Sodexo: "Focusing on Gender Equality is not a moral obligation but a clear business imperative"


 By Satu Heschung , Vice President of Global Diversity & Inclusion at Sodexo in an interview with Meral Guzel, Empower Women on 8 November 2017

 How do you approach gender balance at Sodexo?

As a 19th largest employer with 420 000 employees, our responsibility is to be a model employer and the composition of our teams needs to reflect the diversity of the population we serve if we want to understand and respond to their needs. The nature of our business makes Sodexo a people company and we certainly cannot afford to ignore half of the world’s population. Also as a signatory of the UN Women’s Empowerment principles Sodexo’s commitment to gender balance extends beyond our own company. Already since our founding some 50 years ago, gender balance and the advancement and empowerment of women have been positioned at the very heart of our development.

Having focus on Gender balance is not a moral obligation but a clear business imperative. Diversity and inclusion is an inherent part of our culture that drives Sodexo’s global growth and innovation. It simply makes us better and stronger company. With diversity and inclusion as a competitive advantage, Sodexo is an employer and business partner of choice, enriching the Quality of Life for all. Having said this, it’s obvious that when promising to improve the quality of life of people, corporate responsibility lies at the core of everything we do. We are convinced that by empowering women we make a better tomorrow to everyone. Our commitment is grounded in our corporate responsibility round map, called “Better Tomorrow 2025”.   

Your company Sodexo analyzed the impact of Gender Balance on performance, what are the key findings?

We indeed analyzed.

Couple of years ago we decided to support our convictions and achievements in favor of gender balance with strong data and findings. This is a reason we carried out an internal study to explore and understand the correlation between gender balance and performance. Based on our large footprint and nature of our business, we conducted a study that observed Sodexo’s data from 50 000 managers over 100 entities during three-year-period.

The key findings of this study revealed that there is an important correlation between gender balance and performance. Management teams within gender balance between 40% and 60% outperformed on financial and non-financial indicators including e.g. employee engagement, brand image, client satisfaction and organic growth. We can clearly say that gender balance drives performance at Sodexo.

What are some of the challenges you’re facing in addressing gender equality issues and how are you addressing them?

It is not just about representation. Therefore, the other key goal is to ensure that we are creating an inclusive culture for all our employees—that we understand and eliminate barriers that prevent us to build, retain and develop a gender balanced pipeline at each level in the organization.   

This cultural change isn’t easy. It takes determination and time to convince all those, who do not understand why the gender issue is a strategic one. It can’t be labeled a women’s issue, but everyone’s issue as we are addressing business benefits here. Naturally it takes men partnering and supporting in advancement of women in order to achieve more gander balanced management team at all levels of the organization.  “Men don’t always know what they don’t know” as they have not experienced what women experience so we need to onboard them, create learning opportunities and hold them accountable.  

At Sodexo we have a program called “Spirit of Inclusion”, which reveals how men and women experience the inclusion and how it impacts to our collaboration and to the performance of our teams. We also encourage men to mentor and sponsor women, continuously provide opportunities to the open gender dialogue through our gender networks as well as provide workshops to fight against “unconscious bias”. 

At the heart of these actions lies the Sodexo Women's International Forum for Talent (SWIFt), a group advisory board created in 2009 by our CEO Michel Landel “to accelerate the attainment of gender balance within Sodexo through personal drive, commitment and leadership of high level leaders”. SWIFt is dedicated in ensuring better gender balance at all levels of the organization. They are strongly driving the work to hold senior leaders accountable but also designing and implanting these qualitative actions to support metrics  and eventually increase the culture of inclusion.   

Clear targets and measurements will also help to remove the barriers. This is why at Sodexo we have developed Diversity and Inclusion Measured Incentivized Objectives in support of organization’s ambition to reach gender balance leadership workforce comprising of 40% women by 2025. 

What impact do you see from increasing the number of women in senior level management positions?

I strongly think that gender balanced leadership teams perform better, bring new perspectives and point of views to organizations.  In order for us to design and build the most robust offers and solutions, we need input from teams from different cultures, functions, perspectives, and expertise.

Gender balance also generates a better and healthier work environment where we all do better.  For instance, gender balance has started the conversation about work-life balance. Today we know that it’s not only a gender initiative but has become an important aspiration for all employees.

At Sodexo, we are improving opportunities for women around the world also through health and well-being education.  And if we want positively impact gender equality we need to focus empowering women beyond the workplace, in communities and supply chain. We are strongly convinced that when we empower women, we also empower individuals and communities. When women do better, we all do better – at work and in communities.

How Sodexo can work together with Empower Women?

We continue focus on our commitment to empowerment of women while improving Quality of Life and contributing to communities. Our size and global footprint can help us to make a positive impact, however we cannot do this alone – we need to collaborate to have a stronger influence. Sodexo and Empower Women have both a commitment to advocate for gender equity around the globe.

The UN Sustainable Goals are a great platform that adds value to Sodexo by providing a common global framework and vocabulary that is understood in all countries where we operate. We have started by engaging our local leadership in support of the Women’s Empowerment Principles. And already 20 Sodexo leaders have signed onto these principles.

Naturally in the future we hope that this will also serve as a platform for more collaboration to empower women in the communities we both serve.









Photographer & Videographer Credit: Satu Heschung

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  • Priya Arora
  • Giuliane Bertaglia
    I feel very glad when I have the opportunity to understand how the stakeholders from the corporative environment are strongly commited to promote the gender equality. Sometimes, the gender equality debate is only conducted for commercial reasons, since it is attractive in this sense, and, thus, has no real effects on the company culture. 

    Thank you Sodexo for demonstrating we can carry out such challenge! :)
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