The Coca-Cola Series (Three Articles)

The Coca-Cola Company and a Conversation with Juan Johnson Vice President and Director of Diversity Strategy and Culture and President of the Diversity Leadership Academy

An Article in a Series
By Mauricio Velasquez, President,
Diversity Training Group

Ever since the IFA Educational Foundation received a $250,000 grant from The Coca-Cola Company, I have wanted to write this article. As I did my research and talked to Juan Johnson, I found so much to write about that this article is just one in a series on The Coca-Cola Company that is "in the works."

When you meet Juan Johnson, V.P. and Director of Diversity Strategy and Culture, you know you are talking to someone with a mission and a passion. He is clearly someone who knows where he came from and where he is going. The first question seemed obvious.

Who is Juan Johnson?

A company man, Juan, like many, is someone who climbed up through the ranks. Now in his 17th year with The Coca-Cola Company, Juan started as a senior accountant in Accounting Research. He held positions in Investor Relations and Corporate Communications before serving as executive assistant to the CMO, then moving to director of Learning and Knowledge Management in 1995. Johnson assumed the role of Vice President and Director of Diversity Strategies in March 2000.

What is your greatest challenge in your role at the The Coca-Cola Company these days?

Juan Johnson will be the first to tell you the term "diversity" is loaded with all kinds of baggage, myths and misconceptions. Juan constantly reiterates to anyone who will listen that the biggest misconception about diversity is that many see diversity as "solely about equal opportunity - in other words, making sure that there are enough women and minorities in the workplace." Juan goes on to tell me "but that's only one aspect of the work. In order for those people to prosper inside an organization, you have to have managers who are capable of managing diversity - who know how to seek out and incorporate multiple perspectives to make better business decisions."

Juan continues and tells me that at the core is this definition of diversity - incidentally, which I subscribe to - "any collective mixture characterized by similarities and differences" and this broadens this conversation "to everyone - including white males." As we continued to discuss what diversity is and what it is not, it seemed there were many myths and misconceptions that "kept coming up" that distract diversity change agents and leaders like Juan Johnson.

What are some of the most challenging diversity myths? (this could appear as a side-bar/or a separate but related article - your call)

I shared with Juan what I felt were the 7 Major Myths of Diversity and we agreed these myths absorb time, energy and commitment to dispel. We thought this might be a nice place to "break down some of the diversity-related mythology."


Myth 1: Diversity is a problem. No, it is an opportunity. You can't understand and take advantage of something you don't know you don't know (something you don't understand).

Myth 2: Diversity is our Human Resource Department's responsibility. No, it is my responsibility. Too many people tell me "that's not my problem; our personnel people have to handle the diversity issues." Wrong. We all (employees, supervisors, managers) play a significant role.

Myth 3: Diversity is just about race and gender. No, it is much broader than that. It used to be called cultural diversity but the conversation has become more inclusive. Please see Myth 4.

Myth 4: Diversity is about minorities and women in the workplace. No, diversity is about your internal (employees) and external (prospective clients) customers. Understanding the diversity in your employee and customer ranks and anticipating their needs can make or break your company (most likely break if you subscribe to this myth). Diversity marketing - marketing to new, increasingly diverse "emerging markets" is a hot new field.

Myth 5: Diversity is about exclusivity. No, it is about inclusivity. In other words, diversity is about all of us. If you feel diversity is about attacking the white male, you are mistaken, and the class you went through was poorly facilitated. Diversity is not about getting "them" into your corporate culture (assimilation). Diversity is about creating a culture where everyone (each individual) can thrive and contribute to your organization (integration/multiculturalism) and understand and serve your increasingly diverse customers.

Myth 6: Diversity is just another fad. If you think it is, good luck. Look at your workforce today and compare it with five and ten years ago and try to consider five and ten years into the future. Do the same analyses for your customer base. Have you seen the demographic projections for the future? It will blow your socks off!

Myth 7: Diversity is another version of Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action. No, it is very different from EEO/AA. Diversity concerns all of your employees and your customers and is all-inclusive. Minorities and women are context for EEO/AA: Major differences between EEO/AA and Diversity are:

bulletEEO/AA is government-initiated while Diversity is voluntary and company-driven.
bulletEEO/AA is also legally-driven while Diversity is productivity-driven. EEO/AA is quantitative and Diversity is qualitative.
bulletEEO/AA is problem focused whereas Diversity focuses on opportunities.
bulletEEO/AA assumes assimilation among its participants but Diversity assumes integration.
bulletEEO/AA has a strictly internal focus where Diversity focuses on internal and external issues.
bulletEEO/AA is reactive but Diversity is proactive.

