Margot Slattery is responsible for the strategic direction, implementation, and alignment of Sodexo’s integrated diversity and inclusion initiatives across five global dimensions; Cultures & Origins, Disabilities, Gender, Sexual Orientation/LGBT+, and Generations. Margot also represents Sodexo in global diversity & inclusion forums such as the UN Global Compact, UN Free & Equal initiative, the Valuable 500 initiative, and Catalyst, a global non-profit organization that promotes the professional advancement of women.
She is a member of the Catalyst European Council, the Workplace Pride Council, and the ILO Council, through which she engages with other large global organizations that are looking at the present and future challenges surrounding DE&I.
Irish-born Margot has spent most of her career at Sodexo, joining in the early 1990s as a junior manager and moving up the career ladder to become country president for Sodexo in Ireland in 2015. She remained in that position for four years before taking up her present role in 2019.
Here are the edited excerpts.
What are your major learning from this pandemic as a global diversity and inclusion leader? Can you share some insights?
One of the biggest areas where we’ve seen an impact as a result of COVID-19 aside from the sanitary impact, of course, is on mental health and well-being. As a business, we’ve really tuned into our people during the last 12 months - more so than we ever have before and mental health and well-being has been a hot topic of conversation and focus as we look to support our teams through the crisis.
We always say that people are the alpha and omega of our business. During the crisis, the focus on our people has been even further heightened. When many of our teams were unable to work due to client sites closing, we came together as a business to create a fund to provide them with financial support. When office-based employees had to change their working styles to work from home, we provided them with access to training and tools to help them manage the change, while also finding more opportunities to keep our teams connected through virtual meetings, team get-togethers, and more frequent one-to-ones.
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What we’ve discovered through all of this is that every dimension of diversity is affected, albeit to very different degrees. The positive that we can take from the last 12 months though is that we have a far greater appreciation for our colleagues as people; people with a life outside of work.
Do you think the remote work will open up new opportunities for DE&I?
Remote working implies that people are working far from others and it’s difficult to connect. Thanks to technology, it is now much easier to stay connected, wherever you’re working. I think the debate is less about remote working and more about flexible working.
What we’ve found during the last 12 months is that people have had to adapt their ways of working. For those people working at home where they might have children at home too, they’ve had to adapt their working styles to accommodate the work-life continuum. That might mean working earlier or later, but with the acceptance that at certain periods during the day, it might be more difficult. The same applies to those people in roles where they need to interact with colleagues from all across the globe. With the current inability to travel so much, people have had to flex their working patterns to accommodate different time zones. Flexible working works; performance has not been affected and our continued commitment to people’s health and wellbeing has made it far more acceptable for people to manage their time in a way that works for them.
I think that post the pandemic we will see much more of a hybrid model, particularly for office-based employees. We know that working from home is possible and does not affect performance, but equally, many of us crave the human interaction we get from working in an office with colleagues.
How diversity heads are steering their companies through the crisis globally? Is it important to have a synergy of initiatives and collaborations to make an impact globally?
From my point of view, it’s strong leadership that is helping companies steer through the crisis, and it’s the armory of leadership skills and leadership behaviors that make the difference. Within that armory, of course, is an understanding of diversity and inclusion and a recognition that everyone is experiencing the crisis, but to varying degrees of severity. A good leader is in tune with his or her team, listens to their challenges, and supports them through difficult moments.
At the beginning of the crisis, our global HR team developed a suite of tools to support our leaders in managing themselves and their teams through the crisis. The uptake was phenomenal and I think we can see the fruits of that investment really paying off.
What are some of the key metrics they should follow to make their diversity initiatives thrive post the pandemic?
It’s hugely encouraging to see more investment in diversity programs; we need this leadership and sponsorship from organizations to help move the needle within society. However, organizations need to be cautious that diversity and inclusion does not just become about numbers.
It’s easy to get hung up on numbers, but they only tell half the story. For example, you might have a gender-balanced team, you might have a team with people from different ethnic backgrounds, you might have people in your team who are gay, but does everyone feel included and valued?
Our focus is on measuring inclusion. How do people feel? Do they feel valued? Do they feel respected? Do they feel that their opinions and views count? Do they feel they can bring their whole selves to work? Do they feel part of a team? One of how we measure this sentiment is through our annual engagement survey.
There are ample studies that demonstrate a strong correlation between diversity at a leadership level and business results. But not much is changing in the real world. Why are we failing?
At Sodexo, we believe that there is a strong correlation between diversity and inclusion and business performance; it’s one of the reasons we’re so focused on building a diverse and inclusive culture!
If we look at gender alone, 55 percent of our total workforce is female. However, that drops to 40 percent when we get to the senior executive level. A similar trend applies when we look at other streams of diversity. However, we’ve been focused on driving diversity and inclusion in leadership roles for some years now and we are seeing improvements both in terms of balance, metrics, awareness, and understanding.
Of course, we need to do much more, as most companies do, both as an organization and as part of the local communities in which we operate.
How can businesses identify specific initiatives that offer the greatest payoff and get the most from the diversity investments?
Every organization will have its own challenges and opportunities when it comes to DE&I, but for Sodexo, the greatest payoff of our DE&I investment is the level to which it is authentically felt in our business. We can launch initiatives, run campaigns, and crunch numbers but if those people within our business do not feel the impact of that activity, then it’s worthless.
With the large majority of our employees being based at our client sites, our focus on diversity and inclusion has to be felt at every level of the business if it is to be authentically felt on the frontline. As such, our investment is in training our leaders and managers, celebrating our many different voices from across the business, championing role models across all diversity streams and regularly monitoring sentiment at every level of the business, and flexing our approach to ensure we maintain our focus where it will have the most impact on our teams.
Read more such stories from the March 2021 issue of our e-magazine on 'The Moment to Fix the DE&I Equation'