Leading the Way for Gender Balance

United States of America

Facilities management and food services company Sodexo has almost doubled the number of women in leadership roles in the last ten years. Its board is more than half women. Rohini Anand, Global Senior Vice-President for Corporate Responsibility and Global Chief Diversity Officer, explains how they have achieved it.


UN Women: Sodexo is really leading the way when it comes to gender balance. What is the most important thing you have done to make it happen?

Rohini: We recognize that gender balance makes business sense. We have led an internal campaign since 2015 to have our senior leaders endorse the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles. As of today, 57 leaders throughout the company have signed.

Conducting our own original research on the business case for gender balance and business performance has also been a key driver for change. Our research draws on five-year data from over 100 global entities and incudes data from 50,000 managers.


UN Women: What are the main takeaways from this research?

Rohini: Teams with a mix of between 40 and 60 percent women and men have better financial and non-financial outcomes. That includes operating margin, employee retention, client retention, safety and employee engagement.

It is a powerful message to our teams and our clients that gender balanced teams outperform those that are not gender balanced. Balanced teams provide more consistent and predictable outcomes that benefit the business. 


UN Women: What metrics have you established for managers?

Rohini: All our executives are accountable for promoting gender balance with a target of 40 per cent women in our senior leadership ranks by 2025. In 2016, we introduced a new measure for our global executive team which linked 10 per cent of their annual incentive to our gender objectives. This helped us provide a focus and draw attention to the issue.


UN Women: How do your targets play out in the recruitment of talent?

Rohini: We hold local recruitment teams accountable for ensuring diverse internal and external candidate lists. For example, in the US, recruiters are incentivized to provide hiring managers with candidate lists that have a suitable proportion of women and minorities on it. We have local gender balance candidate slate policies in each country and we try to go beyond the cultural and legal context. When it comes to succession planning, teams must pay attention to the pipeline of women leaders.


UN Women: Have you been met with resistance?

Rohini: Initially, yes. However, with awareness raising, education of managers, and engagement of male allies we have addressed this. Gradually we have ensured that gender equality is embedded into our HR processes and in our corporate culture, and in the mindset and behaviors of employees. The job is not yet done, but we have come a long way and recognize that we have much more to do!


UN Women: How to do you engage and motivate these male champions?

Rohini: We are fortunate to have tremendous support from our current and our previous CEOs, Denis Machuel and Michel Landel as well as the chair of our board, Sophie Bellon. We have also taken several steps to ensure we engage men across the company. A few years ago, we invited them to join the SoTogether advisory board. One of our two executive sponsors of SoTogether is a man.

Initially, the SoTogether advisory board was called the Sodexo Women’s International Forum for Talent but we realized that we will only make real progress when women and men work together to solve gender inequality issues. We rebranded all of our employee-led gender networks around the world under the SoTogether band.


UN Women: How do you keep the momentum going?                                      

Rohini: One of our most effective initiatives has been the development of SoTogether. It brings together leaders from across the company to advance gender equality. Together they work to ensure that our HR processes are free of bias, implement global mentoring and leadership development programmes for high potential women, sponsor gender employee networks, and develop initiatives to empower women in the community like those to end violence against women and girls. They are our ambassadors and keep the momentum going.


UN Women: How do you work with external stakeholders?

Rohini: We know we can have more impact when we work with our clients and other external stakeholders to raise awareness and solve issues together. For example, we launched the SheWorks job shadowing scheme in partnership with local non-governmental organizations and universities. We invite young women to complete a day of job shadowing with our teams and to open their minds about different career paths.

As a global company, we play a crucial role in promoting progress throughout the business community and beyond to build a fairer, more equitable world where everyone can thrive. We take that very seriously.


UN Women: What has been the most significant result that demonstrates the success of your strategy?     

Rohini: How far we have come. We have gone from 17 per cent women in senior leadership roles in 2009 to 36 percent today. For the past six years, diversity has been one of the top two drivers of employee engagement. And most importantly, our board is more than 55 per cent women.


UN Women: What are you most proud of?

The culture change, which is demonstrated by our employee engagement scores, and also Sodexo’s reputation as a global thought leader on the topic.


You can find rel="noopener noreferrer" the Sodexo Gender Balance Study here.

Photographer & Videographer Credit: Sodexo
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