Diversity is about differences and how we treat people based on those differences (for example, race, gender, sexual harassment, culture, ethnicity, appearance, military background, thinking style, working style, etc).

In closing, diversity relates to all the ways you are different and similar from other people. Diversity training is about acknowledging and understanding (not tolerating) all the ways we are different and similar and coming to grips with our own biases and prejudices (we all have them-it's natural). The intent of diversity training is to minimize prejudice and bias in your workplace and in your business practices. The impact of diversity training on the organization is to create a more inclusive work environment for your employees and customers.

In the next article in this series, we will look at The Coca-Cola Company's unique heritage and past.

The Coca-Cola Heritage A Conversation with Juan Johnson Vice President and Director of Diversity Strategy and Culture and President of the Diversity Leadership Academy

An Article in a Series
By Mauricio Velasquez, President,
Diversity Training Group

Juan, can you give us some historical perspective? What do most people not know about The Coca-Cola Company's unique heritage?

Juan will tell anyone who wants to listen that diversity is about relationships. "In our relationships with diverse communities and diverse markets around the globe, The Coca-Cola Company's record of accomplishment is unquestioned. We have a legacy of establishing high standards and accepting extraordinary responsibilities. In the late 1940's, Coca-Cola first sponsored a National Urban League arts award. Chairman Robert Woodruff personally helped raise $25 million for the United Negro College Fund in 1950 and he joined the board of the Tuskegee Institute in 1952.

In the 1960's, Coca-Cola volunteered to become the corporate icon of the New South's battle for equality. When Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Atlanta after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Coca-Cola officials single-handedly convinced many of the city's other business leaders to support an integrated dinner in his honor." This event, clearly ahead of its time, was a crucial showcase of the potential for people in the South to build a future together.

Juan continues telling me "as a product marketer, our legacy is just as rich. More than 50 years ago, we pioneered national advertising campaigns in Black media and Coca-Cola was one of the first consumer marketers to engage public relations specialists to build relationship with African Americans." Many consumers today still remember Coca-Cola's extraordinary "Hilltop" television commercial to "Teach the World to Sing." This amazing group of people holding hands provided a "lighthouse" image of diversity never before seen on American television nor previously championed by a leading corporate brand.

Juan points out "as Coca-Cola is entering the 21st Century it has weathered some significant challenges. From a difficult contamination scare to a discrimination lawsuit, Coca-cola is entering a period of New Life." Juan tells me "with humility, we are studying the lessons of the recent past. With confidence, we are proudly embracing Coca-Cola's legacy of leadership and achievement to quickly and diligently renew relationships with consumers, employees, and stakeholders around the globe."

In the next article in this series we will explore what Coca-Cola is presently doing - The Coca-Cola Company today.


The Coca-Cola Company Today A Conversation with Juan Johnson Vice President and Director of Diversity Strategy and Culture and President of the Diversity Leadership Academy

An Article in a Series
By Mauricio Velasquez, President, Diversity Training Group

In the last submission to this series Juan you mentioned there is a "New Life" at The Coca-Cola Company, can you elaborate?

Juan shares that our "New Life refers to The Coca-Cola Company's recommitment to the fundamentals that enabled Coke to open the eyes of the world to the potential of diversity more than 30 years ago. In this new century, managing diversity is a key priority. We are resolved to become a gold standard for diversity."

How are you transforming The Coca-Cola Company to be the "gold standard for diversity?"

Internal Initiatives

bulletRequired annual training built around core diversity course "Leveraging the Power of People and Ideas" for all U.S. based employees, beginning with senior executives and managers
bulletEstablished Employee Forums and developed supporting principles to help groups organize and flourish (networking groups, support networks or affinity groups)
bulletCreated KO Discussion Forums that facilitate open and ongoing dialogue between employees and senior management
bulletProject Hilltop promotes the value of diversity with bi-monthly cultural celebrations. These events are conceived, developed and executed by employees who submit concepts and recommendations for the cultural celebrations at our intranet site (Hilltop)
bulletA Formal Mentoring Program - is being piloted by the North American business unit and will be used as a model for launching a formal corporate sponsored mentoring initiative throughout the U.S.

External Initiatives

bulletCoca-Cola made a five-year $1 billion commitment to diversity in a comprehensive empowerment and entrepreneurship program for the U.S. - determined to be model corporate citizen
bulletMinority Supplier Commitment will increase more than 50% to an average of $160 million per year over the next five years - spending with minority- and women-owned businesses
bulletCoca-Cola is increasing Company investments in local economies through urban economic partnerships, including a 50-community expansion of the urban customer partner program and increased marketing investments to strengthen local retailers and entrepreneurs. Total investment of approximately $50 million.