Allyship essential in inspiring dialogue to maximize value of diversity

Published on : 5/19/22
  • In recognition of 21 May 2022 being World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, we caught up with two global leaders at Sodexo – CEO for Personal & Home Services and Group Corporate Responsibility, Didier Sandoz and CEO for Energy & Resources in Brazil, Marilaine Costa – to understand more about the importance of cultural diversity at Sodexo and the steps being taken to drive a more inclusive culture.

    Why is cultural diversity important for the success of Sodexo’s business?

    Didier Sandoz, CEO for Personal & Home Services
    and Group Corporate Responsibility

    Didier: Sodexo has long been committed to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion; it is fundamental to one of our core values, team spirit. Through our leadership on this topic and our passion for developing teams enriched by a mix of cultures and backgrounds, it can help to differentiate us from our competitors, particularly when it comes to attracting and recruiting top talent. In turn, by having diverse teams, we can better meet the needs of our clients and consumers across the globe.

    Marilaine: Companies that want to remain competitive in the market must look at diversity and inclusion as a lever of their strategy. At Sodexo, we believe that a more diverse and inclusive environment creates more engaged teams, drives innovation and improves financial performance.

    Of course, it’s not just about diversity. Simply uniting people from different origins and cultures can create tension and friction; the real point of difference is being able to create an environment in which those differences are seen as a source of value creation.

    Can you share an example of how you have championed cultural diversity and what impact have you experienced as a result?

    Didier: One example that stands out for me is when I joined a mentorship program for refugees organized by La Fondation Agir Contre l'Exclusion (FACE), a French organization bringing business together to fight against exclusion, discrimination and poverty.

    I had the opportunity to mentor a young lady from the Congo and during my time with her, I recognized that she had the skillset, capabilities and mindset that we were looking to recruit in our Homecare business. Working with my colleagues in our France-based operations, we were able to offer this young lady a role as a caregiver; it was her first job opportunity and one that saw her take a step towards a more positive future. 

    For me, this experience highlighted the need to keep an open mind and give everyone an equal opportunity. I regularly engage with my leadership team, as well as my colleagues on the executive committee, to raise awareness of how we can foster diversity in our teams. The commitment has to be seen and felt; and it starts at the top.

    Marilaine: To create an environment in which differences are seen as a source of value creation, first we must put our energy into breaking bias and prejudice to promote understanding.

    In support of this, we regularly bring together our teams and ask our colleagues from minority groups to share their stories, encouraging them to talk openly about their culture and the challenges they experience. By creating a psychologically safe environment in which people can share their stories, we find other colleagues respond positively, are more empathetic and it sets the foundations for a more inclusive culture.

    The mining industry in Brazil is becoming increasingly focused on improving diversity and inclusion. The Brazilian Mining Association (IBRAM), which represents 120 members responsible for 85% of Brazil’s mineral production, says that dialogue and the creation of inclusive cultures are essential for creating environments of respect and equal opportunities.

    At Sodexo in Brazil, we have developed a number of programs to promote dialogue and create safe spaces for employees. For example, our Fairy Godmothers Project is focused on supporting victims of violence, giving them an opportunity to talk about sensitive issues confidentially. We have also launched a mentoring and coaching program for high potential women, matching mentors and mentees from different cultures and backgrounds to support that continued learning.

    We have a long way to go, but through these initiatives and a focus on education, we’re creating more inclusive environments and seeing our teams become much more diverse.

    Why is allyship important in the creation of an inclusive culture and what advice can you offer others in being a better ally? 

    Marilaine Costa, CEO for Energy & Resources in Brazil

    Didier: We can strengthen relationships and work better together when we take the time to understand each other. Allyship is really about taking the time to understand the specificities of different backgrounds and the different experiences of our colleagues.

    We can all become better allies by putting ourselves in the shoes of others and asking thoughtful questions to understand the biases that others face. Being willing to have important and often uncomfortable conversations so that we can better understand each other and, therefore, put actions in place to tackle discrimination and bias is essential.

    Importantly, allyship is demonstrated through action and we all have a responsibility to show support on a professional and personal level by actively supporting programs and initiatives that are focused on driving an inclusive culture.

    Marilaine: When we better understand the lived experiences of others, we can better understand ourselves and inspire the behavioral change that is necessary to make everyone feel a sense of belonging.

    At Sodexo in Brazil, we have a very rich culture. I have worked in many parts of Brazil and I continue to experience different customs, habits and ways of working. We employ many immigrants across the business, who come from very different backgrounds, including Angola, Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Pakistan and Venezuela.

    Being an ally means promoting honest and open dialogue so that we can all improve our understanding of different cultures, discuss how to remove barriers for inclusivity and be clear on how others can play a role in minimizing discrimination.

    The simplest of actions can have great impact, and we are all accountable for taking action to drive a more inclusive culture.

    What more can organizations like Sodexo do to ensure people feel equally valued in the workplace, irrespective of their differences?

    Didier: As leaders we have a duty to ensure everyone feels valued, respected and treated fairly. We must take time to understand discrepancies and put tangible action plans in place to address them. For example, working with HR teams to reduce pay gaps; developing training programs to further raise awareness of different cultures; and ensuring equal access to networking and development opportunities.

    We also need to make sure we have tools in place to allow people to call out discriminative behaviors. At Sodexo, for example, we have a Speak Up mechanism which allows employees to confidentially address issues such as discrimination and harassment.

    Marilaine: In my experience, it’s important to make sure that any strategy employed to enhance an inclusive culture is people centric. Organizations must continue to train leaders to promote a psychologically safe and healthy environment in which people feel comfortable to talk about their experiences; they must find ways to positively recognize and celebrate the adoption of actions that drive inclusivity; and they must keep sharing best practice.

    At Sodexo, I have recognized that the more employees participate in initiatives focused on respecting differences, the more they begin to perceive the value of an inclusive culture and the more confident they become in who they are and bringing their whole selves to work.

    Find out more about the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development