We all know the old saying “to walk a mile in someone’s shoes”.

For the employees of Coca-Cola Amatil it has an ideological and a literal meaning.

As part of the Carbonate induction programme, the Champions of Diversity and Equality (or CoDE for short) ask new employees to participate in a diversity walk. It’s a simple procedure with far-reaching implications. Staff are encouraged to spend 15 minutes imagining what it’s like to be someone else.

“We give each person a card that has some trait, characteristic, context or life situation,” explained Rebecca Gaelic, Project Manager at Coca-Cola Amatil NZ.

“Say you’ve got to pick the kids up after to school, or you’ve got an ill parent that you’re taking care of, perhaps you have a hearing disability, or you’ve got limited mobility. Whatever it could be, we ask them to try to put themselves in that person’s shoes, then we ask them a bunch of scenarios, and ask them if they would feel comfortable.”

The CoDE was formed to represent the behaviour Coca-Cola New Zealand wished to embody.

While most people find it easy to put themselves in someone else’s place, occasionally the exercise yields unexpected results. “If we give the same card to different people, some people would say, ‘Yeah, I can be involved in that, I feel cool with it’, and other people will be like, ‘Actually, I don’t know’,” said Rebecca. “And it’s that bit, for me, that’s so interesting, and it’s so cool to discuss with them because then you get those different insights for the same little piece of context.”

The initiative is one small slice of a much larger project embracing diversity and equality at Coca-Cola. In 2011 Coca-Cola Amatil became a lead signatory to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles and established the Champions of Equality Group, which tasked seven female leaders with implementing those principles in the business.

The goal of the project is to foster a working environment that celebrates diverse talent. “In terms of the formation of CoDE, we had a real desire to help create a culture which recognises, embraces,  celebrates and leverages diverse talent, where people feel safe, valued, appreciated and significant in the organisation,” explained Wayne Simeon, General Manager of Vending at Coca-Cola Amatil and lead on the CoDE project.

“Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, ability, disability, beliefs, religion, or even sexual preference, that doesn’t matter. We’ve been hired to do a job here, and you should feel comfortable when you come to work.”

Coca-Cola takes part in many diversity events every year, including Māori Language Week, Pink Shirt Day, and the annual Pride Parade.

To that end, Coca-Cola takes part in many diversity events every year, including Māori Language Week, Pink Shirt Day, and the annual Pride Parade. “We’ve had floats in it for the last three years, putting the spotlight on our LGBTQIA community, and celebrating that,” said Rebecca.

For the UN’s International Day of Friendship, Amatil decided to celebrate mates in a simple way: sharing a coffee together. “Sometimes we get a little bit excited. Last week it was International Friendship Day, so we tried to engage people to show gratitude,” Rebecca said. “For the last few years, we’ve been printing off little cards saying, ‘It’sInternational Friendship Day. We’re going to have a coffee cart set up’. We draw on our expert barristers from our coffee team to help make great coffee for us to encourage bringing people together – it’s a simple idea but works extremely well.”

“In any business, there is always a chance to grow and mature. It was important for us to find a way to be more welcoming to newcomers. CoDE has really helped. [It is] a good group of people that are enthusiastic about making a bit of a difference and adding a little bit of flavour while having some fun along the way. I think that makes it just enjoyable.

“As much as we’re all busy doing lots of different things, no one asked me to do this. It’s not in any of my remits, it’s just something I felt compelled that I could add some value to. Now a few years into it, we’ve got a real rhythm and some good people around to help out and keep up the ideas,” she said.

Wayne believes the CoDE initiative has already delivered noticeable improvements for the organisation. “CoDE has a presence and a voice and has the ability to gain credibility over time with what we’re trying to achieve and now we’re connecting with other organisations and sharing our journey and learnings with them.”

For the future, the CoDE team are focused on being more active throughout the business including having more presence in the regional offices. “It can’t just be a top-down approach, I think. This kind of initiative doesn’t work that way.” Rebecca said. “Having more champions across the business helps support that, people who are passionate about inclusion, diversity and equality.”