At the heart of The Coca-Cola Company’s transformation into a Total Beverage Company is its goal to accelerate the growth of its portfolio of beverages, ensuring they offer beverages that meet the needs of all consumers.

Helping to drive this evolution into a growth-minded company are a handful of powerful behaviours: Curiosity, Empowerment, Iteration and Inclusion. The belief is that by continuing to nurture and promote these essential traits, Coca-Cola’s associates, the communities they serve and the company itself will all benefit and prosper.

One way Coca-Cola Canada promotes the Inclusion growth behaviour is through organizations called Business Resource Groups. Business Resource Groups – BRGs for short – provide a forum for associates to express themselves and collaborate on approaching the challenges present in their communities. BRGs also plan events to celebrate key cultural holidays, identify opportunities to educate associates on relevant issues and seek out aligned community organizations to support.

Until recently there were two BRGs serving Coca-Cola Canada – Women’s LINC and the Canada Asian BRG. That was until Mark Lawton came along.

Mark moved to Canada with his partner from England in 2016 and began working as a Customer Marketing Manager for Coca-Cola Canada about six months later. Almost immediately, Mark realized he had an opportunity to do so much more for Coca-Cola Canada than simply his job.

“It’s the role I’ve enjoyed the most in my career,” Mark began. “My experience here at Coke has been really positive, I’ve always felt like I could be my authentic self to everyone here. I realized right away that while we have an amazingly open and inclusive culture, we weren’t doing enough to celebrate it.”

As a member of an LGBTQ+ group at the last company he’d worked for, Mark knew first-hand how openly embracing the LGBTQ+ community could truly make a difference for everyone involved. Once Mark had comfortably settled into his new role, he set about getting the new BRG up and running. The first thing he did was arrange a meeting with Janet Joubran, Coca-Cola Ltd’s Vice President of HR, to discuss next steps in starting up the group.

“It was like pushing on an open door,” Mark recalled. “Janet was so pleased someone had finally come to discuss it with her. She talked about how at Coca-Cola we embrace our promise to promote inclusion, celebrate diversity and champion equality. Ultimately, she had been waiting for someone to start the LGBTQ+ BRG since BRGs are meant to be employee led. I had her full support immediately and she even put me in touch with the LGBTQ+ BRG in the US for more information on the existing network and how I could get things off the ground here.”

One of the first challenges Mark had was to set forth a clear vision and mission for the group.

“There were definitely some questions early on as to whether we even needed this group in Canada,” Mark admitted. “Canada, for good reason, is widely seen as an accepting and inclusive society. The reality however is that we all have our own biases based on experiences where we live. While I’ve been warmly welcomed here in Toronto, unfortunately that doesn’t mean everyone across Canada has.”

In terms of specific objectives, Mark has deliberately left the LGBTQ+ BRG a blank slate its inaugural meeting in September approaches. Important decisions around which events to host and what organizations to support will be made once regular meetings begin.

“It has always been important to me to leave room for this group to grow and define itself without too much influence from me in the beginning,” Mark confided. “Our main goal has to be and will always be spreading the message that everyone has a right be proud of who they are. Our membership will bring a wide variety of perspectives from various parts of the LGBTQ+ community and will include [straight] allies as well. As we prepare for our first meeting, I’m thrilled to see what ideas our members come up with to promote inclusion and enrich the lives of associates here at Coca-Cola Canada and in the Canadian LGBTQ+ community!”