Championing diversity at Sodexo: Angela Williams, group HRD

Written by
Sarah Clark

16 Aug 2016

16 Aug 2016 • by Sarah Clark

What are your current responsibilities; whats involved in your everyday role?

Sodexo is a leading global services company, serving over 75 million customers every day. Sodexo’s mission is to improve quality of life for its clients, customers and employees. Sodexo is the 18th largest employer in the world with 419,000 employees in 80 countries.

The company offers a diverse range of services to organisations in the corporate, healthcare, education, justice and sports and leisure sectors. These services are designed to reinforce the well-being of individuals, improving their effectiveness and helping companies and organisations improve performance.

As group HR director it is my job to deliver, with the team, HR services across all 80 countries and 12 regions. 

Why did you choose to work for Sodexo?

There were two reasons. Firstly, I liked Sodexo’s focus on people and values, and its mission to improve quality of life for clients, customers and employees. As a services company, people are our main asset, so the role of HR is critical. Secondly, I was attracted by the complexity and scale of the business. It makes my role very varied and interesting!

Why is diversity increasingly more important in business?

A diverse workforce that is inclusive regardless of employees’ gender, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation or disability is undoubtedly good for business. In 2014, Sodexo published the results of our own internal gender balance research to complement existing research and to provide additional insight for other organisations that are looking at the business impact of gender balance beyond the boardroom.

The study gathered data from 52,000 managers (from senior managers to ‘on-the-ground’ site management) working in 90 entities across our global footprint, comparing the performance of those that were gender-balanced (i.e. with 40% to 60% women in management) versus those that weren’t.

The results were compelling. Over the past three consecutive years, the gender-balanced entities were 13% more likely to record consistent organic growth and 23% more likely to show an increase in gross profit. They also performed better for employee engagement, brand image, consumer satisfaction and client retention. This does not mean that ‘unbalanced’ teams do not perform, but the study found they did not perform as well.   

For instance, entities with gender balanced management saw an average increase of 4% in employee engagement compared to only 1% for the others. Client retention rates showed similar patterns.

What is the ratio of men: women in Sodexo?

Sodexo UK and Ireland has 56% women overall. Women represent 38% of Sodexo Group’s board and 43% of the Group’s Comex. 

How are you encouraging and attracting more women into careers at Sodexo?

Globally, Sodexo launched SWIFT (Sodexo Women’s International Forum for Talent) in 2009. SWIFt is an advisory board (made up of 35 of Sodexo’s most senior men and women) dedicated to ensuring better gender balance at all levels of the organisation and especially for leadership positions, with a strong focus on operational positions with P&L responsibilities.

In the UK and Ireland, we have a gender workstream as part of our diversity and inclusion structure which is led by a senior manager, sponsored by a male member of the Regional Leadership Committee and supported by our dedicated D&I team. The workstream takes actions across our workplace, workforce, marketplace and within our communities. Through the workstream we regularly monitor the gender balance of our workforce, within our candidate pool, and in relation to talent, succession plans, and the attendees at management training programmes and take action where needed.

We have signed up to the Government’s Think, Act, Report initiative and have pledged to undertake regular pay audits and publish our gender pay gap later this year – an action which contributed to our being shortlisted in the BITC Workplace Gender Equality Awards transparency category.              

Another element of the workstream is the Women Work Network. The network is open to both men and women and is run by a team of interested parties from across the business (including male and female co-chairs). The network provides networking opportunities, runs developmental workshops and a very successful speaker series which highlights the career paths and lessons learnt by role models.

What different areas/functions can women work in that they normally wouldnt consider?

At Sodexo we are aiming to achieve gender balance across all our roles and functions. We are particularly trying to encourage women into our operational facilities management roles. We are very engaged with the #notjustforboys campaign and, as part of International Women’s Day celebrations in recent years, have taken the opportunity to highlight roles in facilities management and women undertaking roles which are typically male dominated.

In your time at Sodexo have you seen a rise in female talent if so, what do you believe has helped this?

We are seeing some great female talent coming up through the business. Having a culture that strongly promotes gender balance and having visible role models has been important. Promoting female talent isn’t something we are leaving to chance. Having a clear strategy to promote female talent is paying dividends. 

As much as the spotlight is on women; how are men in your organisation adapting to this shift?

We believe that promoting gender balance is as much about the actions and attitudes of men as of women. That’s why our gender workstream is sponsored by a male senior leader and why we encourage men to join the Women Work Network which is ‘striving for gender balance’.

We have recently piloted, a training module for senior male leaders called ‘Inspiring Balance’ which recognises the role which men play in creating a gender inclusive culture.

The workshop focuses on gender intelligence and how gender can impact on all aspects of their roles from recruitment and staff development to client interactions. For example, individuals with feminine and masculine communication styles may articulate their career aspirations differently, with those with a feminine preference being more tentative and less willing to take a risk-understanding that means we can amend how we ‘hear’ and respond to those discussions.  

What are your tips for business leaders looking to inspire women in male-dominated careers? Where should they start?

I think it is important for companies to take a strategic approach to achieving gender balance and to be very clear to all employees that gender balance, and wider diversity and inclusion, is central to their success. Even if a career, company or function is male-dominated, women will feel supported and inspired to move up the ranks.

I also think mentoring and sponsorship can play a vital role in promoting female talent. 

As a successful woman in a leadership position, whats your advice to other aspiring female leaders to help them in their careers?

I would say work hard and make sure you understand the business in detail. Be confident in your abilities and believe that you can succeed. I think it is also vital to think global, be pragmatic, innovative and creative, build good working relationships and respect and understand different cultures and motivations. Always remember to focus on the customer as they are the ones who pay your wages!