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Coca-Cola pens letter committing to diversity initiatives

Bradley Gayton, General Counsel at The Coca-Cola Company, joins Yahoo Finance's Kristin Myers to discuss the company's plan to boost diversity efforts in 2021.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: Coca-Cola is making a step to demand and help increase diversity in the legal profession. So let's chat that now. We're joined now by Bradley Gayton, General Counsel at the Coca-Cola Company. So, Bradley, Coca-Cola making steps to increase diversity in the legal profession by placing these diversity demands on your outside legal counsel, and we have them for everyone to see at home if we can put those up on the screen.

Now, I'm curious to know how important it is for big corporations like Coca-Cola to make these steps. What kind of impact do you think it can make?

BRADLEY GAYTON: Well, first of all, thanks for having me this afternoon. It's great to be with you.

Listen, this is-- it's fundamentally important, you know, primarily because of the speed at which business innovation is moving. General disruption of classic business models is just moving at an unprecedented pace, and it's just clear that it's important to increase diversity of the teams that are serving us because there's been plenty of data that shows that diverse teams produce better results, and we want to assemble those winning teams to help us achieve our business aspirations.

And so to the question of, you know, what can we do here and what impact will we have? I think if we band together and focus on this imperative, I think we can achieve great results in this space.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Black folks aren't just underrepresented in the legal profession. They're underrepresented in many professions. We don't see too many black Americans at the C-suite level. Can this and should this be expanded to general diversity requirements of all the firms that you do business with, not just the legal firms, perhaps with distributors or other companies along Coca-Cola's supply chain?

BRADLEY GAYTON: Yeah, so it's a really fair question. And what I would tell you is this issue in terms of being able to put together diverse, competitive teams that serve us exists across the board. You're right. And, you know, as we think about this diversity issue, it's going to be really important for all of our suppliers and us that we look representative of the communities that we serve. People need to feel like they belong, they not only belong but feel like it's a place where their unique capabilities are sought after. And so it's going to be important that I think we attack this issue just across the board.

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to highlight something in your note where I really kind of feel like you hit the nail on the head. You wrote, "The hard truth is that our profession is not treating the issue of diversity and inclusion as a business imperative. We are too quick to celebrate stagnant progress and reward intention." You go on to say, "We have a crisis on our hands, and we need to commit ourselves to specific actions that will accelerate the diversity of the legal profession."

How much of a fear do you have that at this time where we've seen so many companies make pledges, give money, hire, you know, D&I folks to work within their ranks that, frankly, these companies next year, this year perhaps, 2025, you and I are still going to have this conversation because a lot of those companies are going to do just that, celebrate stagnant progress and just reward the intention of increasing diversity?

BRADLEY GAYTON: Well, and that's why we're here today. So what became clear to me is all the work that we put in, it was important. It was necessary. But it's just woefully inadequate and not sufficient enough.

And, you know, we had diversity summits for associates, diversity summits for our managing partners. We participated in the development of associates on our account. But the truth of the matter is a year ago, I saw two firms who participated in all those programs with us publish head-shot collages of new partners-- no diversity at all. And then in September, I saw one of those firms produce yet one more of these collages announcing the opening of a new office-- no diversity at all.

So that, coupled with what I'm seeing is an impact of the pandemic on women and people of color, it causes me a concern that whatever little ground we made we'll start to lose. And so it's really important that we take it to the next level, move up the maturity curve, and really start to insist that there's consequences associated with not putting together these winning, diverse teams for us.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm wondering why you think other companies aren't making a bold step like you guys are doing over here at Coca-Cola. As you just mentioned, we have heard company after company publish white paper after white paper talking about how diversity isn't just a good thing to do but it, frankly, just makes good business sense-- as you were saying, establish winning teams. So why don't you think that this has been trickled down and some of these, you know, actions have actually been made? Why do you think that Coca-Cola is really the first one to say, hey, we're not only going to just be diverse internally but we're also going to demand that you be diverse if you want to do business with us?

BRADLEY GAYTON: Yeah. What I would tell you is that I'm hoping that the Coca-Cola Company in our legal office lead here and make it perfectly clear that there's unequivocal demand for diverse teams, and we're going to celebrate and reward the firms that produce those diverse teams for us. And I am really hopeful that other people sort of join us in this effort because when we step back and ask the question, what do we need to do here to make a difference? it was create demand and make it clear that there is a demand for these kind of teams. And so I'm just hoping that others will join us.

And then to your earlier point, not just join us in the legal profession but just imagine the impact we could have if, throughout the supply chain, people took similar approaches and the impact we could have on diversity throughout the supply chain.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Bradley Gayton, general counsel at the Coca-Cola Company, absolutely fascinating conversation. Would love to chat with you more about it again in the future. Thanks so much for joining us today.

BRADLEY GAYTON: You bet. Thank you so much.