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The Importance of Diversity & Inclusion in a Workplace

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The Importance of Diversity & Inclusion in a Workplace

Sunil Nayak, CEO - Corporate Services Worldwide, Sodexo

A strong proponent of gender diversity & sustainability, Sunil has been associated with Sodexo for over a decade now, prior to which he was the CEO at Radhakrishna Hospitality Group.

Over the last many years, human society has evolved on numerous fronts. And one of the notable features of our progression is our growing understanding and acceptance of the diversity in people. We’ve always known that there are people who are different from us, with different set of beliefs, choices and practices. But what is increasingly changing is our embracement of this difference and acknowledgement that it can be leveraged for our continual progress rather than be an impediment.

Organisations are a microcosm of our larger society and have to mirror this diversity. Global companies need not only to reflect this more deeply as the people get to interact and work with colleagues across continents, but also advocate for it. And as with what is happening in the world outside, organisations are realising that diversity is integral to their success & growth and a mere lip service will no longer be effective.

My own journey with diversity and more specifically gender diversity, started when my Global CEO asked me on one of my first interactions with him, “Do the women in Sodexo India have equal opportunities?” This question was as important to him as was the question on our business performance!

With diversity comes Inclusion they are two sides of the same coin. It is not enough to show diversity in our hiring; that would be just half the work done. Every individual that is hired needs to feel valued by the organisation, which means getting appreciated for the work they do and getting opportunities to grow & succeed with the support of the organisation. This means companies need to be inclusive also. For example, in Sodexo, when we started on the D&I journey, we realised that we didn’t have enough women in leadership roles. To change this, we implemented a mentorship program to build a healthy pipeline of women who could takeup leadership roles. We also simultaneously worked with the women, offering them flexibility & development planning and making them confident to takeup challenging roles. Today globally, we have 54 percent women on Sodexo Board and 32 percent women in senior leadership role.

Diversity and inclusion is no longer just the right thing to do, it is a business imperative today. We have to serve 'glocal' customers, the ones who are impacted by both global and local perspectives, and if we fail to cater to these markets, our sustenance will become difficult. At Sodexo,we have prioritised five dimensions for diversity Gender, LGBT, Disability, Culture & Origins, and Generation. With executive sponsors and multiple networks across the globe, we are striving to not only strike a balance among the diverse groups, but also ensure that we are fostering an inclusive environment in which each employee can thrive.

We know that organisations succeed because of their people. The job market has multiple people with various talents, and it is upon the companies to leverage this talent to the fullest or they get left behind. When you have a diverse range of people bringing in their expertise backed not only by knowledge and work experience, but
also culture and personal experiences, they give the organisation a world view, making it more sensitive to its customer's needs and expectations.

When you have a diverse range of people bringing in their expertise backed not only by knowledge & work experience, but also culture and personal experiences, they give the organisation a world view


I remember a few years back, while hiring a senior female candidate for my team, the head hunting agency suggested that we need not offer her compensation as per the market rate, as she had been on a sabbatical for the last two years to raise her child. I refused and ensured that she was compensated as per the market benchmark. This is important to avoid pay gaps.

The good news is that companies are recognising the importance of being diverse and inclusive. However, many of them struggle to weave it into the organisational fabric. There are few reasons for this, foremost being the social & cultural conditioning that lead to predetermined mindsets and irrelevant practices. This is where leaders should play a crucial role in walking the talk. For example, getting simple design changes done in the workplace to make it more disabled friendly can encourage the hiring and retention of people with disabilities. In fact, leadership involvement is the firststep towards achieving a true D&I organisation. At Sodexo, the leaders, starting from the CEO, play an active role, from providing the strategic direction to participating in events. Their high level of visible engagement as mentors and network group sponsors as well as unwavering support sets an example for all the other employees to follow.

The other important step that companies need to take is to link D& I results to business results. This shows that we are serious and not taking it as a feel good factor. Having a D& I strategy and not just series of activities, along with measurable deliverables will help keep the focus.

Diversity and Inclusion are increasingly going to impact growth. In Sodexo's 2018 Gender Balance case study, we tested the performance implications of a gender inclusive work culture. We surveyed 50,000 managers in 70 entities worldwide. The study threw up some interesting results the optimal gender balance is between 40-60 percent, and entities with gender balanced management scored better on five parameters operating margins, employee retention, client retention, safety, and employee engagement.

In an inclusive environment, employees feel valued & engaged and will be inspired to do better for the company. Diverse teams bring diverse view points to the table. Diversity also brings in innovation, which helps the company deliver products and services that can ‘wow’ consumers & clients and push for business growth. Considering that most industries today are facing a talent crunch, there is no reason to reject good talent because of certain set conditionings or pre conceived notions.

In Sodexo, we have taken a step forward, taking our D&I belief beyond our own boundaries to that of our clients as well. We work closely with them to support them in their diversity agenda and join them in the conversation to build an inclusive and diverse world.

While I must credit my wife who ensured that I was inclusive in all my actions and words, not only at work but also at home, today I feel proud of being part of a company that values and practices every day its deep conviction and actions in Diversity and Inclusion.

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