Sodexo puts Diversity & Inclusion at the heart of company culture

19th of September 2013
Sodexo puts Diversity & Inclusion at the heart of company culture

Global facilities management services provider Sodexo recently attained the number one position in the DiversityInc top 50 for 2013, in recognition of its Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) efforts. The UK and Ireland division won the Personal Fair and Diverse category at the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion awards in London recently. ECJ finds out more about how this commitment has become part of the Sodexo culture.

As one of the world’s leading FM service companies employing 420,000 people worldwide, Sodexo prides itself on being a value-based organisation with a culture focused on providing a fair and diverse environment where employees can thrive and grow. Its global Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) strategy is underpinned by the values of Service Spirit, Team Spirit and Spirit of Progress. Recognition of the company’s D&I  success came earlier this year when Sodexo was named number one in the DiversityInc top 50 for 2013.

The number of companies participating in this survey, based on empirical data, rose significantly this year – from 587 in 2012 to 893. In order to participate, an organisation must have at least 1,000 employees and fill out a 300-question survey, which is divided into four equally weighted areas: ceo commitment, human capital, corporate and organisational communications, and
supplier diversity.

The real challenge is in ensuring these corporate D&I principles filter through to all parts of the organisation at regional and national level. At Sodexo this is being achieved through well-articulated policies that are central to the business strategy in each country. In the UK official recognition came recently with a Personal Fair and Diverse prize at the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion awards.

ECJ spoke to Megan Horsburgh, head of D&I for Sodexo UK & Ireland. Her role is to bring the corporate D&I policy to life and ensure it runs through all levels of the business – including the 663 sites in the UK and Ireland where it provides cleaning services. She works alongside a D&I council, which is made up of 20 senior figures from within the company. Set up in 2008, this group is responsible for devising strategies and cascading the messages down to their individual business areas. “Crucially, they also then bring feedback back to the other council members about examples of best practice they see at all levels of the company,” says Horsburgh.

Then there are employee networks, which are designed to be inclusive and open to all employees. Run by a committee of volunteers, they benefit from executive level sponsorship and an allocation of budget. Committee members assume dedicated roles, such as chair or event organiser.

Valuable networking

“Being part of the networks is very positive for employees because they take on duties that are different to their day job,” Horsburgh explains. “They may get the opportunity to practice influencing skills or produce written communication to the group for example, there is also valuable networking and the chance to meet other people within the organisation. This is specially beneficial for those employees who may not be natural networkers because it’s not part of their everyday life.”

Employees take part in these networks voluntarily, however there are reward and recognition systems to acknowledge their additional activities.

On each committee there is a HR liaison position – that member acts as the interface between the employee network and the HR community to ensure HR is aware of network activities, and the network can be updated on policy changes.

Launched in 2011, the Women Work network focuses on the progression of women within the Sodexo business. Over 300 members joined within two months of its launch and today the network has over 700 members. “There is a well established programme of events including an annual conference, and mentoring scheme as well as initiatives to mark International Women’s Day,” says Horsburgh. The network is not exclusively for women, men are also encouraged to join.

“Since the network’s launch the engagement of female employees has improved and feedback about interaction throughout the organisation has been extremely positive,” says Horsburgh.

This commitment to the advancement of women goes further, with the Sodexo’s Women’s International Forum for talent (SWIFt), which was launched in 2009. This network is made up of the company’s most senior women worldwide, who focus on advancing the gender strategy globally with a view to benefiting employees, customers and clients.

Sodexo worldwide has an aspirational target to have women in senior positions at 25 per cent by 2015 – a target which has already been reached in the UK and Ireland. Horsburgh explains: “This is what we call a positive action initiative, taking action to level the playing field for women, consisting of measures like women’s development initiatives balanced recruitment, etc.”

One of the newest employee groups is the GenERAtions network, which aims to champion generational diversity. Other employee networks are being planned.

To ensure staff at managerial level are fully informed about Sodexo policies and equipped to deliver those messages throughout the organisation, they undergo Spirit of Inclusion training. This is a one-day face-to-face programme which aims to raise awareness of D&I as well as providing the legal context and business case for commitment to the strategy.

Everyday relevance

Training is delivered by volunteer facilitators from across the business. “This approach helps bring D&I alive and enables participants to see the relevance of D&I in everyday operations,” Horsburgh emphasises.

How, then, can a D&I policy find its way through to the ground roots of an enormous operation like Sodexo? “D&I runs very deep and there are many interventions at site level,” replies Horsburgh. “This can be in the form of site-led initiatives - formed in partnership with clients for example - or perhaps more employee-focused. Or it could simply be about how we treat our employees.”

One example is at the premises of GlaxoSmithKline, one of the sites taking part in a programme called Project SEARCH, a work-based initiative aimed to help people with disabilities get into the workplace. “Sodexo and GSK arranged some work experience placements for students fitting that description,” Horsburgh explains. “They performed a range of duties within the Sodexo facilities management portfolio at that building.

“This project has really been embraced by the team – it has improved team spirit and communication has definitely become much clearer. And two of the students have been hired into full-time paid employment as a result.”

Other initiatives aimed at engaging the wider workforce include employee recognition schemes and the use of social media. There is a dedicated Facebook page for all employees enabling engagement with frontline staff on D&I initiatives.

Sodexo’s approach to D&I also extends into Sodexo’s relationship with its clients – the company hosts workshops with them and other stakeholders to engage in discussion about gender diversity, for example. “It’s an ideal opportunity to share best practice and learn from each other’s experiences,” adds Horsburgh.

And while the approach very much fits in with Sodexo’s profile as a value-driven company, Horsburgh emphasises there is also a business case for implementing it so strongly.

Retaining best talent

“For us it is about the attraction, retention and development of the best talent, with the widest range of experiences and skills to meet our client expectations both now and in the future. We also know that diversity improves innovation, risk management and organisational performance, which are all desirable. Clients have been highly positive about our initiatives and  commitment which really adds value to our client relationships.”

Horsburgh is also keen to point out that this is an approach that will continue to evolve because of the very real demographic change the world is facing in the near future. “The ethnic make-up of the population continues to change. There is the issue of the ageing population and with that comes challenges around flexible retirement and making adjustments for people with age-related disabilities that will impact on how we provide services – both from an employee and client point of view.”

Moving forward then, Sodexo plans to make its D&I commitment even more visible and more front-of-mind among its workforce and clients. “We are continuously working closely with our employees to build the sense that Sodexo is a good company and a good place to work which they would recommend to their friends,” concludes Horsburgh.


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