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nowhere near as diverse as the workers in the nation’s call centers, warehouses,
and retail shops, or as the customers they serve.
Assuming that the will to do something more than admire this problem
can be mustered within nondiverse leadership teams (and by no means should
that be considered a given), what should that something more be? Newkirk
offers a few hints in two chapter-length cases that embody the book’s shaky
prescriptive content: one involves the Coca-Cola Company, the other the
National Football League.
The former case dates back to 2000 and a high-profile class-action lawsuit
that resulted in Coca-Cola paying a $192.5 million settlement for racial
discrimination — the largest such settlement in legal history. (The median pay
for African American employees at Coca-Cola was $36,596; for white employees,
it was $65,531.) In addition, the company agreed to become the gold standard for
diversity in the corporate world. To ensure accountability, a seven-member task
force was appointed to oversee Coca-Cola’s efforts to address endemic racism
with a program of systemic and cultural transformation. “Over the next four
years,” explains Newkirk, “the climate and composition of Coca-Cola’s workplace
began to change, first gradually, as the task force nudged and sometimes dragged
the company into compliance with the court agreement.”
The diversity effort really took off with the 2004 appointment of E. Neville
Isdell as chairman and CEO. Isdell, who was born in Northern Ireland but grew
up in Zambia and spent the first part of his career working for Coca-Cola in
Africa, drove the initiative until his retirement in 2008, and then his second-in-
command, Muhtar Kent, the U.S.-born son of a Turkish diplomat, picked up the
reins until 2017. By 2019, the attention of these two CEOs for 13 years (and
James Quincey, CEO since 2017) had driven the minority composition of Coca-
Cola’s 727-member leadership team up to 24.3 percent — a lthough that is still not
representative of the U.S. population at large or the company’s U.S. workforce,
which is 32.3 percent minority. The lesson: D&I transformations require
committed and long-term leadership from the top.
The National Football League case dates back to 2002, when two African
American head coaches (of five in the 80-year history of the league) were fired in
two weeks, leaving just one African American head coach in a league in which 67

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