Women are the most dynamic, fastest-growing economic force in the world, controlling more than $20 trillion in annual spending worldwide and making an estimated 70 percent of all household purchasing decisions. What’s more, in some markets, women own or operate 70 percent of the neighborhood stores that sell Coca-Cola products.

To highlight the increasingly important role women around the world are playing in its growth, The Coca-Cola Company is commemorating International Women's Day 2012 and increasing its focus on female empowerment and professional development.

A Key Part of the Company’s Future

In 2007, Coca-Cola created the Women's Leadership Council (WLC) to accelerate the development and advancement of women at the Company. The council of 17 women in leadership roles across the globe provides guidance on strategy and program development. Previously working behind the scenes, the WLC is now taking a more visible role.

Global women's networks will be introduced across the Company's operations over the coming months. These groups will be modeled after Women's Linc, an organization founded in 1946 and one of the oldest and largest volunteer service groups for women committed to enriching and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans. Similar pilots are underway in South Africa and in the Middle East/North Africa business units.

"Our global focus is having the right leaders, the right talent, with the right capabilities—all operating in the right workplace that respects and values diversity and inclusion for everyone," says Ceree Eberly, Coca-Cola's chief people officer.

The World Stage

According to the United Nations' WomenWatch, there are more female heads of state or government than ever, and the proportion of women serving as government ministers is the highest it has ever been. Additionally, more girls are going to school, and they are growing up healthier and better equipped to realize their potential.

Despite this momentum, there is a long way to go before women and girls can be said to enjoy the fundamental rights, freedom and dignity that will guarantee their well-being. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world's rural areas. Rural women and girls—to whom 2012's International Women's Day is devoted—make up one-fourth of the global population yet routinely figure at the bottom of every economic, social and political indicator, from income and education to health to participation in decision-making.

In 2010, The Coca-Cola Company launched the 5 by 20 program with the goal of enabling the economic empowerment of 5 million female entrepreneurs by 2020. The ambitious initiative provides access to business training courses, financial services and support networks, all designed to help women business owners reach their potential, support their families and strengthen their communities—and inspire millions more to do the same.

"Through 5 by 20, we're helping break down the barriers women face when trying to succeed in the marketplace," says Bea Perez, Coca-Cola's chief sustainability officer.

Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent also weighed in, saying, "I'm personally committed to building our diversity overall and expanding opportunities for women inside and outside our global Coca-Cola system. It's good for our business, it's good for our communities, and it's the right thing to do."