Managing diversity for success: interview with Jean-Michel Monnot, Sodexo

Jean-Michel Monnot, Sodexo

Diversity management is an increasingly important part in companies’ strategies. Why is diversity so important for business?

At Sodexo, our approach to diversity and inclusion has always been strong for two reasons. First, it is part of our DNA: we believe the success of an organization should be shared with everyone regardless of age, gender, experience, sexual orientation, culture or personal background.

Second, we understand the business case: in the marketplace, the face of our 75 million consumers is changing and we must resemble it; we need to understand the market and design the relevant products or services, fitting with the needs of our clients and consumers.

In the workplace, it helps us attract and retain the best talent across the world and achieve our strategy and growth objectives. An inclusive culture is a significant driver of engagement and improved customer service and productivity.

Which sectors or activities is Sodexo’s diversity strategy aimed at?

For us, being diverse and inclusive means first having employees with the best level of engagement, because we know that engagement drives performance. And we are convinced that in order to be engaged, our employees want to be respected and valued for who they are: this is the definition of inclusion. We have the same approach with our clients and customers: everyone is unique and wants to be considered as such! So Diversity and Inclusion cuts across all our work: diverse workforce, diverse clients and customers with diverse quality of life services!

A diverse workforce can bring more innovation and growth, but also it can cause some misunderstandings. How can companies maximise results while minimising risks?

First of all, managers are committed to acting in an inclusive way: through the 15 golden behaviors put in place within the Group, they are aware of their own biases, preferences and ‘truths’, and how they may affect decisions and behavior towards colleagues, employees and applicants. They challenge themselves to think outside of these ‘boxes’ and don’t hesitate to ask their manager when they are not sure.

It is absolutely true that a diverse team outperforms a homogeneous one, but only if well managed. Research conducted by Professor Katherine Phillips at Columbia University has shown that majority groups become more innovative as they increase minority involvement. Managing diversity is a skill that requires awareness and training; this is why we have invested considerably in training for some years now: more than 33.000 of our managers have been trained with our workshop “spirit of inclusion” that we adapt to each country.

What are the most successful practices implemented by Sodexo?

Sodexo Women’s International Forum for Talent (SWIFT) was created in 2009 by our CEO Michel Landel. This group of 35 senior leaders from 15 nationalities work together to make concrete propositions to our Group Executive Committee to foster gender equality in the company. It’s been very successful with a big development of our mentoring programs: more than 1.000 women have been mentored. But the most important impact is the progression of gender balance in our managing teams. Today, women represent 41% of our managers, 43% of our Group Executive committee, and 38% of our Board of Directors.

Sodexo, being a multinational company active in five continents, has a specific need to invest in diversity. On the other hand, it has also the resources to enact a comprehensive strategy. But is diversity an asset to invest in also for SMEs?

Being an inclusive and diverse employer is an asset for all sizes of companies, but it is true that SMEs don’t have the same resources. Large companies can help smaller ones, through employer organizations and NGOs aiming to share best practices. We do it a lot, not only because we want to share, but we also learn from other perspectives. SMEs are also our customers, and we do our best to support them. In September Sodexo announced its official Commitment to Action at the 10th Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York. The commitment supports the growth of small to medium sized enterprises (SME) with a pledge to purchase products and services totaling $1 billion by 2017.

How much is the presence of a more diverse workforce in one place compared to others a factor in companies deciding on where to settle?

It is not a matter of the presence of a more diverse workforce that will make Sodexo settle in one place but a matter of business. Once we operate in a place, we do it guided by our fundamentals: our mission, values, ethical principles and history.

Sodexo is the community of its clients, consumers, employees and shareholders. We recognize that the best way to respond to the expectations of all of our stakeholders is through steady growth. We also believe it is important that our work is meaningful to all who contribute to it and thus we remain faithful to our mission, our core values and the ethical principles that have guided us since 1966.


This post is an extract from an article published in issue 3 of UNITEE’s magazine, The New European, entitled “Divercities”. The complete online version can be read for free here.


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