Troubled Times: Should Diversity Leaders Stay Silent

Sodexo chief diversity officer sees nation’s recent tragedies as a time to reaffirm diversity commitment.

By Eve Tahmincioglu

“Times like these are unfortunate reminders of why our focus on diversity and inclusion is so critical; and clearly there is still much more work to be done.”

This is an excerpt from an email sent to a host of Sodexo employees working in a cross section of diversity functions written by Rohini Anand, the company’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility and global chief diversity officer. (Sodexo is No. 6 on the 2016 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list). Anand shared her concern and resolve in the aftermath of racial tensions that have led to death and despair for so many:

“I am disheartened by the ongoing acts of violence, terrorism and destruction that continue to plague our communities around the world.It is more important than ever, during times like these, that we reaffirm our commitment to Diversity & Inclusion.”

The letter was sent out on July 11 to Sodexo’s Employee Business Resource Group (EBRG) members, as well as INclusion commUNITY, Regional INclusion Ambassadors, Spirit of Mentoring Implementation Team and Diversity Learning Lab facilitators.

Anand joins a small but growing group of companies and corporate executives who are directly taking on the racial turmoil of our time.

The day after five Dallas police officers were shot in the aftermath of two videotaped killings of Black men by cops in Minnesota and Louisiana, Steve Howe, U.S. chairman and managing partner for EY Americas,took to Twitter and also sent an internal email to the entire EY workforce to address the issue. (EYis No. 3 on the Top 50 list.)

And on Thursday PricewaterhouseCoopers (No. 5) is holding discussions about the issue across the company.

The call for these conversations which will be held informally among colleagues was prompted by an email Tim Ryan, PwC’s U.S. chairman, sent following the Dallas shootings to all 45,000 employees in the United States, acknowledging the violence happening around the country, said Nidhi Sinha, a spokeswoman for the company.

The conversations will be kicked off by a video of Ryan discussing race issues in light of recent events with Elena Richards, PwC’s minority initiatives leader in the office of diversity. The firm is also hosting a full-day Snapchat forum on diversity. The conversation will be for the company’s staff but is also open to the public.

It’s all part of an effort to put these difficult discussions on the table as a way to foster change. Sinha said there was one employee who commented that “the silence was deafening” following the recent turmoil, because no one among her team would even address it. That apprehension, she added, is why Ryan wants to initiate a dialogue.

Companies are looking to use conversations as a springboard for possible actions to improve race relations and diversity.

Sodexo has plans to promote further discussion and understanding. Company officials have been engaged in high-level plans to do more internally to address concerns, said Jodi Davidson, the company’s director, diversity & inclusion initiatives.

Sodexo, she said, is in the process of:

  • designing race relations communications/programming to include leadership messages,
  • creating a toolkit with resources,
  • holding dialogue sessions and webinar series,
  • and sharpening its focus on this topic at an upcoming inclusion meeting in September that consists of EBRG and INclusion commUNITY national leaders and their executive sponsors.

Why do all of this

Silence on this issue wasn’t an option, Davidson stressed. “If we did not do something, people would be scratching their heads questioning why we were silent.”

“I am so proud to work for an organization that consistently values and supports their employees,” she continued. “If we truly want to fulfill our mission of quality of life, anything other than walking the talk is not an option.”

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