Diversity Management: The Chief Diversity Officer's No. 1 Advantage

Diversity management at Sodexo centers on a special trust and open dialogue. What can you learn from this DiversityInc Top 50 company?

Diversity management at Sodexo, which centers on metrics-driven diversity goals, has brought the company significant results in human-capital diversity and, most importantly, market share. The company's secret for success? The all-important communication and accountability between the CEO and the chief diversity officer.

Sodexo's President and CEO George Chavel and Senior Vice President and Global Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Rohini Anand spoke with DiversityInc Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Barbara Frankel at a DiversityInc event. They discussed the strong professional relationship they have and why their collaboration is vital to business success. The company is No. 2 in the DiversityInc Top 50 for its second year (and was No. 1 in 2010).

Chavel says trust is the integral component to building a successful CEO/CDO relationship. "If you have the ability to create rapport, you can talk about all the struggles and have a strong debate."

This open dialogue is essential with clients as well, especially in terms of Sodexo's past. The company's strong focus on diversity was jumpstarted by a discrimination lawsuit in 2002. "It was a painful time in our history but the opportunity to transform our company and culture," says Chavel.

The story resonated with clients, and Sodexo began helping its clients with their own diversity goals. "In doing that, our brand became synonymous with diversity leadership as an enabler of business growth and helped us move from where we were and to sustain it in the organization," he explains.

Anand describes this story as a business marriage. "All CDOs are ambitious about our mission and vision to change culture, but it has to be married to a business reality," she says. "My job is to convince George. It's a fine line. We all want to do as much as we can, and we get impatient. At the end of the day, it's about using the strategy to grow the business."

Their strategy includes three best practices, all tied to bottom-line results:

Commitment to Metrics

Sodexo set its diversity metrics one year into its journey. It measures everything with a robust scorecard—promotion, retention of women and Blacks, Latinos and Asians, resource-group engagement, results and mentoring promotions, retention, engagement, etc. Sodexo's mentoring program has been featured on BestPractices.DiversityInc.com and in our  Mentoring Web Seminar, with Jodi Davidson, director, diversity and inclusion initiatives, Sodexo.  For more on diversity metrics, watch the Diversity Metrics Web Seminar to learn which diversity metrics are most valuable to companies.

Sodexo keeps a very focused scorecard to measure virtually everything diversity related. For example, for every dollar spent on mentoring, Sodexo gets two dollars back. "It's very much of a story culture," Anand says. "It's important to marry those metrics with case studies and vignettes. You need both to demonstrate the value."

Compensation Incentives

Diversity metrics are then linked to 10 percent of managers' bonus compensation, with Chavel and his team at 25 percent. The diversity fund is held apart from the financial performance of the company and is always paid to those who reach their goals. Sodexo was one of three companies featured in DiversityInc magazine as a case study on executive compensation tied to diversity.

"For our culture, it's important to have a cause and effect, with us and with our heavily based metrics," says Chavel. "We are trying to drive change. We're not just pointing to those metrics but using them."

Leveraging Qualities

Learning how to become a part of a diverse team is the key to driving innovation. With four generations working side by side, Sodexo recognizes the need to optimize each group's unique talents and differences. "Mixing that together, that diversity and innovation, that is where we are heading," Chavel says.

Anand notes, however, that there still are roadblocks to improvement, citing middle management as a key target for buy-in initiatives. Although Chavel is the U.S. CEO, the French-based global company is in more than 80 countries with more than 400,000 employees worldwide and is tailoring its diversity programs across the globe to incorporate local cultures. For corporate best practices to create inclusive workforces, and data points from DiversityInc's  new global research, read 4 Ways to Overcome Global Diversity Challenges.

"In Asian countries, we are moving very rapidly. The women are hungry for initiatives and the leaders have jumped on board," says Anand. "We have a strategy for North America and a clearly different strategy outside of the United States. We have to go almost country by country to understand the issues and tailor the initiatives."

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