The diversity and inclusion agenda

Marlies Hoogeboom, Client Relationship Director at Sodexo explains why there is a need to live and breathe an embracing and inclusive culture.

In a very diverse work environment, an embracing culture isn’t just a branding tool.

With the new Gender Pay Gap Reporting looming on the horizon for organisations with 250 or more employees, many companies are already gearing up for next April when they are expected to have completed a gender pay audit and will be asked to publish their results.

Naturally this new legislation has increased the desire for UK businesses to ensure that their diversity and inclusion strategy is robust, as there will be increased scrutiny on their gender strategies.

Having grown up in the Netherlands where I tend to find attitudes to be more open-minded, I have been a supporter of promoting diversity and inclusion from a young age.  I first moved to the UK to study at university and my passion for promoting inclusion and equality has continued in my working life. Over the last few years the appetite for UK businesses to embrace it has increased too.

The new legislation is a daunting task for many and, as a large employer, we take this very seriously. At Sodexo we started the process of auditing the gender pay gap some time ago, and reported our initial results last November. By doing this we have put ourselves at the forefront, not to attract attention but it is part of Sodexo’s global, long-term commitment to driving gender balance.

Over three 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.

The importance it plays to the organisation is reflected in our own gender balance business case research, which demonstrated a positive correlation between gender balance management teams and positive business outcomes.

The subject of diverse boards is something that has gained momentum over recent years.  There have been reports published on Women on Boards (Lord Davies Review 2011) and ethnic diversity of Boards (Parker Review 2016) as well as research into the business benefits balanced boards can bring to an organisation.  McKinsey, Catalyst and Credit Suisse have all published research, which clearly demonstrates the positive impact of gender balance.

Our internal gender balance research gathered data from 52,000 managers (from on-the-ground site managers to senior managers) 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 clearly showed the business benefits.  Over three 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.

The research has provided valuable insight and has helped drive the gender strategy across the world. Since joining in 2012, I have experienced first-hand the efforts the organisation has made to gender balance within the company. My first involvement was when I was asked to represent the education business on the UK & Ireland D&I Council. Having whetted my appetite 12 months ago, I was given the opportunity to become the gender work stream lead for the UK & Ireland region.

Agile working practices are becoming increasingly popular, so our clients need to create workspaces which encourage more collaboration and social interaction opportunities, for the UK’s diverse workforce.

In this role I have been able to take an active part in driving the company’s efforts to promote not only our own gender strategy, but the business benefits it can bring. I have participated in internal and external events, so have been able to demonstrate to clients and other organisations the benefits we as an organisation have experienced, sharing our views and help businesses to look at their own approaches to gender.

When I started as the gender workstream lead, I was given the opportunity to participate in a new pilot scheme for female talent at Sodexo. This was developed by our global gender network known as SWIFt (Sodexo Women’s International forum for talent) which is made up of 28 of the most senior women and men in Sodexo globally and aims to increase the number of women within the Sodexo managerial population by encouraging gender balance.

Having learned a great deal, upon completion I put myself forward as a mentor for the UK programme, which currently supports ten women. The aim is to support women in building their network and encouraging collaboration within the group. I am now also studying for a coaching qualification, and have begun coaching three women in the business.

This has been extremely rewarding to me, both on a personal and professional level. Recognising the importance of supporting and developing individuals and teams is crucial to the success of any organisation. Through this scheme I can see the business benefits for our clients when our people are truly engaged and motivated.

Employee engagement

For Sodexo the engagement of our people is vital to our success. It is our teams on client sites’ that make the difference; as an engaged workforce will deliver excellence in the services they provide. This is critical in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

The knock-on effect for our clients of an engaged facilities team is an attractive workplace, where our shared goals provide an environment which enables users to be more productive.  In discussions with clients I’m discovering they are looking at Sodexo’s approach to diversity and inclusion as one they want to learn more about for their own organisations, to ensure they too attract and retain talent. 

We see this as a great endorsement. It demonstrates we are seen to be more than a FM or food services partner, but the approach to our people is something clients can tap into and use our experience to help formulate their own strategies. We know a workplace strategy needs to encompass more than just the environment employers provide, but has to consider the user experience too.

Sharing experience

In conversations with clients the common theme is that we are all focused on driving business performance.  Through my involvement in the UK’s gender work stream, I have been able to play a part and see first-hand our efforts to leverage gender-balanced management as a driving force in recruiting, developing, and retaining talent  and, using that knowledge to help our client organisations develop their workplace strategies.

It is important that organisations do not look inwardly, and recognise that shared experience and knowledge can benefit the drive for gender balance in businesses today. All organisations today face the challenge of an increasingly diverse workforce which affects individual’s expectations of the workplace, both now and in the future.

By sharing our experience it allows a different conversation and usually opens up the opportunity to collaborate and work in partnership with clients to deliver bespoke workplaces services and become more connected, inclusive communities for the benefit of all.

Sodexo recognises that D&I should be embedded at the heart of the business strategy and driven throughout the organisation, from the boardroom to our employees, who are delivering services to our customers every day. Having a strong commitment in this area allows us to have a voice.

Our corporate clients, irrespective of size look for a partner organisation that can offer bespoke solutions which mirror their own vision, values and beliefs.  Beyond the delivery of food and FM services, integral to many contracts is the partner organisation’s approach to both Corporate Responsibility, as well as a proven commitment to diversity and inclusion.

There is no doubt that the corporate market is evolving. Agile working practices are becoming increasingly popular, so our clients need to create workspaces which encourage more collaboration and social interaction opportunities, for the UK’s diverse workforce.

Organisations today need to demonstrate they have a truly inclusive approach to ensure they continue to attract, retain and develop the best talent.  I believe the  gender pay gap legislation should be seen in a good light, as it puts gender at the forefront, which, for me,  is a positive step forward.