Sodexo Successfully Balances D&I with Human Resources

The partnership between D&I and HR can be contentious unless there is a willingness to collaborate. Sodexo found common ground and moved forward to become the benchmark multinational.
-By Peter Scott

Sodexo, founded in France in 1966, has become a worldwide leader in delivering services to organizations interested in improving the quality of life for their employees. The company offers a range of services to improve employee health and well-being, benefits and rewards services, and personal and home services. Now operating in 80 countries, the company’s success is completely dependent on almost 419,000 employees interacting with over 75 million customers each day.

One of the challenges it has met is embedding diversity and inclusion (D&I) principles into Human Resources practices. A people-oriented company, Sodexo relies on top executive Rohini Anand, senior vice president and global chief diversity officer, to develop and implement a holistic D&I approach that is based on standardized values and principles but with localized implementation of day-to-day talent management practices.

Metrics that are the Envy of Other Global Companies
Diversity Global was fortunate for the opportunity to talk to Anand and Juan Pablo Urruticoechea, chief executive officer in Brazil for Sodexo, at the 2015 Global Summit of Women held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sodexo is recognized as a D&I benchmark because of its great success in implementing a D&I program globally and the development of sophisticated metrics to keep the effort aligned with the organization’s mission and goals.

In terms of structure, there is a D&I executive committee in the U.S. and a smaller team in Paris. D&I is not part of Human Resources (HR) so Anand had to develop a global reporting relationship with Sodexo CEOs around the world. There are 13 regions and someone in each HR structure is responsible for managing the local D&I program. This achieves global standardization with localization of implementation. “We work at partnering with Human Resources to ensure D&I is embedded in the mainstream HR practices,” says Anand.

She is the first to admit the partnership between D&I and HR can be contentious because D&I professionals ask HR professionals to go out of their comfort zone and do a lot of extra work required for success. She works extremely well with the HR executive in the U.S. They do not always agree with each other but are always working deliberately together to ensure D&I is part of all HR discussions.

Sodexo is a decentralized company, so in and outside the U.S. key metrics around retention, engagement, promotion, and development are used to keep everyone onboard with D&I. Sodexo uses a scorecard, and the scorecard measures recruiting, retention and promotion of women and minorities.

Anand explains, “We also have qualitative metrics like mentoring, leadership engagement and development of high potential talent that is all rolled up into a 1,000-point scorecard. The employee starts earning points at 80 percent, and the scorecard and points are linked to performance bonus. The bonus is 10-15 percent of the managers and executives bonus.” An important characteristic of the bonus is that it is decoupled from the company’s financial performance.

At the Global Summit, Anand moderated the panel on “Building Your Brand Internally and Externally,” while Urruticoechea was a member of the CEO Forum that discussed “The Business Case for Gender Equity.”

Sodexo looks at gender on a global basis because it can be uniformly measured. The top 300 leaders have targets as does the next level of accounting managers. The targets include representation and engagement of women.

Admiration for Brazilian Women
Urruticoechea is able to give a Sodexo CEO’s perspective on driving D&I in the local context, in this case Brazil, while meeting corporate goals. It is a delicate process that takes many factors into consideration.

Brazil is a large and diverse country from north to south, and it is very class conscious based on income. The country is challenged with the difficult problem of income inequality. It is quite different from the U.S. in the D&I space because many services are required by law to meet quotas by job title. “For example, we are required to have one nutritionist for every 250 meals that we provide. We now have more than 2,000 nutritionists. By tradition, over 90 percent of nutritionists are women so there is a lack of gender diversity,” Urruticoechea explained. “I personally have no issue with gender bias. I sometimes promote men when teams are composed of only women in order to add diversity.”

The result of this situation is that, at the next level, more than 90 percent of the people promoted are women who are very connected to day-to-day operations. As the Brazilian Sodexo operations diversify, and new positions are created that are not traditionally filled by mostly women, it will be easier to implement wider diversity goals.

Women in Brazil must overcome daunting conditions in order to pursue careers. Most have children, and the male-dominated culture does not encourage working mothers. Many women in Sao Paulo who work for Urruticoechea’s division will travel two to three hours one way to get to their jobs.

There are also safety and education issues. Much of the income inequality is the result of a poor school system so employer training initiatives are critical to talent development. Urruticoechea’s challenge is finding the right talent because women are often hidden in remote areas of the region. “The women who work for Sodexo are tough. They study at night, work, take care of their parents, and live in different cities, requiring them to travel long distances to and from work. Brazilian women are amazing. In Europe we are in a comfort zone,” he says with admiration in his voice.

Anand adds that it is much easier to implement D&I in headquarters than it is in the field.
Organically Growing the Diversity Footprint Urruticoechea does what he can to make it easier on the women to work and to better attract the right talent. One strategy is to make working hours more flexible. He is also turning to technology like smartphones so people can meet virtually rather than traveling to a meeting place.

One of his strategies to develop new talent and promote innovation is to hire at least 50 percent of new hires from outside the industry. He sees this as a way to generate disruptive innovation. It is a process that worked in Portugal, and he expects it to work equally well in Brazil. Sodexo organically leverages its sales force to drive diversity internally and externally in the community.

“When we initially started D&I, there were 35,000 different client sites with 12,000 of them in the U.S. The sales and other managers visiting client sites would discuss Sodexo’s diversity with the clients. The clients would get interested and ask for more information. Clients started inviting the diversity team, including managers and counselors,” Anand explained. Through this organic process the clients became the vehicle for spreading diversity and the Sodexo footprint for D&I. Sodexo shared its ideas and benchmarking process with clients, becoming a recognized leader in the diversity space. It is a pull, not push, process. Though Sodexo is transforming itself from a country-by-country company to a global company in terms of operating policies, Anand emphasizes that D&I will have to include a regional focus.

“Each regional culture is different and must be respected. In the end we will have some combination of a global program with a regional deployment. Specific strategies for local D&I programs will come from the company’s new segment teams being formed during the company’s reorganization to a more vertical structure,” Anand said.

On top of everything else, Sodexo’s executives are also addressing the needs of the new generations already in the workforce or about to enter. Anand compares the adaptation process and reorganization to building a plane while flying it. Sodexo is relying on its strong values, and the ability to connect D&I to business strategies, for long-term sustainability.