An audience of more than 80 Diversity & Inclusion leaders and community professionals attended i4cp’s August 25th D&I Action Call to hear i4cp Chief Diversity Officer Board Chair Jacqui Robertson interview Jodi Davidson, Vice President Global Diversity & Inclusion at Sodexo, a France-based global food services and facilities management firm.
Key Ideas Shared Today:
- At Sodexo, D&I has been a journey. The company’s focus on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) grew out of its failure some 20 years ago to proportionally promote African Americans and to adjust its processes and procedures in ways that would mitigate that failure. Responding to a class action suit at that time, Sodexo hired a global chief diversity officer to begin an office of D&I. Over time, compliance was achieved and the business case for D&I was made.
To adjust practices and processes, some of Sodexo’s actions included launching and growing business resource groups (BRGs), establishing mentoring and diversity learning to emphasize development of individuals’ understanding and skills, and more. The efforts accelerated improvement of representation of previously under-represented groups and established Sodexo’s reputation as a leader in the DEI space.
- D&I expertise became core to competitive advantage. As a result of Sodexo’s success in moving the dial on representation and its ability to engage people who’d previously felt they had no voice, the company received recognition and its clients noticed and asked for benchmarking and guidance on achieving similar culture change within their own organizations.
Even while acknowledging that there was more work to be done, Sodexo recognized that its culture-shift capabilities offered a differentiator that could be a competitive advantage for the company that contrasted it from its competitors. Acting on that opportunity, Sodexo focused on building a model that would fuel replication of its success worldwide – one that enabled customization for locations and organizations while leveraging universal core components.
- Authenticity was an evolution, too. Davidson says that in 2015/2016 instances of police brutality and the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Florida called attention to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ discrimination, and other diversity issues. Contacted by leaders within Sodexo’s African American Leadership Forum who requested educational materials and dialogue sessions, Davidson led efforts to curate an inclusion toolkit and brought together about 100 BRG leaders and others for an identity-group-based discussion forum to hold conversations about current events and formulate strategies to respond to them, both individually and as an organization. Learning and affirmation were emphasized in the discussions and outcomes.
When asked to later replicate the discussions in another company venue, Davidson pushed for facilitation by external consultants and more work was done using the writing of Kenji Yoshino (Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights) as a basis on which to build. The ultimate result, according to Davidson, was the decision at Sodexo “to become authentic leaders who invite other people to become authentic themselves.” Outside trainers were brought in to provide necessary instruction to leaders in multiple locations.
- Mentoring at Sodexo. Helping employees thrive through application of mentoring initiatives is one way Sodexo sought to help people connect across differences and extend understanding and empathy.
In 2004, Sodexo engaged a consultant to help the company define strategies for mentoring, including identifying mentors and mentees from historically under-represented groups. The consultancy helped Sodexo understand high-touch practices for soliciting mentees/mentors, socializing participants, interviewing-and-matching processes, and more. Sodexo purposefully focused its mentoring initiatives on D&I by connecting diverse people to facilitate better understanding of what it felt like to walk in others’ shoes.
The conversation with Davidson encompassed a wide range of D&I topics that also included support for frontline employees, shifting of employee roles as pandemic effects on business lines changed staffing needs, and efforts to upskill managers.
Access a recording of the full Action Call on i4cp’s Employer Resource Center.