One of Coca-Cola’s most senior bosses, Susan Gambardella, has attributed flexible working practices as one of the most important factors in allowing women to succeed in business.

Speaking at the Women 1st 2013 conference for women in the travel and hospitality industry, Gambardella, vice president of the global account team of Coca-Cola Refreshments, said being able to switch to a part-time role for part of her career helped her reach the upper ranks of the global organisation.

Recounting her own personal career experience, she recalled how she reached a point at Coca-Cola where she could no longer cope with the demands of balancing a high-powered career with family life.

“I was director of major accounts in New York City and one of the highest-ranking women in the geography at the time and had just lost my fifth nanny. I remember thinking “I can’t do it”,” said Gambardella.

After discussions with her boss, Gambardella asked to work part-time to spend more time with her son. “It is probably the reason I am still at Coca-Cola now because I had a chance to do what I wanted to do. I see many people taking advantage of it and coming back to the business so we don’t lose that experience and talent,” she said.

After working three days a week for six months, Gambardella returned to full-time work. “I was a vice president by the age of 36. Having flexible working options was very important to me.”

Coca-Cola has already set out a goal for 50% of its workforce to be women across all roles within the business by 2020 to represent the fact women make up half the global population.

In 2007 it set up the Global Women’s Initiative to invest in and empower five million women worldwide across the company’s supply chain, from fruit growers to retailers. By the end of last year, the scheme had reached nearly 300,000 women globally. “We know we have a long way to go but we are committed to getting there,” said Gambardella.

Having women in senior roles is critical, she added. “Women in key leadership roles is good for business.”

There are several different ways for women to achieve in business, including looking at opportunities to stretch their knowledge and experience by taking roles at the same level rather than positions further up the ladder as well as making choices that suit their personal life at that time.

She added: “You have to live what’s right for you and own your own career strategy.”

Gambardella gave four broad career tips for women in the industry to follow: identify what you are good at, pinpoint gaps in your knowledge and experience; decide on your future aspirations; and access the tools you need to develop and advance.