Sodexo’s Dr. Rohini Anand: Breaking Gender Barriers & Creating Change

DiversityInc has selected several extraordinary women to profile in our Women We Love feature. The six women whose stories you’ll read have two things in common: They overcame obstacles or cultural assumptions to become leaders in their fields, and they have continued, throughout their lives, to give back to others.

Rohini Anand is one of those women. Here is her story:

FAST FACTS

TITLE: Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer

BIRTHPLACE: Mumbai, India

EDUCATION: Ph.D., University of Michigan

PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS: Has served on boards including Women’s Foodservice Forum, Multicultural Foodservice and Hospitality Alliance, National Multicultural Institute, ACTSO Board of NAACP, Corporate and Philanthropic Council of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund

PERSONAL: Married, two daughters

INTERESTING FACT: “Rohini” means “evening star”

I grew up in India, surrounded by others who looked like me but had variations by socioeconomic status or religion. The determining factor in my life was my move to the United States, when I was first perceived as a minority. A life-shaping experience, it led me to the work I do today.

My childhood was interesting. I grew up in Mumbai, the eldest of three girls. My father was among the first group of Indian students to go to the United States on a scholarship. He had a physics scholarship in the mid-1940s to the University of Chicago, but he hated it because it was too cold, and he wanted to move to California. The only scholarship available there was in film production, and he took it. He ended up doing film production with Clark Gable and Cary Grant. He moved back to India and did some documentaries, including “Spring Comes to Kashmir.” And then he went into his own business. My mother started Bombay International School, founded by expat women.

My parents encouraged me to go to grad school in the United States even though their friends said a woman shouldn’t do this and that I should have an arranged marriage. At 20, with a degree in history, I went to the United States. It wasn’t a well-thought-out plan; the rough plan was I’d get an advanced degree and be even more attractive for an arranged marriage.

But my sisters and I were different. My younger sister didn’t marry until she was 40!

I finally got my Ph.D. in Asian studies at the University of Michigan and decided to stay in the United States. The experiences in North America really shaped me into a different person.

The question I posed for myself was: “If this can be so impactful for me, what must it be like for those growing up in the U.S. who really have the minority identity shaped for them at a very early age?” The research I did was on identifying formation and the movement of people in India.

I met my husband when I was in grad school. He is Indian but it was not an arranged marriage. We met through friends. He is now treasurer of the Smithsonian. We have two daughters, 24 and 21. The older one, Easha, graduated from Yale and works in prisons with death-row inmates. She wants to go to law school. The younger one, Pria, is graduating this spring from Yale and runs a soup kitchen. I have learned so much from them. They keep me grounded.

Early in my career, I toddled between the corporate world, government agencies and education. I was getting tired of not engaging with one system and seeing sustained cultural change. I knew I wanted to go internal. I saw this tremendous opportunity to make a difference. What closed the deal with Sodexo (No. 2 on The 2012 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) was my interview with Michel Landel. His level of commitment, his vision, his leadership, his clarity on what he wanted to see happen was absolutely unparalleled. In the U.S., Dick Macedonia and George Chavel have gotten rightful credit, but Michel’s big deal has been diversity. He instituted a scorecard for executive compensation (tied to diversity) against the resistance of his entire executive team.

What else really matters to me? Community work. I work with Asian women who are victims of domestic violence. It keeps me connected with the Asian community. In a more ad hoc way, particularly when my kids were in the public school system in Montgomery County, I worked with ESL students—language skills and basic language. This fits because English was not my first language, Hindi was. There also is a men’s shelter where my husband and I cook once a month. It’s been an eye-opener to see the kind of people there, particularly in this economy. And it’s important because I hate to cook. That’s the only time I cook.

Click here to see all of the Women We Love profiles, including Rohini Anand’s, as they originally appeared in DiversityInc magazine.

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2 Comments

  • Anonymous

    Very important and moving thoughts here! As an Indian American female, I truly value these role models who show me that I don’t have to deny my Indian heritage to be successful in America. I struggle with balancing my cultural influences with advancing my career and need these examples put forth. Thank you Dr. Anand and DiversityInc for highlighting these very important stories!!

  • Rohini’s story is very inspirational and uplifging. She is definitely a roll model for 1st generation immigrant Asian ladies.
    Pankaj Patel, PharmD, FASCP, BCPP

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