How Diversity and Inclusion Drive Employee Engagement

By Dr. Rohini Anand


Globally Sodexo is one of the largest companies in the world operating in 80 countries and employing nearly 420,000 employees. While the decentralized nature of our business model allows Sodexo to operate with agility and speed, it poses a challenge with regard to employee engagement. As a service company, employee involvement and enthusiasm are essential components to delivering the optimal products and services Sodexo is known for.

Research has shown that companies who disregard diversity as a component of their business strategy have a higher percentage of disengaged workers. Organizations that effectively capitalize on the strengths of all employees and leverage their differences and unique values have the most engaged employees. In addition, employees with the highest level of engagement perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization, according to a survey by TowersPerrin. A study by the Hay Group found engaged employees were as much as 43% more productive.

Over a decade ago Sodexo embarked on a journey to drive employee engagement through a sustained and comprehensive commitment to diversity and inclusion. Employee Business Resource Groups, Mentoring, Training & Development, Flexible Work Arrangements and Recognition all became instrumental in fostering a culture of inclusion and engagement. Sodexo held itself accountable for progress through various measures and metrics. The result has been systemic culture change that has differentiated Sodexo for our clients, customers and employees.

Measuring the impact diversity and inclusion has on engagement is key. Sodexo conducts an enterprise-wide Employee Engagement Survey as well as special surveys targeted at Employee Business Resource Group members and mentoring participants. The results of these surveys clearly demonstrate improved engagement as a result of participation in diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Sodexo’s Employee Engagement Survey has reflected increases in the engagement of women and people of color since the survey was first conducted in 2006. In fact, 2012 results show that diversity is one of the top two key engagement drivers for employees.

Despite several years of economic challenges, Sodexo’s total management population reached an engagement high of 69 percent, which represents an increase at a time when most companies experienced a decline in overall employee engagement. According to Aon Hewitt, this is considered Best Employer Range. In addition, 83 percent of employees believe “At Sodexo, employees who are diverse are valued for the differences they bring to the workplace.” That is up 16 percentage points since 2006.

Engagement for women and people of color also experienced increases that are at or above Aon Hewitt’s Best Employer Range. Qualitative research findings revealed that both groups feel good about being able to bring “all of themselves” to work. One of the most interesting findings was with regard to white male managers who said that they were proud to be a part of a company that is committed to diversity and inclusion.

Employee Business Resource Group members were also recently surveyed about their level of engagement and 65% said that Resource Groups enhanced their engagement and connection to the business. Results from this survey are incorporated into Employee Business Resource Group’s strategic plans. Participants indicated Networking, Engagement and Opportunities as the three top reasons for increased engagement. Participants also noted their performance improved and they were more likely to stay with Sodexo due to their involvement with a Resource Group.

Sodexo has experienced firsthand the link between employee engagement and business results. When employees feel valued and empowered to focus on their strengths and honor their differences, diversity becomes one of the organization’s strongest competitive advantages.

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