Article: 'We don't need to trade diversity for meritocracy, but instill it in functioning': Sodexo's Anusoorya Themudu


'We don't need to trade diversity for meritocracy, but instill it in functioning': Sodexo's Anusoorya Themudu

For DE&I to be sustainable, it cannot be seen as an only “nice to have” attribute but as a “business critical” input – like other metrics such as safety or financial results, says Anusoorya Themudu, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, APAC & MEA at Sodexo.
'We don't need to trade diversity for meritocracy, but instill it in functioning': Sodexo's Anusoorya Themudu

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) cannot be flaunted once in a year as a gesture towards International Women’s Day or other such days, and must go much beyond that to become an integral part of an organisation's work ethic, says Anusoorya Themudu, Senior Vice President Human Resources, APAC & MEA at French food services and facilities management company, Sodexo.

“At Sodexo, we no longer look to the days of significance to focus on diversity, and instead build that into our every day. We measure a range of metrics, not just gender diversity, and also consider the link to engagement and performance. We ensure our leaders value diversity like they value other key performance indicators (KPIs),” she says.  

In an interview with People Matters, Themudu shares how, through this approach and by developing its maturity model, the organization has tapped into wider talent pools.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

DE&I beyond only gender

Many organizations who are beginning on their DE&I journey often focus on the gender dimension. But as an organization that has worked in this space for many years, our progress has evolved to a place of true integration in our business strategy. We are also committed to DE&I beyond gender and the intersectionality across those dimensions.  We are committed to diversity across five targeted dimensions.

  • Gender representation: Achieving 40% women representation in Senior Leaders and in all management teams.
  • Generations: We ensure that our countries/activities have initiatives to address cross-generational needs to engage, retain, and attract the talent of different generations.
  • Culture and Origins: We advance the employment of refugees within our business.
  • Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity: We ensure an inclusive working environment of acceptance and equity for all.
  • People with disabilities: We are committed that by 2025, 100% of our workforce will have access to initiatives supporting the inclusion of people with disabilities.

It starts with top leaders, who infuse DE&I throughout the organization. We have DE&I governance, at the global, regional, and country levels. Sodexo is convinced about our ambition and closely monitors challenges, achievements, improvements and what we can do to bridge the gap to achieve the outcomes. After all, what gets measured gets done or improved. 

Making DE&I sustainable

DE&I cannot be flaunted once in a year to show allegiance towards International Women’s Day or other days of importance. It must go much beyond that. For DE&I to be seen as sustainable, it can also not be seen as a “nice to have”. Instead, it must be seen as “business critical” – like other metrics such as safety or financial results.

In Sodexo, one of the metrics for long-term incentive plans is DE&I outcomes. And beyond being embedded in the policies and processes in order to ensure sustainable delivery of DE&I, we need to see the DE&I leadership role modeled across the business.  

Leaders need to make DE&I an important part of their agenda with clear strategy and action plans. They should be held accountable too. We need to ensure that we see all employees understanding the benefits of DE&I and be able to access training that supports inclusive behavior. Organizations must lean into the discomforting elements of DE&I, they need to review their data, understand their challenges, and address these systemically. They must both walk and talk DE&I every day. Ultimately, DE&I is a crucial business enabler and should be treated as one.

Diversity and meritocracy can co-exist

One benefit of DE&I is different ways of thinking and behaving. As challenging as these may be, research shows that they allow solutions to be found quicker, for teams to be more engaged and people to be safer -- both mentally and physically -- in the workplace. Sometimes when a role becomes vacant, we have an expectation of who will fill that role - because we expect the new person to be a cookie cut version of the previous incumbent. But echo chambers do not innovate. And without thinking differently about the inherent requirements of the role and what skills we genuinely require for that role, we will not see any difference in the performance of that role.  

I am sure that even today, there are some people who view a woman in a role previously held by a man as “tokenism”. But this discredits the individual, the hiring manager, and the organization. We need to ensure that when we hear these views, biases, they are called out -- and more importantly -- that employees displaying bias can be counselled. Conversations can help to discern and dispel such bias.

As organizations evolve their views and understandings of the benefits of diversity, we will continue to see people in roles that we haven’t previously seen. And we do not believe that we have to trade diversity for meritocracy. Diversity drives performance. I, along with my Sodexo colleagues, view these differences as benefits and look forward to seeing more of it. 

Men need to be part of the solution for gender equality

Each year, around International Women’s Day, we hear the same suggestions for gender equality - “fix the system”, “empower women”, “lean in”, “ask for more”. But these oversimplify the challenges.  

Feminism and gender equality are not new. If these suggestions were genuine solutions, by now, we would see more women having a seat at the table. But that we continue to see many leadership positions still being held by men shows we need to think differently about gender equality and men need to be part of that solution.

For many years, we have known about the “daughter effect”. But over the past five years, we have seen renewed vigor in the research. Most interestingly, research now shows us that CEOs with daughters run more socially responsible organizations. They invest more in policies and practices that support gender equality and are more likely to have female leaders in their business.

In the venture capital space, men with daughters are more likely to hire women. And the research also cuts across policy and law enforcement too with research from Yale showing that US Congressmen who have daughters are more likely to vote more liberally, especially on legislation on reproductive rights while judges with daughters are more likely to rule in favor of women and girls.  

But it is not just men with daughters who are part of the solution for gender equality. It is the responsibility of all of us, men included, to ensure those who are underrepresented have access and opportunity. We consider this to be a form of allyship. Through mentoring, coaching, and challenging biases that hold women back, all men enable and accelerate gender equity.  

Weaving inclusion and allyship support in the flow of work

There are many ways of doing it.  

  • Make it personal: By using stories to help people understand and empathize with others, it helps build a sense of compassion that all allies need. They will never fully understand, but they can try and empathise. It goes a long way.
  • Make sure that the hiring and promotion policies support inclusivity.  
  • Provide training so that employees have the tools and are inculcated with the spirit of inclusion.
  • Make succession plans an important KPI of HR objectives and ensure that any succession must be gender balanced.  
  • Make certain that women are associated with all critical roles.  
  • Ensure that recruiting agencies present women candidates along with men. Hiring women should be encouraged.
  • Present inclusivity as a part of an organizational strategy in client proposals.
  • Make inclusiveness an integral part of performance management. 
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Topics: Diversity, Talent Management, #BreaktheBias, #HRCommunity

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