Alison Watkins knew about gender equity before she could even spell the words. “I had a father who encouraged my interest in farming and made me feel useful from a young age, by teaching me to ride motorbikes, drive the tractor and the ute,” recalled Alison. “He thought it was important to get us girls involved in the stock-market and bought me my first shares.”

Throughout her life, Alison has been surrounded by people encouraging her to be her best self. But not nearly enough women are encouraged in the same way: as the Managing Director of Coca-Cola Amatil, Alison’s only one of four female CEO’s in the top 50 ASX companies, despite the fact women make up more than half our population.

Growing Future Leaders

To ensure that Coca-Cola employees are given every opportunity, female staff recently participated in a three-day workshop that provided them with tools to be their best self. Participants were asked to consider their personal leadership experience, and to identify their goals for the future.

Future leaders were asked to identify what was truly important to them - not only in a work context, but throughout their entire lives. “It wasn’t all about their career; it was about people leading their lives more positively,” explained Coca-Cola Director Talent & Development South Pacific & ASEAN, Amy Stanley. “We really got people to start thinking about their vision and their values and their purpose in life.”

The program forms part of a worldwide push by Coca-Cola to grow female leadership within the organisation. "We have a focus globally on developing female talent in more senior roles throughout the organisation," said Amy. “We want to focus on our high-potential female talent, and get a better understanding of where they’d like to take their careers.”

What’s Your Purpose?

Participants clearly relished the opportunity to dedicate some time for self-development. “We rarely set aside time to develop ourselves and self-reflect,” said Coca-Cola South Pacific paralegal, Maria Poullos. “It was quite challenging over the three days to think about your purpose in life and your personal vision, but it was a good challenge.”

Trade marketing manager for Rekorderlig Cider, Taryn Baker, realised that she needed to invest time to consider what she wants - both personally and professionally. “I also realised that there are a bunch of amazing women that I work with!” she said. 

Taryn believes that to develop the next generation of CEO’s, companies need to support their female employees. “It’s as simple as tapping women on the shoulder and encouraging them to apply for leadership roles,” she said. “It will give them the re-assurance they need that they are doing a great job.”

The Next Generation

Alison believes strongly that men as well as women make a difference to women reaching their potential at work. “It's the way you are raising your children to understand they can do anything.  The way you are conscious of ensuring your girls stick at their maths and team sports,” she said.

“The way you encourage them to think about all futures as possibilities and point to female role models from all walks of life. It's the role you play as partner and parents, your decision to share the second shift at home.  It's the way you make a difference to women in your workplace, the risks you take to create opportunities for them and help them succeed, including importantly, in line roles.”

Alison feels she has a responsibility to be successful for all the women who will become CEOs in the years to come.

“It’s how I will contribute to changing the perceptions of what a female leader is and to accelerating the day that will come when the term ‘female CEO’ doesn’t evoke any particular perceptions at all.”