is joined on the task force by business executives, lawyers and former civil rights officials, said "strict oversight and monitoring" was needed to ensure the improvements became permanent.

"[This is] needed to prevent backsliding, particularly to the detriment of African Americans," he said in his report.

The rate of hiring African Americans was lower than should be expected from the number of candidates, the report said. Herman urged the company to investigate why this was the case.

"In addition, survey data continue to indicate that many employees still have concerns about fairness in the hiring process, including whether the company hires the most qualified person. Addressing these concerns must be an integral part of the company's strategy," he said.


The task force was concerned that a commitment to diversity had not yet been fully translated into the company's long-term business plans.

While diversity had been incorporated into Coca-Cola's growth strategy, it said "more work remains."

"The company must demonstrate an ability to execute that strategy consistently and effectively. To that end, the Company should continue to identify and promote comprehensive linkages between its diversity efforts and business goals."

In his memo, Isdell said: "The entire leadership team and I are personally dedicated to making diversity a competitive advantage for our organization.

"Our company and our leadership must be as inclusive as our brands ... as diverse talent proliferates, ideas and innovation thrive as well."

The task force had been due to finish its work this year, but Coca-Cola requested its lifespan be extended to the end of 2006.

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
Top Stories
Get up-to-the minute news from CNN gives you the latest stories and video from the around the world, with in-depth coverage of U.S. news, politics, entertainment, health, crime, tech and more.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines