Sodexo Global CEO Michel Landel’s unwavering leadership commitment to equality is what led Sodexo to a top spot on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list—and what has helped to attract other great leaders to the company. Read more about this remarkable man. Outtakes from DiversityInc’s candid conversation with Landel follow.
[Diversity management] is not an exact science; we still have a lot of work to do. But the most important thing is probably [not] to give up or just let it go. Frankly, the day you give up, it’s over. It’s the JELL-O effect: You push and then you stop pushing and it goes back. If it’s not entrenched in people’s minds, it’s so comfortable to get back to where you were before. I think we’re still not at the critical mass in the world, so we have to push and be determined because, otherwise, I don’t think it will last. Human beings are human beings. And if you don’t push and continuously combat for human rights, then I think the risk of moving back to stupid things could happen—even if we say we’re in the 21st century and people are more evolved than they were. I think we have to be very vigilant.
I was in Colombia two months ago and met this employee of Sodexo. We were celebrating 10 years of Sodexo Colombia, and she was there in the beginning. She is a single mother, has four children and started as an employee and now is a manager. The four kids have very good jobs—one is a doctor, one is a lawyer. She called her last daughter Sodexene, and she tells me that Sodexo has made her life, allowed her and her family to become the family that she has. That’s why we’re at Sodexo. The rest is just not important.
Striving for Gender Equity
Set a goal: Today women are 18 percent of our top 300 managers, and we want it to be 25 percent in several years.
Now, you could ask me why not 50 percent because 50 percent of the population [is comprised of] women. But we have to build this and it takes time; we cannot change a company of our size in five minutes. So it’s setting the goal and doing women’s initiatives. We have mentoring, women’s groups, associations, outside groups, our SWIFt program and pushing to make sure we’re not changing the direction. I think this is something that we’ll move because more than 50 percent of college graduates are women and they are taking many more leading roles in society. We work very much on flexible time and making sure we organize solutions for daycare for the kids.
We also make it attractive for young men, because now the young generation of men wants to take care of their children. It’s not a career barrier if you have men staying at home and taking care of children. We make sure there’s equality for everybody.
Making this company attractive, changing the way we work and changing the status quo is very critical at Sodexo.
Fighting World Hunger
I started STOP Hunger Sodexo Foundation in the U.S. [because] I have always been shocked by the quantity of food that you get in a restaurant and the amount of waste. It is amazing and, frankly, it shocked me when I came to the U.S. back in the late ’80s [from France]. After Sodexo merged with Marriott [Management Services], we started … talking about these issues a lot. One day, we said maybe we should do more and make sure at least at Sodexo that we try to avoid this waste. From that came the idea: Get all the food we don’t use, give it back to communities and start this initiative. I think it fits with our culture, our objective and our mission and values.
After that, we extended it to other countries. Today, it is [active in 29 countries] and very powerful because it engages people. This is a business where if we want to be successful, we need to have all these people come in the morning and be happy to be here. It’s not easy if you have a difficult life and home. One way to motivate people is [to let them see] how important they are in life and what they can contribute. By doing this, it’s a good way for people to say, “I am important, what I do is important in life and I can really contribute.” So engaging the Sodexo people is why this initiative is working, and I am very grateful.
Click here to read Part I of this interview with video.