Inclusive strategy

15th of September 2010
Inclusive strategy

Global building services organisation Sodexo was recently named as the top company in a worldwide index that recognises companies which actively engage in diversity and inclusion practices. ECJ examines the definition of the term and talks to Sodexo about how it has become a key element of the culture.

Diversity management is a term that may still be unfamiliar to many businesses, but for leading organisations worldwide it is much more than just the latest 'buzzphrase' for the 21st century. It's definition is as follows: A process intended to create and maintain a positive work environment where the similarities and differences of individuals are valued, so that all can reach their potential and maximise their contributions to an organization's strategic goals and objectives.

This means "the proactive management of race/culture, gender, orientation, disability and age to ensure equal outcome in relationships with employees, customers, investors and suppliers", according to diversity and business body DiversityInc. It was DiversityInc that commended facilities services leader Sodexo for its diversity and inclusion policies in its worldwide index recently.

Diversity not only involves how people perceive themselves, but how they perceive others - because those perceptions affect their interaction with others. For a wide variety of employees to function as an organisation human resource professionals must deal effectively with issues such as communication, adaptability and change. It is now widely recognised that a company-wide diversity strategy can result in higher productivity, profit and a return on investment made.

Operating in over 80 countries and with over 380,000 employees worldwide representing 130 different nationalities, Sodexo has diversity and inclusion at the heart of its culture. It says: "Employees have an expectation that the organisation will understand and respect their individuality, that they will create an environment that allows them to flourish and grow, and form an environment where they feel included and where they can contribute their ideas and passion."

Diversity and inclusion is not simply a one-off HR initiative, it insists, but a long-term journey which touches all areas of its business - the products its purchases, the suppliers it works with, the teams it employs and develops, and the clients it serves.

So why does the company believe such principles to be so crucial to its business today? Sharon Kyle, head of diversity and inclusion for Sodexo UK and Ireland replied: "The world in which we all do business is changing. Sodexo realised some years ago that global demographic shifts both in the labour pool from which it recruits, as well as the consumers and clients it serves, meant it was necessary to truly get to grips with diversity and inclusion."

So Diversity & Inclusion has been embedded as one of six strategic imperatives in Sodexo’s global business strategy. This focuses on four areas: gender, generations in the work place (age diversity), ethnic minorities and disabilities. A scorecard has also been developed against which each countries' performance against a number of key measures such as the representation of women in senior management is benchmarked.

As Kyle continued to explain, the company quickly realised that meeting this global pledge and truly embedding it as part of day-to-day culture would require commitment from its entire staff in each country. "We also found while each of the four focus areas is important, they mean different things in different contexts and different parts of the world. So each country and zone is responsible for developing strategies appropriate for that specific market and that reflects the local cultural and legal framework. "

One common theme across all countries, however, has been the raising of awareness among all employees of what diversity and inclusion means day-to-day. There has been a number of interesting initiatives. In France, for example, Sodexo is hiring people with disabilities and is creating an inclusive environment where people with disabilities can succeed.

And at the global headquarters in Paris, a new initiative for older workers was launched in conjunction with the Foundation Agir Contre l’Exclusion - aimed at helping workers over 45 years old who have been unemployed for more than a year. In the UK and Ireland Sodexo has established an introductory training and education programme for its managers to help them get to grips with diversity and inclusion.

So what benefits has Sodexo seen as a result of its diversity and inclusion policies? Kyle replied: "Employees appear to feel more valued and included as a result of the conscious focus on diversity and inclusion. Increased morale has a positive impact on attendance rates, retention, internal promotion rates and productivity. And in some countries, the knowledge and experience we have gained has provided opportunities to offer consultancy services to other organisations and clients."

In an industry dominated by small and medium sized business, however, many would say Sodexo is in the perfect position to implement these strategies because of its sheer size - how can every company make these principles part of its culture, no matter what its size? "It can be daunting as a small business trying to decide where to start with your own diversity and inclusion journey," Kyle explained. "However the reality is that in many countries businesses small and large are being increasingly expected by legislation to demonstrate at the very least an awareness of diversity and inclusion and their responsibilities in terms of fair and equal treatment of employees.

"Smaller businesses actually have the advantage of being able to reach out to their teams more quickly. It can take less time to gather information and to communicate and consult with team members, meaning conscious efforts to introduce change can often be more efficient and effective."

Undeniably, implementing a diversity and inclusion policy is a significant challenge for any company - with effective communication and resistance to change being just two of the hurdles to be overcome. Experts recommend the following solutions:

• Ward off change resistance with inclusion - involve every employee possible in formulating and executing diversity initiatives in your workplace.

• Foster an attitude of openness in your organisation - encourage employees to express their ideas and opinions and attribute a sense of equal value to all.

• Promote diversity in leadership positions - this provides visibility and realises the benefits of diversity in the workplace.

• Utilise diversity training - use it as a tool to shape your diversity policy.

• Launch a employee satisfaction survey that provides comprehensive reporting - use the results to build and implement successful diversity in the workplace policies.


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