2015 Honoree

Beatriz Perez

Chief Sustainability Officer, The Coca-Cola Company

“Unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of women is one of the most powerful and enduring ways to help families and communities prosper.”

Who inspires you the most?

My Mother. She faced a lot of barriers, but never saw them. She left Cuba in 1958 as a political exile and eventually moved to Connecticut, where she raised two daughters alone, speaking no English. She earned a nursing degree and a Ph.D. and then a fellowship to The White House under the Carter Administration. She always made the time to volunteer for the Red Cross, spend time at church, and feed the homeless during the holidays. She gave back even if she had a hard time paying our heating bill. My Mom reminds me of the many women we work with through Coca-Cola’s 5 by 20 program. Each time I meet one of these courageous women–like Regina, Lillian, or Preeti–it brings back years of memories watching my mother’s struggles and successes. I know that by empowering these women, their children will have more opportunities, too. That inspires me!

What do you now know about yourself that you wish you knew ten/fifteen/twenty years ago?

The saying, “hindsight is 20/20” is a good one. Twenty years ago, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer to change the world. Today, I know that every individual has the power to change the world through simple, everyday actions–no matter their title. I see how this works each day and only wish I realized it much sooner.

Fill in the blank: You can never have enough _______.

Time. There is so much to accomplish in this world! Time with family is my top priority. Time with friends makes me feel connected. Time with colleagues makes me better at work.

What city best describes your personality?

Barcelona. It has a nice balance between arts, culture, commerce, and people. It has the high energy you expect from a major, international city while also enabling a sense of calmness, serenity, and reflection.

What gets you through even the toughest days and what are you most grateful for?

I’m most grateful for my family. Their support and understanding provides the foundation that allows me to be the best I can be. The passion and commitment of my team and the people we work with helps me through my toughest days. I recognize that we have a unique opportunity to make a difference in the world and being able to call on the strength of the Coca-Cola system to enact positive change in people’s lives helps me to push beyond my personal boundaries and do more.

What socio-political women’s issue do you care about the most? Do you feel that women are typically presented fairly in the media? Why or why not?

Many times when women are interviewed, they are asked “how they do it all,” and I have not seen men asked these same questions. The issue that I believe is critical to our world and also impacts women significantly is underemployment. As pillars of their communities, women invest a sizable portion of the income they earn on the health and education of their children and in their local economies, creating a tremendous economic impact. That’s why I’m most passionate about the work we do at Coca-Cola to support women’s entrepreneurial potential around the world through our 5 by 20 initiative. Unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of women is one of the most powerful and enduring ways to help families and communities prosper. It’s also an important way to help make our business more sustainable.

Although there is supposed to be a separation between Church & State, religion still seems to govern many political decisions regarding women–abortions, birth control, etc.-–usually from men. What is the best approach to shift power over women’s bodies to women?

Vote. Don’t be afraid to exercise your voice, both in the polls and on social media. Women are stepping up to lead our country. I’m inspired by the record number of women who have run for office over the past few years, and today we have several women vying for the position of commander in chief. Despite these advancements, substantial inequalities remain. While 2012 was a defining year for women being elected to public office, women still comprise only 18.1 percent of Congress, despite making up more than half of the U.S. population. That’s why I talk to my daughter about the power of voting and our ability to use our voice to advance issues important to all women, and to our communities.

What is your best read? Favorite character you would most like to be?

Animal Farm, 1945 version. Either Snowball or Clover.

What will it take for women to be viewed as equal to men? Are sexist jokes problematic, and how do you feel about people’s view that women should just “lighten up” about them?

There is overwhelming evidence that achieving equality and empowerment for women has immediate impacts that benefit them directly and also causes larger ripple effects that can raise the welfare of their families and their communities. While I think that women’s equal rights have come a long way in a few decades, there is still a lot of work to be done globally. As we work to raise the profile of women as business and community leaders, we can increase their opportunity to enact positive change in this area. Part of this change is to advance how we talk about women in all aspects of our lives–including jokes.

What was your best decision to date? Worst decision?

This may sound odd and depends on how the word “worst” is perceived. The best and worst are one in the same in my view. Accepting the position as the first Chief Sustainability Officer for The Coca-Cola Company was the best decision as it linked my personal passion with my professional career. It was also the worst decision because it is not like climbing Mt. Everest—-there is no top where I can plant a flag and say, “the work is done.” This work will never be done, and when I have to pass the flag to someone else, I will miss it dearly.

Within the past few years, social media has exploded. How can women use it to market themselves without seeming narcissistic?

We have a unique opportunity to use social media to enact change, to advance worthy causes and to bring awareness to something we believe in. I am passionate about women’s leadership, so in my Twitter feed, you’ll find articles and call-outs to colleagues advancing this cause along with me. There is also an element about connecting with friends and family, which I believe is a nice way for people to get to know each other better.

Write a fortune you’d like for all women to receive in a fortune cookie.

Don’t be afraid to exercise your voice.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

I would create a new one that had all the powers of every superhero combined. Why pick just one?:
Teleportation – what a timesaver!
X-ray vision – enhances transparency.
Mind Reading – no more guessing.
Flying – get a better vantage point and see life from different angles.
You get my point.